By Mark Wineka
SALISBURY - On the Rowan County Fair's midway, you twist, turn, tilt, drop, hop and pop. You can fly helicopters, ride dragons and steer monster trucks.
If that's still not enough, go upside down on the Fireball, which is what 10-year-old Samantha Towell did for the first time Monday evening.
"Scary," Samantha reported after the ride was over. "You're going back and forth, then you stop, Then you're almost about to fall out."
But it was the best ride ever.
"I would do it again," she said.
Rain and a small electrical fire provided some of the first-night drama of the 61st Rowan County Agricultural Fair, which continues daily through Saturday.
Many fair-goers found ways to dodge some of the showers by taking advantage of the good eats - everything from funnel cake and Italian sausage to chicken and dumplings and pork chop sandwiches.
Staying dry in the livestock arena, a large crowd watched the junior ewe and market goat judging.
Monday also was the day devoted to handing out prizes for everything from biscuits to quilts, from watermelons to sweet potatoes, from flowers to dresses and from canned vegetables to cakes.
All the winners were on display in the exhibit hall and will be throughout the week.
An overloaded circuit sparked wildly and caught fire at the top of a utility pole early in the evening. The fire, which burned out on its own, caused a few food booths to lose their power. The largest exhibit hall also had to go dark for several minutes while Duke Energy made some repairs later.
Admission to the fair was free Monday if you brought four cans of food for Rowan Helping Ministries.
For many children, the bright lights of the midway are a calling card for excitement. Alan and Renee Ritchie purposely kept the fair's arrival a secret from their four boys.
"We hadn't mentioned it until this evening, and they lit up," Alan Ritchie said.
Taking the "four amigos," as Alan likes to call them, to the fair is expensive. The unlimited ride deal cost the Ritchies $18 for each boy.
"It costs us a fortune to do anything with these four," Alan Ritchie said. They include Corbin, 9; Cameron and Carson, twin 7-year-olds; and Cayden, 5.
All four were piled into the Monster Truck ride while their parents watched. "Mainly, we come for the kids," Alan Ritchie said of the family's annual fair trip.
Mike and Brenda Rowell also enjoy bringing their grandchildren, 4-year-old Coltan Curry and 12-year-old Macy Curry, to the fair every year.
"They talk about it days before they get here and days afterward," Mike Rowell said, watching Coltan ride the "Wiggle Wurm."
Rowell hated to give away his secret, but he said coming early on the first day of the fair is perfect for avoiding the bigger crowds later in the week.
The fair opened at 4 p.m. Monday.
"We were here at 4:07," Meredith Sullivan laughed.
She and husband Paul brought their 5-year-old daughter, Mollie, to the fair and were pleased with all the rides suited for someone her age.
Harnessed in, Mollie particularly enjoyed bouncing up and down on the Bungee Jump.
Her mother called it her "Peter Pan moment," because it did seem as though she were flying at times.
"All right, no more jumping, Mollie," Meredith Sullivan shouted as her time on the Bungee Jump came to a close.
The Sullivans, who have four horses, hope that Mollie may be able to show a lamb next year. But first, it was off to the Chopper Hopper.
Rebecca Newman, a 6-year-old first-grader, fell in love with the Genesis ride, which provides a back-and-forth thrill for adults, too.
Her parents, William and Kimberly Newman, said they brought Rebecca to the fair only after she had finished her homework.
Bryce Poteat, another youngster, said the Genesis was a pretty scary ride.
"It made my ghost come out," he said.
The Crazy Chopper was a bit tamer, but it looked and sounded as a real helicopter does."It's a wonderful experience for any kid who wants to fly," Derrick Washington said as he watched his 5-year-old son, Emmanuel, go solo in the chopper.
Just outside the livestock arena, the Reber family from Mount Ulla was waiting on the beef cattle dress-up competition.
The Reber children - Cameron and Zachary, both 4, and Madison, 8 - were dressed as bank robbers. Their 3-month-old calf, Bucky, wore a straw hat and bandana and had a bag around his neck.
He was carrying the loot.
"He's not a fan of the hat," mom Christi Reber said of Bucky. He also was missing his older brother back in the barn.
"But he's being a good sport about it,' Christi Reber added.
The Rebers will be competing in the lamb dress-up today. Their theme will be counting sheep, and their lambs will be numbered '98," "99" and "100."
Christi Reber said she hopes people get it.
MacKenzie Catanese and Abigail Raffaldt, both juniors in South Rowan High School's Future Farmers of America program, were waiting to show ewes.
Catanese acknowledged the cold, hard fact that her lamb had no name because, well, she'll soon be sold and butchered, becoming leg of lamb and rack of lamb.
"We really haven't named her, because we're going to eat her," Catanese said. "... This one's kind of stubborn. She has an attitude."
Catanese bought her lamb from the school in mid July for $125. She expects to sell him Wednesday for $375. She spent about $80 in feed over the last two months.
Raffaldt was showing a lamb with a name, Roxanne, who belongs to the Lazy 5 Ranch.
The girls did a lot shearing and washing to have their ewes ready for the Rowan County Fair show.
For Ralph Spry, the fair was about eating.
He helps Willie Sax put up and tear down his food booth at the fair. In between, he likes to partake of Sax's pork chop and country ham sandwiches.
They're so good, they bring out the ghost in him.