SELMA — This year’s Railroad Days festival will have a bigger play area for kids.
Now in its 38th year, the annual festival celebrates Selma history and the impact of the railroad on the Johnston County town. This year’s event is Saturday, Oct. 5.
For 2013, the children’s play area will take up nearly a city block, said Joe Carter, director of the Selma Parks and Recreation Department, which stages the festival.
The play area will have a half-dozen giant inflatable structures, including slides and obstacle courses, plus a mechanical bull and $1 train ride. The inflatable structures are around 20 feet tall and roughly 60 feet long.
Each ride costs one to four tickets, which are $1 each. A book of 25 tickets is $20, or mom and dad can spend $25 to buy their child an armband for the whole day.
All other exhibits and performances during the festival are free, said Carter, who expects about 12,000 people to attend.
“It started out as a celebration of our rail history, but now I think it’s kind of evolved into just a celebration of our community, what Selma has,” Carter said. “We just celebrate our community and what we’ve accomplished and what we’re still doing with our downtown and uptown business districts. It’s just an event that brings our community together for that day.”
Railroad Days kicked off this past Saturday with pageants for girls ages 4 to 20. But the festival begins in earnest at 6 p.m. Friday with gospel music on the main stage at Raiford and Railroad streets.
Saturday is the main event and begins with the 5k run and caboose run at 8 a.m. Next up, at 10 a.m., is the parade, which has around 100 entries, Carter said. A cornhole tournament will follow at 11 a.m. The East Coast Muscle Car Club will open its show at 11 a.m. The opening ceremony starts at 11:30 a.m. and leads into performances that will last from noon to 6 p.m.
Three bands will perform on the main stage: the Coco Loco Party Band, the Wannabees and the 40 East Band. Two other stages nearby will host performances throughout the day, including gospel music, Baker School of Dance and the Young Champions Selma Self Defense.
Selma’s Union Station will be open all day with a model train on display. Visitors can also go inside a train’s caboose.
Some 60 vendors will sell food, arts and crafts and other items throughout the day. All the activities wrap up at 6 p.m.
“We got a lot of different things going on that day, so we hope to have a big crowd,” Carter said.
“It’d be just worth it to come for the food that is prepared by our food vendors,” he added. “We just have a great schedule of entertainment, and it’s going to be for everyone, from the young to senior citizens.”
The Max G. Creech Selma Historical Museum will also be celebrating this weekend: Railroad Days marks its one-year anniversary.
The museum, in two small rooms on Anderson Street, chronicles Selma’s past – from the railroad industry to Selma’s Union Station to Vicks VapoRub to the old French Country Inn. The volunteers who run the museum hope to expand the collection and eventually put items on display in nearby buildings.
“I just wanted to preserve some of the history in Selma,” said longtime resident Dennis Davis, a founder of the museum and president of its board.
The museum is free to visit and will be open all day on Railroad Days; normal hours are 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. More than 100 people have visited the museum since it opened last year, Davis said.
Eric Jackson, vice chairman of the museum’s board, said he hopes to “let people know we’re here” on Railroad Days. Jackson said the museum’s mission is to preserve Selma history so that it’s not lost or forgotten.
Jackson said visitor reaction has been rewarding – many recognize places and family members. “So you get these great backstories about everything, which is what local history is really all about,” Jackson said.
The museum’s long-term goals include working with a Greensboro museum to create a larger exhibit for Vicks VapoRub; the inventor, Lunsford Richardson, was from Selma. The museum’s main focus now is simply collecting stories, Jackson said, and eventually recording the oral histories of Selma’s oldest residents.
The museum’s volunteers also hope the museum will bring in tourists, especially when it expands the Vicks VapoRub exhibit. “Every state has got some quirky museum,” Jackson said.