Pioneer Festival freshens up a bit as it celebrates 43rd year

Blacksmith Mark Thomas (left), of Markle, shows Anna Scott, of Huntington, the finer points of hammering metal at his booth at the 2017 Forks of the Wabash Pioneer Festival. The festival returns this year on Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 22 and 23.
Blacksmith Mark Thomas (left), of Markle, shows Anna Scott, of Huntington, the finer points of hammering metal at his booth at the 2017 Forks of the Wabash Pioneer Festival. The festival returns this year on Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 22 and 23. TAB file photo.

This year’s Forks of the Wabash Pioneer Festival will give visitors a lot of new activities to see, do and taste as Huntington County celebrates all things 19th century style.

The 43rd annual event, presented by the Phi Chapter of Psi Iota Xi and Friends of the Festival, will be held Saturday, Sept. 22, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday, Sept. 23, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Huntington County Fairgrounds.

The first things visitors who have been to the Pioneer Festival before will notice is that some areas of the festival have been moved around for better convenience and also to make room for a new exhibit spot.

“The engines and tractors have moved adjacent to the display of motorcars and vintage bicycles; the Younguns’ Fun, including camels and ponies, has moved near the Taylor Street entrance,” says Festival Committee Member Cindy Klepper. “Olde Towne has moved across the street to join the Encampment and Pioneer Village; a new Native American Heritage area will occupy the former Olde Towne space, and most of the food vendors, who were previously scattered throughout the grounds, are now located in the grassy area next to the information booth.”

The most noticeable new addition is the Native American Heritage area, which returns after several years hiatus. Educational representatives of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma will present demonstrations.

Coordinator Larry Wiedman says the exhibit will provide a glimpse of the history and culture of this year’s new theme, which is “Native American Heritage.”

“This is going to give us some opportunity in the future to do some really neat stuff with that area that used to be where Olde Towne was,” he says. “That’s where we’ll be.”

The exhibit will be open all day long on both Saturday and Sunday, beginning at 11 a.m. with Ginger Karns playing native-style flute at 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 2:30 p.m. and 4 p.m. both days. Diane Hunter will give a ribbon work demonstration at noon, 1:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. on Saturday. On Sunday, Doug Peconge will give a lacrosse demonstration at noon, 1:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. and invite folks to join in the game.

Between events attendees will also be invited to learn and play the Native “Bowl Game.”

“It’s very much an audience participation game,” Wiedman says. “It’s sort of like dice … how they land is how it’s scored. It’s a game their kids played, but adults play it, too.”

Lots of musical entertainment at the Pioneer Festival can be found in several venues. This year’s Melodrama, “A Day at the Store,” will be presented by the Huntington North High School Masque & Gavel Club, with the production directed by Ruth Reed. The play, which usually includes hijinks and crowd participation, will be presented multiple times both Saturday and Sunday in the Opera House.

Music on the outdoor stage will feature Jenny Lane, Sunny Taylor, Lizzie E. Hoff and her Cough, Applejack Cloggers, Ivory West, Rust Belt Drifters, the Alicia Pyle Trio, Roanoke Rounders, Carrie Johnson and Taylor Hampton.

Magician Jim Barron will also entertain on the stage both Saturday and Sunday at 1:30 p.m.
In the pioneer village, Bob Hart will entertain with dulcimer music.

The HNHS Varsity Singers are also back, performing in the Saloon on Saturday and Sunday.

This year’s tractors and engines section will feature a tractor teeter-totter, baker fan and sawmill. Klepper says the attractions will be a favorite of tractor, engine and mechanical enthusiasts.

In addition, there will be two tractor drives on Friday, Sept. 21, weather permitting. The first will head to Andrews for lunch, then back to the fairgrounds. The second jaunt will parade to downtown Huntington to the Courthouse square around 5:15 p.m., arriving at the Courthouse at 6 p.m. The route returns to the fairgrounds around 7:15 p.m.

Not to be outdone, small fry can get in on some fun while learning about life in the good ol’ days in the new Younguns’ Area.

A children’s parade will return to the festival, held Saturday and Sunday at 1 p.m. both days, inviting youngsters who dress in pioneer garb to walk through the fairgrounds. The parade will start off at the information booth, says Festival Co-chair Bonita Price.

“When my kids were little, we lived at the Pioneer Festival that weekend,” she says. “My kids would dress up in pioneer outfits and we always had a parade, so we’re going to start that up again this year. Hopefully kids will dress up and we’ll take them on a parade, and at the end of it they’ll get a prize.”

Kids in grades K-8 can also enter the scarecrow contest. Participants can bring handmade scarecrows to the Younguns’ Area on Friday, Sept. 21, between 4 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Awards will be presented Saturday, Sept. 23, at 2 p.m. The contest is geared toward children; no gory, offensive or political entries will be accepted.

There will also be pony and camel rides in the Younguns’ Area, as well as an exotic petting zoo, provided by Evan Wall of Hoosier Camel Encounter.

“He brought a bunch of animals last year and the kids loved it,” Price says.

Kids can also try their skills out on a new, pioneer-inspired obstacle course.

Abraham Lincoln will return to the festival, to impart his wisdom to children in the outdoor schoolroom located in the pioneer village. Actor Danny Russel, as Lincoln, will speak at 12:30 p.m., 2:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. on both days.

There is always plenty to taste at the Pioneer Festival. Price says this year, a new “Food Circle” will round up all the food vendors into one convenient place, with vittles from elephant ears and caramel corn to ribs, pulled pork and brisket served up to hungry visitors. However, apple fritters and corn fritters will still be made over an open fire in the pioneer village.

“We’ve got a lot of neat things this year; we’re kind of trying to revamp it a little bit,” Price says. “We put all the food in one area so you don’t have to go here and go there … this way it’s all in the middle. You see it, get what you want and sit down together.”

One of the more unique food vendors will be Ion Ramer, who uses a “hit-and-miss” engine to power an old-fashioned ice cream churn. Ramer will make and sell the ice cream at the festival.

Also new this year, a pancake and sausage breakfast will be held Sunday morning from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. in the Food Circle area. The Community Choirs of Huntington County will serve up the meal. There is a cost charged, and admission to the festival will also be charged to those who come for the breakfast. However, those who leave before the festival opens at 10 a.m. can get a refund of their admission money.

The same admission policy applies for those who attend the worship service, which will begin at 9 a.m. at the Opera House Saloon.

Nearly all of the popular festival attractions will be back this year, including crafts and antiques, farmers’ market, sharpshooting cowboys, vintage motorcars and bicycles, old-time base ball games, frontier encampments and military demonstrations by the 1st U.S. Light Artillery, 1812.

Good news is there has been no increase in the admission charge for 2018. The festival offers discounts for students of any age and is free for children under 5. Proceeds support a variety of community programs.

The Huntington County Fairgrounds is located at 631 E. Taylor St., Huntington. Free parking is available adjacent to the festival grounds.

For additional information visit the festival website, PioneerFestival.org. A brochure of event times can be downloaded on that site. Also see the “Forks of the Wabash Pioneer Festival” Facebook page for the latest updates.