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The crowds gathered at the old train depot, decorated with countless baskets of yellow mums.

The new fountain and landscaping provided the backdrop as the high school band played the national anthem.

Beauty queens were on hand, along with dignitaries and honorees. Speeches were made. Former Branchville residents hugged old friends.

A brand new Cal Smoak train engine was unveiled, as was a memorial honoring Branchville citizens who died for their country.

The 35th Raylrode Daze Festivul was officially underway.

Festival president Tom Jennings and his crew have put together another successful year of one of the longest-running South Carolina festivals.

The 2003 grand marshal is former town resident Lydia Berry Flickinger of Grand Rapids, Mich., who donated an Indiana flag to join the other state flags flying around the depot. An Indiana flag was donated as the town already had a Michigan flag and Flickinger's husband attended school at Notre Dame.

"It's quite an honor to be the grand marshal," Flickinger said. "I look forward to coming home to my home town with my children and letting them experience the festival like I did growing up."

The 2003 honorary conductor is Jo Ann Hendricks, former Raylrode Daze president and tireless worker, who has been actively involved with every festival since 1969.

"It is a special honor because I've been here a long time. … It's part of my life, and I love it," Hendricks said.

This year's President's Award went to a very surprised David Hess, one of the gunfighters who worked in countless other ways to make this year's festival a reality.

"I was pleasantly surprised. No one knows about it until (today)," Hess said Friday. "I didn't know who he was talking about until (Tom Jennings) said, 'He's not from around here.' It's a great honor, and I'm sure I'll be a part of Raylrode Daze for many, many years to come."

Also welcoming this year's visitors were Brittany Hess, Little Miss Raylrode Junction; Victoria Coleman, Young Miss Raylrode Junction; Alex Funchess, Junior Miss Raylrode Junction, and Callie Moorer, Miss Raylrode Junction.

A memorial to fallen Branchville residents, located in front of the new fountain, was donated by the American Legion.

American Legion Post 66 President Luther Folk said, "We're happy to be able to dedicate the memorial to the town of Branchville and to the community in recognition of the men and women who serve in the military forces who have given their all, given their lives, for our community."

Special recognition was given to the Raylrode Daze Gunfighters for their dedication and hard work

Also on hand was Orangeburg County District 66 Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter.

”I'm just so glad to be here. I'm not going to be able to make the parade tomorrow, and I always try to be supportive of Raylrode Daze, so I had to come today," she said. "For the last three years I've been out of town. I was so glad to able to come down. This is an institution in Orangeburg County, and I had to come and be supportive of it."

The Branchville High School FFA, under the supervision of Pat Black, was responsible for decorating the depot for the weekend's activities.

The weekend's festivities will continue with a parade at 11 a.m. Saturday, followed by continuous activities all day. The gunfighters and can-can girls will entertain throughout the day, along with carnival rides, arts and crafts, and local entertainment.

There will be spike-driving contests for both men and women, costume contests, whistle-blowing contests, and a womanless beauty pageant.

The Cal Smoak Special will leave continuously from the Welcome Center at Branch Junction, and street dances will begin at 8 p.m.

T&D Correspondent John Ott can be reached by phone at 803-829-3638.

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