RALEIGH -- Just days before the NC State Fair opens, work crews from Wade Shows are arriving at the midway, clanging and climbing over steel rods and heavy foundations as they assemble rides in preparation for the crucial weeks ahead.
"We played a couple fairs in Tennessee, we were there for about two months. Then we came straight here, this is like our main fair, this is a big, big deal," said Jacob Harrell as his crew is constructing the "Hit in 2000" ride, as well as two others.
A few new rides will hit the midway this year, but fair officials are hoping it's the good weather that will help them meet the high attendance levels of the past two years, which both saw more than 1 million people visit the Fairgrounds.
Vendors like Wanda Long hope so too. Her father started their food stand at the fair in 1969 as private school fundraising effort. Known for their peach and apple cobbler, now "Anderson & Daughters" is a full-time job while the fair is on.
"We're all employed in other jobs, we only do this during the state fair. So we all take our vacations. Other people go to the beach, mountains, Bahamas--I go to the state fair," Long said.
The Youngsville natives don't travel with the booth. This is the only time of year they operate. Sometimes it's worth the time off, but not always.
"I can guarantee I wouldn't be doing this if it wasn't for my family. I wouldn't do this just for fun. It's hard, hard work. Some years it can be profitable, some years we lose money. We don't have any guarantee," said Long.
Another food delight is gaining some pre-fair buzz. The answer to the annual "what will they fry next" question is fried Girl Scout cookie Samoas/Caramel deLites.
One sure thing to expect at this year's fair is stronger measures to prevent contact between animals and fairgoers. Last year's E. coli outbreak affected 25 people, many of whom visited the Kelley Building where livestock are kept, according to fair officials.
"That seems to be the most likely source of contamination. Of the people who got sick, a good percentage of them had gone through this building," said Jen Nixon, public information officer with the NC State Fair. "This year we're gonna try to prevent the crossover between people and animals. So we're gonna set up some bike racks and some fencing, so when animals are going from Kelley Building to Expo Building for shows, we won't be able to cross their traffic. After the first weekend, we'll put up some more gates so they can't do that."
New handwashing stations have also been installed, including a shorter bathtub-style station for kids with a fountain in the middle.
"It's gonna be like a traditional fountain, but low flow water, so there will be a big bubble of water coming off of here," said Nixon. "It runs continuously, kids wash their hands in water stream. We had it in the [Got to Be NC] festival in May and kids loved it. It's right at their level, and it's a fun way to wash your hands, and that's what we really wanna do after being around animals and before they eat."
The North Carolina State Fair runs from this Thursday, Oct. 11 through Sunday, Oct. 21.