BRANCHVILLE — One of South Carolina's most unique and longest running festivals, featuring can-can girls, gunslingers, a replica of a Western town and rides on a miniature train, will celebrate its 35th year Sept. 21-28.

The 35th Annual Raylrode Daze Festivul will kick off in Branchville at 2 p.m. Sunday with rides on the Cal Smoak Special and good ol' Southern Sunday entertainment on the Branch Junction stage throughout the afternoon. Starting at 2 p.m., the Branchville Baptist Church children's choir will sing, God's Copycats of St. George Baptist Church will perform their puppet ministry, and High Cotton will deliver their wonderful gospel music.

At 5 p.m., Can-Can Girls will perform, and rumor has it that the tiny Western town will be invaded by the Branch Junction Gunslingers moving in for the festival. When these villains show up, a gunfight is almost a certainty, says Tom Jennings, one of the festival organizers.

Talent Night will be the highlight of the festival on Tuesday. The annual talent show will begin at 7 p.m., with registration at 6:45 p.m. Performers are asked to bring their cassettes or compact discs. Musical instruments will not be provided.

The "Blessing of the Animals" service, an old Methodist tradition, is scheduled for 7 p.m.Wednesday. The service will be performed by the Rev. Mike Smith, pastor of Branchville United Methodist Church and Pleasant Hill United Methodist Church.

"Everyone is asked to come and bring their pets to be blessed," Jennings said. "Following the service, the annual Pet Show will be held on the Branch Junction stage, with ribbons being awarded in various categories. Following the Pet Show, there will be bingo games in the Red Dog Saloon for 25 cents per card per game."

Bingo prizes are being donated by local merchants.

Carnival Night is slated for Thursday, Sept. 25. "Magic Midway Carnival is the carnival this year, and they will be set up and operating beginning Thursday night," Jennings said. "Family Night will begin at 7 p.m., and the carnival will be located across the street from the Depot."

The official opening ceremony for this year's Raylrode Daze events will get under way at noon on Friday, Sept. 26, at the Branchville Depot. Delivering remarks at the ceremony will be 2003 Grand Marshal Lydia Berry Flickinger, a former Branchville resident, and 2003 Honorary Conductor Joe Ann Hendricks, a longtime Raylrode Daze Festivul organizer and worker.

The 2003 Miss Raylrode Junction Queens will add their welcomes during the opening ceremony as well. This year's queens are: Brittany Hess, Little Miss Raylrode Junction; Victoria Coleman, Young Miss Raylrode Junction; Alex Funchess, Junior Miss Raylrode Junction; and Callie Moorer, Miss Raylrode Junction.

Following the opening ceremonies, there will be continuous activities and entertainment in Branchville, including the Welcome Center, rides on the Cal Smoak Special, arts and crafts, concessions, carnival rides, local entertainment, can-can girls and gunfights.

At 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 26, street dances in various locations throughout the town will give folks a chance to kick up their heels.

The festival will move into full swing Saturday, Sept. 27. The annual parade, which will begin at 11 a.m., will line up at the Old Community Hut at Highways 21 and 210 and will proceed south through Main Street and end at the "turn-around" on the south end of Main Street.

Later in the day, the festival will feature exciting costume, whistle-blowing and men's and women's spike-driving competitions. Another highlight of the busy day will be the Womanless Beauty Contests, which will be held during the afternoon. Street dances will have everyone cutting a rug from 8 p.m. to midnight.

Jennings said the 2003 Raylrode Daze Festivul program books are available for sale at area businesses for $2 each. The 2003 Raylrode Daze T-shirts will be available during the festival at the Welcome Center.

"There is still room for arts and crafts and concession vendors," Jennings said. "Interested persons should call Margaret Garris at 803-274-8707."

Those wishing to be in the parade are asked to call Amy Easterling at 803-274-8623. For all other information, contact Tom Jennings at 803-274-8831.

"The Raylrode Daze Festivul was founded in 1969 by a local group of Branchville residents who wanted something to keep the town alive since the demise of travel by railroad. Branchville is the site of the World's Oldest Railroad Junction, so a festival with the railroad theme seemed appropriate," Jennings said. "The first year was successful so another festival was planned, and 2003 marks the 35th year. Raylrode Daze is one of the oldest festivals in South Carolina. It is operated by volunteers who donate their time and efforts to make the festival happen each year."

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