The streets of Hinton were quiet, naturally colorful, and different for this time of year. Oddly, the little village feels ‘‘ghosted” by the hustle bustle Railroad Days Festival.
In what seems like forever, autumn leaves have signaled everyone into action to host the annual festival.
City Manager Cris Meadows said, “I love the festival.”
With the festival called off by nationwide concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic, Meadows stated, “I feel sad.”
Sad is the prevalent mood of past participants from every civic organization, community service group, church, school groups to artists, craftspeople and vendors. Yet, there’s also optimism. If you come to Hinton these two weekends, be assured, you won’t have to stand in line.
Former Mayor Jim Leslie and City Councilman Larry Meador are said to be the visionaries who created the major citywide street festival. After observing a small-scale group of craftspeople and vendors set up to greet New River train passengers at the depot, Leslie said he and Meador decided to expand it by closing the street and bringing in more of a big festival atmosphere.
“That was in 1983,” Leslie said, “and that’s how it all began and continued — until the dreaded virus, COVID-19.” He sadly referred to the over 225,000 deaths of Americans as the virus continues to spread nationwide.
Mr. Pat and Mrs. Pat Hannifin, or the “Pats,” have coordinated the long-established Railroad Days Festival with Hinton Railroad Museum’s Dorothy Jean Boley to host visiting passengers aboard fall foliage New River rail excursions run by the Collis P. Huntington Railroad Historical Society. Boley noted that she’s not happy about the virus and not happy about having to cancel this year’s event.
Over decades the festival drew increasingly more people locally, regionally and via rail to the community. Every year the smell of ham being cooked by members of the Rotary Club, the hamburgers and hot dogs sold to raise money for band uniforms, and the Annual Prettiest Pet Contest fundraiser for the Animal Control and Welfare Project drew eager fans. Cakes, brownies, cookies, candies, canned jams and jellies, barbeque and tacos were the vibrant aromas and fragrances all working together to bring a lot of money into town, money for scholarships, glasses, social service programs and sports equipment for the schools. The festival was THE place to eat a funnel cake and roam around, run into old friends and family, and magnetically pulled schoolmates to annual reunions from throughout the country.
For two straight weekends every year the streets of Hinton were packed. From horse-drawn carriages and buses transporting railway passengers up 2nd Avenue to the festival, the long treasured community tradition has gone dark.
Mr. Pat said, “It feels very unusual not to be working nonstop” planning and coordinating all the major and minor details of providing absolute safety and fun for everyone. “We don’t know what to do with ourselves, so we bought a camper and hit the road for the weekend. We’re actually enjoying our free time.”
Leslie opined, “One day we will find a vaccine and get back to normal and expand Railroad Days. That is what we want to do.”
Boley hopes by next year the virus will wind up far behind us.