BRANCHVILLE -- Half a century of festivities have continuously brought visitors to the annual Raylrode Daze Festivul.
A week’s worth of events are centered on the town that was once home to one of the busiest railroad depots.
“Our festival commemorates the railroad history of Branchville. It was started in 1969 as a way to kind of keep the town alive,” said Tom Jennings, the festival's president.
In 1838, the first railroad line to run from Charleston to Augusta, Georgia was complete.
The rail line at the junction is still active, making it the oldest railroad junction in the world, according to the Branchville Railroad Museum's website. The former passenger station at the depot now houses the museum.
Jennings said the discontinuation of trains stopping in the city was the inspiration behind the event.
“Passenger trains were cut off by the railroad, and the town started drying up,” he said.
“The locals here wanted to do something to kind of keep it alive, so the idea of a festival was pitched, and different people in town volunteered their time to organize the first one, and it went over very well,” he said.
Fifty years later, many of the original attractions are still staples.
“A lot of our attractions are things that have been a part of the festival for the entire lifetime of the festival,” Jennings said.
One of the early attractions that remains is gunfights. The other is can-can girls.
“When the festival arrived, they had so many people, they just did not expect that many people to come, and they were looking for things to entertain them with,” Jennings said.
“One of the organizers came up with the idea of holding a bank robbery, and they actually robbed the town’s bank on Main Street,” Jennings said.
A mock robbery of the bank seemed to capture the crowd and become popular. Jennings said that the location of the gunfight changed a few years later.
“The next couple of years, they moved the gunfights to Branch Junction, which is our little area in town that is designed like a little western town,” he said. “That's where our entertainment began.”
The can-can girls were an idea designed to complement the western theme of the festival.
Jennings said that there is also another staple that is synonymous with the festival.
“We have a homemade train. We call it the Cal Smoak Special,” he said. “That is another very popular attraction at the festival.
“The engine is fabricated to look like an old steam engine, and it pulls what we call five coaches. They are old iron cars with bus seats on them, and each one has four seats.”
The train ride gives passengers a tour of Main Street.
Jennings said that local artists also perform throughout the festival weekend.
The spike-driving contest also seems to draw a crowd of participants and spectators. The contest features two categories, adults and children, and involves a hammer, railroad spikes and nails.
“The men and women actually use an old railroad spike hammer, and they actually drive railroad spikes into a cross-tie,” Jennings said.
“The children, depending on their age, some do nails, some do the bigger nails, and they do it in a post,” he said.
“It’s a timed event and the winner receives a plaque,” he said.
The most popular modern-day attraction is held on Saturday: the parade.
“The parade begins at 11 a.m. and it proceeds down Main Street from Horton Field to the old Branchville High School,” Jennings said.
He said that parade-goers will see the traditional parade floats, but they will also see unusual sights at the parade.
Golf carts and even horses are permitted to participate in the parade.
“The festival will officially kick off on Sunday, Sept. 23,” Jennings said.
The festival will also feature a magic show, car and truck show, pet show, hypnotist and festival pageant, among several events for the week-long event.
Jennings said that past grand marshals, can-can girls and other past participants will also be honored during the festival.
As a part of last year’s 50-year anniversary festivities, past grand marshals, pageant participants and others who were influential in the early years of the annual event were honored, he said.
Honorees even included some participants in the first festival.
Nancy Smith, who was the first Miss Raylrode Junction in 1969, served as grand marshal, and Hope Bingham-Suggs, who was the first Little Miss Raylrode Junction in 1972, was the honorary conductor.
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