Horsepower and Alligator Sausages: A Closer Look at the Canfield Fair

CANFIELD, Ohio – The Canfield Fair opened Wednesday, bringing with it the familiar sights, smells and sounds that make it a tradition.

But there are always some new and unusual attractions.

For example, tucked away at the southernmost corner of the grounds is the biggest engine that most people will ever see.

It’s a 12-cylinder diesel locomotive engine produced by Wabtec at its Grove City, Pa., plant. The engine, which is about 10 feet long and 7 feet high, weighs 42,000 pounds. Its engine displacement is an incredible 11,496 cubic inches – about the same as 12 semitruck engines combined. The engine produces 4,500 horsepower.

Wabtec, a first-time exhibitor at the fair, is seeking to hire workers and brought the massive engine to turn heads.

“We are in need of machinists, CNC programmers and assemblers,” said Sarah Studer, human resources manager at the Wabtec plant.

The company was formerly GE Transportation but was acquired by Wabtec in 2019. It employs 900 at its two Grove City, Pa., plants.

One plant is used for manufacturing new locomotive engines like the gigantic one on display at the fair, and marine engines. A second plant a few miles away remanufactures engines.

Those interested in working on the big engines can apply or learn more HERE.

Alligator Sausage

Another new and unusual attraction at the fair this year is the Ocean Breeze food stand, which specializes in alligator sausage sandwiches.

Kathy Wilson and her spouse, Joe, of Cortland run the stand, which is on Miller Drive, near Berlin Drive.

The couple ran the marina at Mosquito Lake State Park for 21 years before losing the contract this year. That’s when they decided to get in the food trailer business.

Before starting, they knew they had to find a way to stand out from the pack.

The alligator meat idea came from Florida, where they have a home.

Kathy Wilson grills some alligator sausages at her food stand at the fair.

“We get together with friends there for dinners,” Wilson said. “Everyone was wanting seafood, and when we went to pick it up, we saw smoked Cajun alligator sausage. We cooked it up and put it on toothpicks. We didn’t tell anybody what it was, but they all loved it.”

While in Florida, they had a food trailer custom built and put alligator sausage on the menu.

“You gotta have something different to get in fairs nowadays, because french fries won’t cut it when there are 9,000 french fry vendors,” Wilson said.

Some folks are leery of gator meat, but Wilson said it’s just a matter of getting them to try it. Once they do, they love it.

The sausages look like any other, except they are made from a mix of alligator, pork and Cajun spices. “It has a texture like kielbasa, but it’s spicy hot,” Wilson said. Just like pork or seafood, alligator meat turns white when cooked.

Wilson orders the sausage from a maker in Louisiana. It’s packed fresh, so they have it shipped to Pittsburgh International Airport and pick it up as soon as it arrives.

“They say the best part of the alligator is the tail and the cheek,” Wilson said. “Kind of like walleye.”

Branding is the Key

Also making his debut at the fair this year is Trávon Eley and his Tra’s Gourmet Sandwiches stand on Coitsville Drive near Milton Drive.

Even though he has had a food stand for only a couple years, Eley was able to snag a coveted spot at the fair. He attributes this to the lessons in branding taught to him by his mentor, chef Mark Canzonetta of Bistro 1907 in Youngstown.

“I was trained by a great chef, and that helped me brand this,” Eley said. “It’s been two years and I’m already at the Canfield Fair.”

Trávon Eley stands in front of his food stand.

Eley is a trained chef who started his career at The Lake Club. He later moved to Bistro 1907, and then to the new Downtown 124 restaurant in Warren, which he helped launch.

He went full time into the food stand business about a year ago.

“I took a gamble and dropped my restaurant career and decided to do something for myself,” Eley said.

He got his feet wet in the business in his younger years, working at lemonade stands owned by the family of a friend. He has put all of his experience into his new endeavor.

“This is a whole different world than a restaurant,” he said. Unlike a lot of food trucks, Eley puts an emphasis on branding to let customers know what he offers and make it appealing.

His trailer is wrapped with clear photos of his food. Eley’s signature touch is to burn his logo on the top bun of each sandwich he sells with a hot branding iron.

Tra’s Gourmet Sandwiches offers the OG burger, a BBQ burger, the Chicken Sammy, a chicken and waffle sandwich and a jalapeno and cheddar grilled cheese sandwich.

“For vegans, we have Beyond Burgers,” Eley said. “They do really good because there isn’t much vegan food at the fair.”

The Ice Man

Austintown Dairy is not new to the Canfield Fair, but very few people are aware of the critical role the company plays there.

For the past 30 years, the Boardman-based milk and ice cream distributor has been supplying the food vendors at the fair with ice.

It’s something that few fairgoers think about, but those vendors go through a lot of ice and someone has to store it and deliver it to them quickly.

Austintown Dairy sends a refrigerator truckload of prepackaged ice to the fair every morning and distributes it to its customers there.

As the vendors run out of ice during the day, they text the dairy, which delivers it by golf cart or pushcart, said Tommy Creighton, vice president of the company.

“We also provide the ice and milk for the Austintown Community Church, 4H and Ruritans, who serve dinners [at the fair],” Creighton said.

His company also donates milk each year to the veterans groups at the fair and to the milking parlor.

Austintown Dairy was founded by the Creighton family in 1961 at the intersection of Mahoning Avenue and Turner Road in Austintown. It later moved to Bev Road in Boardman.

AG Hall of Fame

The 177th Canfield Fair, which runs through Monday, opened with the induction ceremony of the Mahoning County Agriculture Hall of Fame. The Ag Hall of Fame – and its induction ceremony – is in its second year but is already becoming a tradition.

It honors the men and women farmers and ag community members who have advanced the industry in the county. It’s a group whose accomplishments and contributions as businessmen and community leaders is significant, although they might not get as much recognition as they deserve.

Some of the inductees in the first two years are deceased, with their children or next of kin accepting the honor on their behalf.

Inducted this year were Dorothy “Pearle” Hartley Burlingame; the late James Clay “JC” Hedge; the late Jesse Martig and his brother, Roger Martig; Clifford A. Morrison; David C. Myers; and the late Wade Wehr.

At Wednesday’s ceremony, Bob Jarvis, fair board president, announced that the Ag Hall of Fame inductees will be honored with plaques that will be mounted in the lobby of the new Michael Kusalaba Fund of the Youngstown Foundation Event Center at the Fairgrounds.

Banners bearing the name of each inductee will be hung in another part of the building, Jarvis said.

Pictured at top: Sarah Studer of Wabtec stands in front of a 4,500 horsepower diesel locomotive engine on display at the Canfield Fair.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.