With twelve committed founding fathers, the Kilmarnock Volunteer Fire Department (KVFD) was established in 1932. Their foresight was notable with Kilmarnock’s town growth leading to incorporation in 1930. The fire department reorganized in 1935 with 22 members on board. In 1945 it became a non-profit corporation, and established the “carnival concept” as its only fund raising vehicle. From the 1940s to the 1950s other areas such as Callao, Fairfields, Upper Lancaster, and White Stone held “carnivals” annually. Only the Kilmarnock Volunteer Fire Department carnival remains in operation today. After three years of moving about, the four acre lot on Waverly Avenue became a permanent carnival residence. Presently, the KVFD readies to invite you to join its 77th carnival presentation. This statistic in itself is astounding. So is the involvement of 50 fireman and 200 nightly volunteers. Its eleven day event is orchestrated by Tom Jones (President of KVFD), Benny Balderson (Fire Chief of KVFD), and Johnny Smith (CEO of Waverly Avenue Carnival Company). They’re definitely up to the enormous carnival task.
The process begins with an extracted committee of four men planning and organizing the July/August carnival in early November. Since this remains the only fundraising opportunity of the KVFD the structured agenda is taken very seriously. It’s a tedious process. The carnival layout is surveyed booth by booth, ride by ride, and prize by prize. Changes/additions will have to be addressed. Food purchases are scrutinized. Donations from local businesses are begun. Meetings are endless. It’s a collective desire to make this the best carnival in KVFD history…period.
A personal visit to the carnival grounds during last year’s pre-opening night was full of bustle and expectation. Last minute touches lent way to hammering, cleaning, stocking items, grounds grooming, and inspection of rides. Trucks filled with foodstuffs and goodies backed in and out of the side entrance. Gleaming white carousel horses, gray manes out stretched, were readied. Even “Big Eli”, the 2005 HY-5 Ferris Wheel 12 seat edition operated by Bob Barrack and Randy Kellum, stood at the ready. Colorful kiddie rides awaited the squeals and smiles from its youngest carnival goers. Parking had been cordoned off. Weather barometers were out. Every detail is paramount to carnival success. There was already a silent whisper in the air that urged one to select a number and give the wheel a spin in the nearby booth.
The big “draw”, of course, will be the raffling of the automobile with the winner stepping up to the stage podium the last carnival night. Last year a whopping 7,500 tickets were sold. “We literally ran out of tickets”, Johnny Smith shares. “You can bet we’ll be ever ready in 2012. This raffle is a highlight carnival moment.” Nearby Tom and Benny pause in their planning to offer how proud they are of the men and women (KVFD Women’s Auxiliary) who make this event happen. “You know 75% of firemen in the United States are volunteers,” adds Tom. “You’ll find Benny, our Fire Chief, at the food stand…eleven years of service in.” Amazingly, you learn that Lester Brent has operated “Pick Up Ducks” (the oldest and most popular carnival game) for sixty years. Sixty years! The wide beaked green, yellow, and red ducks bobble happily along the watery path during the pre-testing unaware of their celebrity status. Hundreds of children will walk happily away with a prize. The nearby newly introduced “Mind Winder” ride has a lot to live up to as well. And then there’s Cody Smith, a student at Lancaster High School, who already has a three year volunteer tenure at the KVFD. It is striking to see volunteers turn to family for continued service. “As a youngster I cried if I couldn’t get to the carnival. I really lived for the moment I stepped on the grounds,” Johnny Smith relates in parting. This KVFD Carnival has truly earned its “traditional” stripes. Its proceeds will be recycled into the community whose needs it serves. What a definitive community calling this carnival has become.
To enjoy yesteryear carnival mementoes and hear the wonderful stories accompanying them a visit to the Kilmarnock Museum is a must. On display in pristine wooden glass cases are the 1936 Bingo cards with corn markers. This popular game is still going strong and centrally positioned on the carnival grounds. A pitcher, bowl, Donald Duck camera, and wooden canes draw your attention. The latter was a personal prize favorite displayed in the “Cat” game, and won by throwing balls at furry faces. Augusta Eubank Sellew shares how she, Nancy Hayden Hughes, and Elnora Haynie traveled throughout Northern Neck pre-selling raffle tickets in a carnival car. And everyone is captivated with Carroll Lee Ashburn’s 1940s story of the Poates family. These carousel owner/operators lived inside the tent after carnival hours eating and sleeping among their brightly painted horses.
This year step back and recall your own KVFD carnival treasure. Norma Lumpkin did as she shared the clown bank story as part of her history growing up in the Northern Neck. “My uncle won this clown back in the 1950s and gave it to me. Every time he visited he would put some change in it. I shook many school lunches from this clown. My carnival moments were just the best.”
In one way or another there is an individual and communal attachment to the KVFD carnival. Whether your carnival experience began with the tap of a baton, the winning of a prize, or the holding of your child’s or grandchild’s hand as you entered the grounds…there is something that says you are part of a unique legacy. The 77th KVFD Carnival is around the corner. Join in. “It’s a winner every time.”
The 2012 Kilmarnock Volunteer Fire Department Carnival will open on July 26th and run through August 4th. You can enter the raffle for the 2012 grand prize Mustang automobile with a $10.00 ticket. Only 5,500 tickets will be available this year.
Plan to visit the Kilmarnock Museum located on 76 Main Street in Kilmarnock, Virginia to enjoy the current KVFD carnival exhibit. Features will include photographs, news article, and artifacts from carnival yesteryears. The museum is open Thursday through Saturday from 11-3.