Holy cow! It's time for a ball
Shelly Tolo gives instructions on Monday as she heads the turnaround of the transformation of the Farm Show Complex.
Shelly Tolo, right, on talks to Wendy McDermott about the transformation of the Farm Show Complex into a ballroom for the Governors Ball as part of the Inaugural events for Tom Corbett, to be sworn in as the new PA governor on Tuesday.
Farm Show vendors walk, roll drag and ride displays from the floor of the exhibition hall at the close of the 95th annual Pennsylvania Farm Show.
Farm Show Complex Executive Director Pat Kerwin, finishes his ice cream cone and observes the vendors breakdown and remove their displays from the floor of the exhibition hall.
Farm Show vendors Wilmer King, left and Ben King, right, of Pine Creek Structures, tear down their two-story barn outbuilding on the floor of the exhibition hall.
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HARRISBURG -- Three days after it hosted its annual big event, the Farm Show Complex and Exposition Center was transformed from barnyard to ballroom to make ready for tonight's inaugural ball for Gov.-elect Tom Corbett and a few thousand guests.
About 400,000 people and 6,500 farm animals passed through the sprawling complex during the Pennsylvania Farm Show's eight-day run, which concluded at 5 p.m. Saturday.
Farm Show exhibitors normally have two days to remove their wares, but this year those in the Exposition Hall had a scant five hours to pack up and funnel out a single roll-up door, which, for the first half hour, was blocked by a two-story barn that had to be dismantled and dragged out on a fork lift.
No farm animals were kept in the Exposition Hall where the inaugural festivities will take place, but the room is connected to a passageway with a dirt floor that was used last week to lead horses, cows, goats and other farm animals to their stalls and pens.
In the lobby, where inauguration guests will enter the ball this evening, pungent odors still lingered late Monday: gasoline from the tractor pulls, sweet oil from the fried donuts and droppings of prized livestock.
"We'll do our best to make sure any leftover animal odor is covered up, but people know they're following the Farm Show, so hopefully they'll be a little forgiving," the complex's executive director Pat Kerwin said Wednesday, the mid-point of the farm show.
Before work could get started on the inauguration, workers had to clear out the Exposition Hall, which had been filled with food vendors, Fryolators, tractors, combines, horse trailers, hay bales and mulch-based landscape exhibits.
Vendors and exhibitors formed a parade that, at times, resembled a refugee evacuation. First came a woman with a shopping cart filled with cinder blocks. Next a 10-foot-tall fiberglass chicken, a wheelbarrow full of canned applesauce, a cast iron antique plow and a hand truck loaded with hay stacked five-bales high.
"They want this to be a ballroom on Tuesday? Holy cow! They'll never get it done," Vernon Weikard, 84, of Cumberland County said Saturday night as he removed trays of grain he'd entered in an contest.
Farm Show Committee Chairman Mike Firestine wasn't worried.
"We're gonna scrub and then scrub and then scrub some more. We've gotta make sure it's dust-free because we don't want people in fancy black tuxedos kicking up dust clouds behind them," he said Saturday night during the mass exodus.
Mr. Corbett's will be the third inaugural ball at the complex. The others -- both held for outgoing Gov. Ed Rendell -- went off without a hitch. Those inaugurals used both the Exposition Center and the more odorous Equine Arena, its dirt floor tamped down with water and covered with carpet.
Penny Lee, who planned Mr. Rendell's balls, said timing has to be perfect because the three days between the Farm Show and inauguration passes quickly.
"You have to maximize every minute because one snag that you weren't expecting can really set you back," she said. "There was no single outstanding disaster, but constant troubleshooting. It was like playing Whack-a-Mole."
For Shelly Tolo of Pittsburgh's TOLO Events, coordinator this year's ball, the challenge has been planning for a such a large venue. At 174,000 square feet, the Exposition Hall could hold three football fields. .
"I'm used to doing quick changeovers. That's not unusual," she said. "What makes this harder is that this is a very, very large space."
The ball includes a stage, a dance floor, 30 bars and five food stations, each serving gourmet versions of specialty foods from different regions of the state. For example, the Southwest Region food station will feature fry-topped steak served in martini glasses and open-faced Isaly's chipped-chopped ham sandwiches.
Ms. Tolo's crews arrived at the Farm Show at 10 p.m. Saturday, but the work began long before that.
Trusses that now carry stage lights had been hung in Farm Show rafters before Christmas. Other equipment was delivered throughout last week and put in storage.
Inauguration contractors began their work even as Farm Show employees were hauling out the last hay bales and clearing piles of mulch.
In other parts of the ballroom, crews were building 4-foot-high platforms, unfurling thousands of feet of cable, sprinkling sawdust over puddles of grease where Fryolators had been, and erecting four 27-foot-wide projection screens placed throughout the room where, last week, slightly smaller screens showed a cow-milking demonstration.
Later Sunday, another worker navigated a street sweeper around chandeliers that had not yet been raised to the ceiling.
Those chandeliers, 16 in all, hovered over food stations, sports lounges and clusters of leather couches, some on raised platforms and others surrounding the dance floor.
"I didn't want people to walk in and see a big flat space. I wanted intimate gathering points where people could have different vantage points as they progress throughout the party," Ms. Tolo said. "I want people to have different things to do the entire night."
For starters, ball-goers can dance to three different bands: City Scape orchestra of Pittsburgh, Lebanon Valley College Jazz Ensemble of Annville and the Buzz Jones Big Band of Gettysburg.
When their feet are tired, attendees can play video games, make s'mores, munch cotton candy, watch sports TV and end the night with a hotdog, courtesy of Harrisburg's Jimmy the Hotdog King, who will hand out his latest creation, the Corbett Dog.
"We wanted everybody to have fun and feel like they're at an elegant ball but at the same time feel comfortable and have a great time enjoying themselves," Ms. Tolo said.
Mr. Kerwin, the Farm Show Complex director, predicts they will.
He came through the ballroom Monday afternoon as about 30 caterers from JDK in suburban Harrisburg were hustling to unload two trucks full of chafing dishes, soup tureens, serving spoons and other supplies.
Early on Monday, the stemware had arrived -- 8,000 wine glasses, 6,000 martini glasses and innumerable types of other cocktail glasses. The tables were in place, but they still lacked the linens and floral arrangements that will top them.
"It looks wonderful in here. I'm anxious to see it completed," said Mr. Kerwin, who plans to attend as a guest tonight along with his wife.
"This event really showcases how this facility can be anything you need it to be," he said. "Anything."
First Published January 18, 2011 12:00 am