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Bringing the past to life again, the town of Branchville and visitors to Raylrode Daze move back in time to an era when disagreements were settled by the quickest draw of a gun and the locomotive was the fastest mode of transportation.

Raylrode Daze, Branchville's annual festival, is a celebration of the town's history and its connection the railroad.

"This is our 34th annual festival," said Tom Jennings, president of Raylrode Daze Festivul. "We start planning this event in January. And we meet once a month to make sure everything is moving as planned. But we really start firming everything up during the first part of September."

For Jennings, the greatest part of the festival is seeing people enjoy themselves and sharing the town's history with those attending.

"This really is a celebration of our heritage," Jennings said. "This town was built around the railroad. Most of the people in this town have some connection to the railroad, either by working on it or having some family member who has worked on it. And the oldest railroad junction in the country was right here in Branchville."

In full agreement with Jennings' assessment of the festival, Mrs. Annelle Westbury Rickenbaker, 82, of Orangeburg and her baby sister, Mrs. Joan Westbury Barnette, 72, of Smithfield, Va., remember their childhood in Branchville. Both remember traveling by train from Branchville to Columbia and Charleston to visit relatives. And both have been attending Raylrode Daze from the first festivul in 1969.

"Eventually we started planning our family reunion so that we hold during the weekend of Raylrode Daze," Mrs. Rickenbaker said. "We hold our reunion at Sardis Methodist Church which was founded around 1811, and then we come to enjoy the events at Raylrode Daze. Almost every year I get to see someone that I haven't seen since I was a girl. I love people and I love being around people, so, it's the fellowship that I enjoy most. Though, I do like the entertainment."

Agreeing with her sister, Mrs. Barnette said, "It is good to see the people. I met a cousin of ours for the first time here today. I saw him and I knew he looked familiar, but it wasn't him that I recognized, but the family resemblance. I don't know what it is, but you always know your family. That's the reason I look forward to Raylrode Daze. With all the people attending, there's no telling who you'll see."

Mrs. Barnette gave up attending a festival in Smithfield to attend her family reunion and Raylrode Daze this weekend.

"There's nothing like coming home," she said. "I'm sure the Smithfield festival is going to be very nice, but I had to come home. Our family is made up of six girls and two boys, and I'm the baby. And we have a good time when we get together. And I love the entertainment at Raylrode Daze," she said as the shots blazed during the gunfight in the street of Branch Junction, a re-creation of a little western town with general store, livery stable, funeral parlor and several other little specialty stores.

The unpaved street along Branch Junction was littered with the bodies of fallen gunfighters after a realistic street brawl of a shootout. The only person left standing, after the final shots were heard, was the undertaker who walked from corpse to corpse measuring for final accommodations with a coffin lid.

Police Chief Q.B. Waters said the gunfight was one of the main reasons for building Branch Junction.

"We used to have the gunfight on the main street," he said. "But the fighters had to fall on the pavement. They didn't like that much. So, we built Branch Junction and deliberately kept the street unpaved to cushion their falls. They appreciate it so much that their group, the Branch Junction Gunfighters, does most of the maintenance on the junction, with some help from other members of the Raylrode Daze committee."

Up until the gunfighters took to the streets to settle their differences, much of the entertainment was just as startling. The womanless beauty pageant was as scary as the gunplay. Many of the 11 contestants forgot to shave their legs, underarms, chests and, in most cases, beards, mustaches and goatees. The audience voted for their favorite contestant by placing a dollar bill in a can in front of each contestant.

The audience held its collective breath as the winner was announced. "And the new Miss Branch Junction is, Brassy Bo Derek (Bo McBratnie)," the announcer said to cheers from the audience. The talk among the audience credited her total look for her win. They found her bird nest of a wig atop her shaved head enthralling. Her midriff top, baring the full expanse of a belly that has held its share of beers was… just… intriguing. And the sight of those unshorn legs was, well, quite something to behold."

Among the visitors to Raylrode Daze, many participated in the contests and events. Virginia Von Dohlen of North Charleston who has been coming to the festival for at least seven years was the winner of the women's spike driving competition while James Lantrip of Huger, a first-time attendee, was the male spike driving winner.

Hailed as a rollicking success, Raylrode Daze 2002 attracted visitors from many locations out of the state. Jimmy Hoffler of Jacksonville, Fla., visiting his fourth Raylrode Daze, summarized the event for most people attending.

"With so many things going wrong in the world and all the animosity people are expressing toward each other, it's great to be someplace where the gunfight is done with blanks, the beauty contest is done with men and the whole event is done with love. During this festival, the people of Branchville don't only open up their town to visitors, they open up their hearts."


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