BRANCHVILLE - Be it a first-time visitor or a long time local, the 43rd annual Branchville Raylrode Daze Festivul continues to offer wholesome fun and nostalgic thrills for the family.
"I love this Branchville festival," said Anne Irick of Reevesville. "You can quote me on that."
Robby Dukes, strolling along with his wife, Sarah, and three small sons, has been coming to the festival all of his life. The Cattle Creek area man "lived in a house on the other side of the Depot." Now, his boys, who have "been coming all of their lives," are carrying on the tradition.
While looking forward to seeing the Clemson football game later in the day, the family is ready to take in the parade, the gunfights and the cancan girls.
For Katelyn Fletcher of Walterboro, accompanied by a cousin and young nephew, the visit is her first time at the festival.
"I'm excited. My stepmom's daughter lives in Branchville. I'm getting ready to have a belt made," she said. "It's cool seeing the gunfighters."
Tom Jennings, chairman of the festival for the tenth year, is pleased with the event, "one of the oldest and, I'm prejudiced, but I think one of the best" in the community.
"The rain held up," he said early Saturday afternoon. "It's hot, but I'll take the heat over the water. We prayed for good weather. As dry as we were that rain was good weather."
Watching the crowded Branch Junction, Jennings said the festival offers the "same old tried and tested true" activities it's famous for - including the famous gunfighters and dancing cancan girls. There's a spike driving event, as well as a popular costume contest and a hay stacking race. "Everybody likes fair food", plus the staged gunfight, the carnival rides, the street dancing and the Cal Smoak Special, a "local" train that carries festival goers from one end of town to the other.
"It's a good crowd, both days," he said. "I don't know how the vendors are doing, but as far as the people coming out, we're doing well...There's all kinds of food and crafts, jewelry and pocketbooks...Ninety percent are returning vendors. Once they get a spot, they try to keep it."
Donnie Dubose, a six-year-old Cub Scout from Cordova, along with his mother, Ty, was attending his first festival, enjoying all the event has to offer, while selling microwave popcorn bags to raise money for a scout camp trip. The Edisto Primary School first grader (a veteran of 49 days, as he counted, with happy face stickers awarded daily) was with other Cubs from Troop 712, spending the weekend, camping out on the Edisto River, when they came in to town for the parade and festival.
"The float things were really good. I threw Tootsie Rolls to the people," he said.
Vendor Nona Summers Clark of Bamberg, a native of the Pea Ridge section a few miles out of town and a graduate of Branchville High School, manned a fresh plant booth, as she's done for several years. A large variety of plants, all of which are home grown, are for sale, with proceeds going to the National Kidney Foundation and the Orangeburg Kidney Walk.
"Usually I walk in the parade. I have a sandwich board. I couldn't walk today, but I still do the plant sale," she said. "It's all volunteer and all proceeds go to the foundation."
Grand Marshal this year is Gail Fairey Shurbutt of Marietta, Ga., the 1970 Miss Raylrode Daze. Honorary Marshal is the Rev. James Adams of Columbia, who was a local Methodist minister from 1969 to 1977 and a former festival chairman.
Jennings credited the nine-member festival committee (four officers and five directors) and the volunteers who help them.
"We're a railroad town. People depended on it for their livelihood," he said.