WILLIAMSPORT - The world-famous Budweiser Clydesdales will make a special appearance this year at the Deercreek Dam Days Festival in Williamsport.
Sponsored by Pettit's IGA in Williamsport and Classic Brands, the local Anheuser-Busch distributor in Chillicothe, the eight-horse Budweiser Clydesdale hitch will ride in a special Salute to Veterans parade on the Friday of festival week, which runs May 27 to 30 this year.
"In the beginning, we thought we had a one in 100 shot of getting them," said Tricia Pettit, owner of Pettit's IGA and vice president of the Deercreek Dam Days Festival. "Our odds just kept getting better and better. Just having the nerve to ask is what it comes down to. It's a once in a lifetime deal, and we will ride the wave while we can."
Pettit said it was the store's good working relationship with Classic Brands that led to the arrangement, but still it was not an easy feat.
"It's hard to get them," said Jeff Davis of Classic Brands. "There are three teams, one on the east coast, one out of St. Louis and one on the west coast, and they're pretty much booked year-round. Tricia and I got to talking about wanting to do a little payback for the community, something really special, so I talked to the company, and they gave me permission to go ahead and try."
Davis said he has tried to get the horses into Pickaway County before for the Circleville Pumpkin Show, but having them in a Pumpkin Show parade would be physically impossible.
"The team is so big, you just can't turn them," Davis said. "With as many turns as there are in the Pumpkin Show parade route and those tight corners, there's no way they could ever make it through."
Pettit said the Clydesdales also will not travel to participate in a single event.
"Classic Brands is a smaller distributor, and they can only get them every 10 to 15 years," Pettit said. "They haven't had them for about 13 years, so the timing was right. But they won't just come for one event. The Clydesdales are a marketing tool for Anheuser-Busch, so there has to be a route worked out for them before they come."
Following their Friday appearance at Dam Days, the Clydesdales will then spend the weekend in Ross County at other scheduled events before heading to Sandusky on another leg of their journey.
In Pickaway County, the horses will arrive in Williamsport on Wednesday that week, Pettit said, but they do not perform on travel days. The day following a travel day is spent cleaning and grooming the horses, so they will not be available for public viewing until the Friday of the festival, May 29.
"Friday will be the big day," she said. "It will start about noon with a health fair hosted by Berger Health System, which is a big sponsor for us. About 2 p.m., the Clydesdales should arrive on Main Street adjacent to my store and will set up on the lot for display."
The horses will be available for photos with sponsors and then the general public from about 4 p.m. until the start of the parade about 5 p.m., Pettit said.
"We never have a Friday parade, but we wanted to do something special with the Clydesdales coming in," she said. "Our parade coordinators are working hard to contact veterans organizations and get them to participate."
Davis said times are still being worked out, but the Clydesdales will then move on to Ross County and will be at the Chillicothe city park about 4:30 or 5 p.m. on May 30, making special stops at about five locations in the downtown Chillicothe area.
"We're going to do an old-school type of thing and have them deliver a case of beer right off the wagon to several bars in the area on Saturday," he said. "Then on Sunday, the 31st, we're going to have them at the Chillicothe Paints baseball game from about 5 to 7 p.m. at the VA Memorial Stadium."
The Clydesdales also will make a private appearance that Sunday at the Chillicothe VA Hospital for veterans at the facility who are able to come out to see them.
"That took some doing to get them in there," Davis said. "That's not a public thing, though. That's just for the veterans at the hospital."
Pettit said Dam Days organizers are already working on plans to accommodate not only the huge team of horses but also the crowds they expect the event to draw.
"We'll have to shut down the parade route to accommodate the horses, because they're just enormous," Pettit said. "We don't even know what to guess on a crowd, but I could see if we hit good weather in excess of about 5,000 people for the parade. They were at the county fair in Lancaster last year, and on the day it didn't rain, there was a crowd of 10,000 people just at the time when the horses were there."
Pettit said the festival will have to implement structured parking this year in order to present the Clydesdales during the parade.
"Usually people just park along the street and in my lot, but they won't be able to do that this year," she said. "The fire department owns property on Route 22 by the Dairy Shed, that big field there, so we will be using that field for parking."
While the Clydesdales will be a huge draw for the festival, Pettit said it also comes with a big expense.
"I'm not just talking about financially bringing in the horses, which we're sponsoring with Classic Brands," Pettit said. "With that many more people expected, you're talking about more port-a-potties, structured parking, volunteers to shut down the street, all those things you don't really think about. We hope to get more groups willing to come and help us, because you just can't pay for all of that. Hopefully we will get more sponsors and support from groups who are willing to help."
Several local organizations who host fundraisers during the festival already have offered their services taking care of smaller tasks throughout the four-day event. The Five Points Cub Scout and Boy Scout group, for example, will be taking care of garbage service throughout the festival in addition to their own fundraising activities.
"That's the beauty of what we're doing," Pettit said. "We have probably seven people working really hard on the organizational side, trying to get other groups involved in small facets of the festival. They hold fundraisers for their group within the festival and then help us do things, too. So it's not so much having people show up for our meetings but having them do one small part of the festival is what will make it work for us."
Hosting the Budweiser Clydesdales is a major coup for the festival that just two years ago was in debt and could not put on an event in 2013.
"It's a huge endeavor to take this on and really run it properly," Pettit said. "We had some nice people running it, but it was a lot more than they could do. We raised enough money to pay off the debt and were able to bring it back. This is our second year back now."
Organizers not only paid off the festival's previous debt but were also able to upgrade electrical service at the park by raffling off a Harley-Davidson last year.
"We raised enough money to get that improved, and this winter all electric service was replaced at the park," she said. "It's up to code this year, and we're ready to add more vendors and make it a bigger and better festival."
Davis said he hopes the Clydesdales' appearance will help the community of Williamsport and bring in a bigger crowd for the Deercreek Dam Days Festival.
"It's a more rural area, and I think people will really appreciate them more as part of a celebration like this than if they were standing out in a ball field or whatever," he said.