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This building at Flywheeler Park

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The Shows Will Go On

Florida groups rally after hurricane double-header; Flywheelers', Zolfo shows to be held as planned

Two large Florida shows will go on as planned this winter, each rebounding from a late-summer hurricane double-header. Representatives of Pioneer Park Days at Zolfo Springs and the Florida Flywheelers at Fort Meade say events will proceed as planned.

'We'll be having our show in November,' says Flywheelers President Harry Swank, referring to the club's Fall Fuel-Up, Nov. 11-14. 'We're cleaning up the grounds, and contractors are already here working. We've gotten a lot of calls, people asking 'Are you going to go ahead and have the show?' There's no question. We'll be here, and we don't want to discourage anyone from coming.'

That message was repeated at Pioneer Park. 'The show will go on,' declares Hardee County employee Jane Long, looking ahead to the March 2-6 event at Zolfo Springs. Pioneer Park's 100-foot metal building, home to show entertainment, 'was wadded up like a tin can,' she adds. 'But they tell me we will have a new entertainment building by March. If it's not ready, we'll just use a big tent like we did years ago.'

Zolfo Springs, about 17 miles south of Fort Meade, is just 45 miles northeast of Punta Gorda, the Florida coastal community hammered by Hurricane Charley. When Charley proceeded northeast from Punta Gorda on Friday, Aug. 13, it whipped through both Zolfo Springs and Fort Meade. Then, on Sept. 4, Hurricane Frances lumbered through from the southeast.

'Flywheeler Park had not been hit by a hurricane before,' Harry says. 'In fact, central Florida had not had a hit like this for 40 years. Usually down here, storms hit the coast, then they lose their strength.'

But there was nothing anemic about these storms, whose paths intersected at Lake Wales, just northeast of Flywheeler Park. 'Charley came through here from Punta Gorda,' Harry says. 'We were right on the eye of the storm, and were hit by several tornadoes. It moved real fast, and we just got about 4 1/2 inches of rain. Then Frances came from the other direction, on the east coast. It was slower moving. We ended up getting about 12 inches of rain, on buildings that had no roofs left after the first storm.'

The story was similar at Pioneer Park. 'Charley was not very friendly to us at all,' Jane Long says. 'We had 145-mph winds with Charley, and then Frances came and dumped a whole lot of water on us. A third of the park was under water after that.'

Damage at the two sites was typical of such storms. At Flywheeler Park, some buildings were destroyed; others seemed untouched. Many roofs were lost, and debris of all types littered the grounds. 'There was a lot of tin blown around,' Harry says, 'and a lot of tin hanging in trees.' Tree damage was extensive. Many were snapped; others blew over, sometimes pulling up water lines in their wake. At Pioneer Park, at least 33 mature pine trees were tagged for removal as a result of the storm. A Division of Forestry fire tower at the park was blown down, but other facilities sustained comparatively minor damage.

Buildings and contents at Pioneer Park were fully insured, Jane says. The Flywheelers, too, had good coverage, having updated their insurance early this year. 'It's sort of a miracle, really,' Harry says. 'We're insured with Lloyd's of London for $ 1 million on wind damage.' The policy won't cover everything, he's quick to note. 'We didn't have the buildings listed high enough, and there were two or three that were just built that weren't listed at all,' he adds. 'But we're working with the insurance company.'

Volunteers play a significant role in reconstruction. 'Some of us about live (at the show grounds) now,' Harry says. 'After Charley, when we had our first work day, we had more than 70 volunteers here.' The club traditionally relies heavily on 'snowbird' volunteers during the winter months, and response from that contingent has been heartening, Harry adds. 'We're getting calls from a lot of northerners who say 'When you get the campground ready, we're coming: We'll be there to help.''

Harry admits that the two hurricanes have given the Flywheelers a reason to address flaws at the site. 'When we rebuild, we'll be using certified trusses and hurricane straps,' he says. 'We've got to think about generations to come, because that's what the club is for, preserving our past.'

For more information:

The Florida Flywheelers Antique Engine Club Fall Fuel-Up, Nov. 11-14; Christmas in the Village, Dec. 10-11 and 17-18; Swap Meet, Jan. 13-16, 2005; and Antique Engine and Tractor Show (featuring John Deere), Feb. 24-27, 2005. Questions? Call Mike Sharp, Flywheeler board member and past president, (800) 245-4826. The Florida Flywheelers show grounds are located at 7000 Avon Park Cutoff Road, Fort Meade, FL 33841; 10 miles southeast of Fort Meade; 10 miles west of Avon Park.

Pioneer Park Days, March 2-6, 2005, located at Zolfo Springs at the intersection of Route 64 and Highway 17. Questions? Contact Jane Long, 205 Hanchey Road, Wauchula, FL 33873; (863) 773-2161; e-mail: jane.long@hardeecounty.net

'We're cleaning up the grounds, and contractors are already here working. We've gotten a lot of calls, people asking 'Are you going to go ahead and have the show?' There's no question. We'll be here, and we don't want to discourage anyone from coming.' - Harry Swank, president, Florida Flywheelers. The Zolfo Springs show, too, will be held as scheduled.