FTD marred by storm, but workers say there were 'tons of positives'
RIVER FALLS - Time and tide may wait for no man, but the weather also has no consideration for hard work as Pierce County Farm Technology Days organizers clearly realized last week.
Still, apart from losing the final day of the show due to heavy rains, 2010 FTD workers say the event they spent three years planning went pretty well.
"There were tons of positives, said Publicity and Promotion Committee Co-chairwoman Mary Brand. "The only thing that we didn't get to control was the weather."
There were no thefts, five people were taken to the hospital for treatment of heat-related illnesses, and only one minor traffic accident was reported during the three-day event.
Once wristband sales are tallied and entrance fees reconciled, final numbers will show paid attendance was close to 50,000, predicted Greg Andrews, FTD executive secretary and University Extension agriculture agent.
"All our numbers are kind of shaky math," said Andrews Monday of current estimates. But it's believed that between 18,000 and 21,000 people paid to attend both Tuesday and Wednesday and about 5,700 attended the last day.
"There were a few exhibitors that were kind of upset," said Brand of the early closing. "But what do you do?"
Andrews said he spoke with both local and national vendors.
"The vast majority were very happy with sales and prospects," said Andrews. "Day 3, the happiness goes away a little bit."
"We had two good days," agreed Brand. "But it's an outdoor event, and you know that going in."
She added, "Most exhibitors were very understanding and complimentary and realized the weather is out of anyone's control."
The show ran from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, July 20, and 21. It was scheduled to run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. July 22, but heavy rains and flooding forced cancellation at 10 a.m. that day.
Hail and tornados in the vicinity in the weeks before the show caused some concern, but only a light rain was predicted for Thursday, so the show opened on schedule, said Andrews.
"But it just kept raining and raining," said Andrews. In the first hour of the show the rainfall measured 1.5 to 1.6 inches.
After intensely watching weather radar and realizing the storm wasn't going to veer off as predicted, the Executive Committee and the show's general manager decided to cancel, said Andrews. Food and other tents were kept open to provide some entertainment for paid-admission visitors.
A majority of the exhibitors are experienced, participate in many outdoor shows and know the risks, said Andrews. "A lot of them would say two (days) out of three ain't bad."
As for himself, said Andrews, if three years ago he had been asked to gamble with the weather on all three days or be guaranteed two good days, he knows what he would have picked.
"I would have gone with two great days and losing that third day," he said.
Once the decision was made to shut down the show, the prime concern was to get visitors out of the parking areas safely. The next step was to systematically help exhibitors leave, said Andrews.
He said grounds workers helped pull vehicles stuck in mud while trams and the utility terrain vehicles were used to help small exhibitors.
The volunteer grounds crews worked long and hard both Friday and Saturday, helping exhibitors load and leave, and then took off half a day Sunday before returning to work Monday, said Andrews.
"They've been working so very hard," said Andrews, praising the dedication of Tent City Chairman Bob Fenske and Grounds Committee chairmen Terry Kusilek and Gordy Gavin.
The work of disassembling Tent City and hauling out displays will continue for about a week.
Safety Committee Co-chairman Jeff Rixmann said 12 EMS workers were kept on site at all times, working shifts from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Also on site during the show were an ambulance, six UTVs, one fire truck and a brush truck.
EMS workers continually "roamed the site" on the lookout for problems, said Rixmann.
At final count, while many others were treated, five people -- four on Tuesday and one on Wednesday -- were transported to the hospital. All of those were treated for heat-related illnesses, said Rixmann.
"Tuesday was busy day for us because it was so hot and humid," said Rixmann. Wednesday was lighter, and EMS workers spent most of Thursday shuttling people from the gates to parking areas and their cars. That third day, the only injuries were minor cuts and bruises.
River Falls Area Hospital and River Falls Medical Clinic staffed two First Aid tents.
The tents were positioned near water stations, and most of the people who fell ill found their way to the tents on their own, said Rixmann.
"The heat injuries were pretty severe, but once they got treated, they were OK," he said.
"For us things actually went quite well," said Patrol Sergeant Jason Matthys of the Pierce County Sheriff's Department.
The department provided 24-hour-a-day coverage for five days -- the three show days, the day before and the day after.
From July 10 on, two officers patrolled the site from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. keeping an eye on Tent City, the Peterson farm and the adjacent campground.
Those officers ran into minimal problems, said Matthys. He said there were a couple of complaints about alcohol on the grounds and the deputies turned away about 10 people who wanted to visit the site after hours.
The cost of the nighttime patrols was covered by the county, said Matthys.
During the show itself, nine Wisconsin State Patrol officers controlled traffic into and out of the site. Pierce County Highway Department workers also helped at checkpoints and assisted in directing traffic.
Eight Sheriff's Department officers were at the site from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. all three days of the show.
Matthys said those officers received 20 calls for service. Those included reports of four missing or lost persons -- two adults and two children.
"All four of those were located within five minutes of the time of the call," said Matthys. The public address system was used to reach missing persons.
There was one traffic accident at the close of the day Tuesday as cars left the parking lot headed out to County Road E. Matthys said no one was injured, and the damage was not serious.
Only one alleged theft was reported. An exhibitor reported a shepherd's hook was missing, but workers from another exhibit said they'd had been offloading cattle nearby and the animals stomped over the planter.
"Overall it was a really good show -- very positive," said Matthys. He said people were cooperative and everything went well -- "except the rain, and you can't control that."
But, he said, there was a contingency plan in case of storms.
"We switched to Plan B and everybody fell into their appropriate area," he said.
Once the rain stopped, officers helped visitors and vendors leave the parking area.
"There actually were 30 cars left in the lot, stuck that couldn't get out and stayed the night," said Matthys.