Tahlequah Daily Press

April 30, 2013

Big fun at the Fern

Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — Cool weather and occasional rain just won’t keep a good festival down in Tahlequah.

Despite the dreary days that encompassed the Seventh annual Red Fern Festival Friday and Saturday, organizers estimate 6,000 to 7,000 people visited the event.

“I thought it was splendid,” said Tahlequah Area Chamber of Commerce Tourism Director Kate Kelly. “It was gratifying to see all the people who came out even though the weather was not ideal. We’ve been very lucky all these years, and had good weather for the most part. This year we didn’t, but it didn’t keep people away, and I think that’s a testament to the festival and to [Tahlequah Main Street Association Program Director] Drew Haley’s hard work, and the Main Street Association pulling it all together.”

The Red Fern Festival honors Wilson Rawls’ beloved novel, “Where the Red Fern Grows,” and its ties to Tahlequah and the area. Though Haley and TMSA have been involved in the organization of the event in years past, 2013 marked the first time the Main Street Program was solely responsible for the organization of the event.

Saturday’s celebration included live music, games, food and vendors at Norris Park; the 26th annual Cherokee Cruisin’ Classic Car Club’s Car, Truck and Motorcycle Show at the Cherokee Capital Square; free showings of the classic “Red Fern” movie; the Red Fern Chili Cook-Off and Barbeque Extravaganza; the Tahlequack Duck Race; hound dog field trials at Sequoyah City Park; and a host of other activities for all ages.

Paul Cagle, of Locust Grove, brought a piece of movie history to the 5C’s car show. Cagle owns a 1929 Model A Ford that was used in the original movie version of the story.

“My business was on the highway frontage of Locust Grove, and I had a bunch of old cars in my yard at the time – what was it, 40 years ago?” said Cagle. “This truck was sitting there – no top, no bed, and it was rusty and everything.”

H.B. McCullough, a location scout for the 1970s film, noticed the old truck one day.

“He said, ‘We need a pickup like that in the movie,’ and told me if I could fix it up in three or four weeks, they would use it,” said Cagle.

Cagle set to work making a top for the truck, and later painted it with the same paint he used for truck beds built at his business.

“It was really nothing special,” said Cagle.

Now, that 1929 Model A is part of movie history. The truck can be seen in the opening scenes of the 1974 movie, “Where the Red Fern Grows.” Cagle ended up putting a number of other vehicles into the film.

Actors in the movie weren’t allowed to drive the vehicles belonging to Cagle; instead, he and his son, Phillip, would do so.

Cagle spent much of Saturday sharing his story with visitors to the annual car show.

Just across the street from the Square, in Sequoyah City Park, hundreds of people gathered for the hound dog field trials. Participating canines had the opportunity to test their skills in several trials.

Ten-year-old James Wilson, of Wainwright, brought along his female English bluetick, Bell, for their first participation in the event.

During a barking competition – hounds are graded by the number of barks they produce in a specific time frame – Bell accumulated 48 barks, drawing applause from the bystanders. Bell also was the first of four canines to find a treed raccoon after racing through Town Branch Creek, following the animal’s scent.

Event organizers say the methods used during Saturday’s contest are often used to train hounds that are new to coon hunting.

James, himself a coon hunter, said he has two hounds.


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