Fair magic: People make the experience a pleasure
By Seth Thomas Gulledge
The Daily Reflector
Friday, September 21, 2018
There’s something magical about a county fair. It takes a swath of grass and dirt in an obscure corner of the county and it fills it with lights, towering rides, the smell of fried foods and music.
But most of all, it fills it with people.
For vendors and entertainers like Millie Prechtl, Buddy Farnan and Marc Dobson, that is enough of a reason to keep going.
Most fairgoers have a good chance of meeting Prechtl, if for no other reason than the fact that she’s selling funnel cakes — a natural fairgoer attraction. There is an even better chance those who meet her will end up making a friend, becoming a little fatter for the experience and receive a hug.
A 79-year-old woman with a quiet smile and a radiant energy, Prechtl said she has been peddling every kind of fair food across the state and east coast for over 30 years. In those years, she said, she has met thousands and thousands of people and they are the reason she keeps going after all these years.
“It’s just the thrill of meeting people, seeing their excitement of being at a carnival,” she said. “I just love the people, no other way to say it.”
She did take a moment to disclose there was one customer a decade or so back she did not find pleasant, but the ratio seems widely in favor of the good ones.
Hailing from Sneads Fairy, Prechtl said she got her start after her husband told her she should start selling fried apples. She eventually bought a “ugly old trailer” and started peddling food at festivals in eastern North Carolina. Now, she operates four trailers, selling every kind of food a fair or festival could ask for.
Out of all those offering, Prechtl said she believes her funnel cakes — a homemade recipe — are her best offering. Asked whether she thought her cakes were the best, she said there was no question.
“We know,” Prechtl said. “Just watch our lines on Saturday.”
While walking around a fair can be a dazzling and magical experience in and of itself, fairgoers also have a chance to run into Buddy Farnan, a nationally renowned magician and antique bicycle collector.
At 84 years old, Farnan appears throughout the fairgrounds performing magic tricks for kids and adults alike. A resident of Salisbury, he joked that coming to perform is mainly about ego.
“I knew when I grew up I wanted to be a magician,” he said. “But you can’t do both.”
When Farnan is not performing impressive feats of magic across the fairground he can be seen in one of the exhibit halls, showing off an surprising collection of historic bicycles, many dating back to as the early 1800s.
Farnan says the bicycles on display at the fair are just a small part of his larger collection —about 100 in total. The rest are privately stored or on display at museums. Asked why he chose to collect bicycles, he said the answer is quite simple.
“People always ask me ‘Why antique bicycles?’’” he said. “Because I couldn’t afford antique cars.”
Whether or not he was joking is beside the point. Farnan also offers an impressive history lesson about bicycles for anyone willing to listen. To Faran, the bicycle represents one of the most important inventions in history, exponentially increasing mobility and freedom for people around the world — specifically women, who he said benefitted the most from the invention.
Vocals, an acoustic guitar, a harmonica, a bass and snare drum and tambourines are all aspects that would make up an impressive full band.
But Marc Dobson does not need a whole band. Dobson does it all by himself — for everybody else.
“I’m doing something that most people don’t recognize and that’s kind of neat,” he said. “ I hope can inspire someone in the generation down the road. You never know what kind of positive effect you’ll have on someone day to day, especially kids.”
Dobson, a 46-year old one man band, truly personifies the “jack-of-all-trades idea as he walks around the Pitt County fair belting out classics by George Strait and The Beatles.
Dobson once worked in the entertainment industry in central Florida, but he said the economic recession in the mid 2000s shrunk the market to a point where he decided to pursue other passions — namely something he first started as a high schooler.
Now, he takes his act all across the country, traveling year-round to different corners of the country refining his craft.
And he allows the temporary occupants of that magical swarth of dirt and grass a chance to arrive — and leave — on a positive note.