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James E. Strates train arrival heralds start of 175th fair

This year marks the 175th anniversary of the Erie County Fair and the 90th anniversary of James E. Strates Shows. The “fair train” (above) burst onto the scene on Aug. 1.

HAMBURG — More than 500 residents, visitors and Erie County Fair fans lined up along the tracks running past the historic Erie Railroad Depot in Hamburg to await the Aug. 1 arrival of the James E. Strates show train that has heralded the arrival of the fair for generations.

In recognition of the 175th anniversary of the fair and the 90th anniversary of the James E. Strates Shows, which provides midway attractions for the fair, organizers handed out 500 commemorative buttons and hung a banner across the tracks, welcoming the fair train to town.

The Pepsi-Cola Erie County Fair Marching Band played patriotic tunes to get waiting train-watchers ready, as Erie County Fair Special Events Coordinator Marty Biniasz patrolled the tracks with a megaphone, announcing its progress periodically.

Among the residents awaiting its arrival were the Trusiak family. They came bearing giant, brightly colored “1, 7 and 5” signs, to wave as the train passed by. Judy Trusiak, with her sons Bobby and Joey in tow, explained that she and her family camp at the fairgrounds every year.

“I dragged them out of bed and down here to see the train come in,” she said, with a laugh. “I think they’ll thank me, someday. We love the fair. We’re here making memories!”

Judy, Bobby and Joey Trusiak, of Lancaster, brought 175 signs to commemorate the anniversary. The family camps at the fair for all 12 days, every year, and came to welcome the train on Aug. 1, as well.

The train wended its way down the Buffalo Southern Railroad tracks that run from Tifft Street in South Buffalo, through Blasdell, to its Hamburg depot. As it arrived, E. James Strates, president and CEO of Strates Shows, along with fair officials, waved to the assembled. He was escorted to a historic car, which followed the Erie County fair-mobile and cars carrying other local dignitaries, escorted by fair clowns and the marching band, to Hamburg Village Hall, where he was presented a proclamation in honor of the occasion.

“A lot of you wanted us to bring back the fair parade,” Biniasz said, of the procession. “Well, we couldn’t do that, but we have this!”

The James E. Strates Shows train “put the show on the rails,” as the official village of Hamburg proclamation stated, in 1934, with the acquisition of its first 14 flatbed rail cars. Its current president took over from the original James E. Strates in 1959. The third generation of Strates, Susan, Jimmy, Sybyl, Jay and John, now lead the organization.

The Friends of the Fair Clowns posed for a photo with the Pepsi-Cola Erie County Fair Band, whose members come from all over Erie County.

“The fair is going to be awesome. The fairgrounds are beautiful. I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Strates. He added that he enjoys riding the fair train and that it does not get old, over the years.

“If you’re in the business, you’ve got to like it,” he said. “It’s really great. The [Erie County] fair is a wonderful fair.”

The modern Strates train consists of over 61 rail cars for rides and equipment and 34 trucks. A designated trainmaster and crew can load or unload the train in less than 18 hours. The show travels the United States during a seven-month season. Traveling with the show are some 400 employees and families who operate the many rides, games and concessions.

“As we celebrate our 175th anniversary, we’re full of anticipation,” Biniasz said. “As we kick off this momentous occasion, we’ve got a true carnival atmosphere, with multiple generations of people coming to see the fair train; grandparents wo have been coming since they were kids, some bringing children who are seeing it for the first time. This is America,” he concluded. “And the Erie County Fair is a big part of it.”

The fair train motorcade processed down Pleasant to Center to Main Street, where Hamburg Mayor Tom Moses presented Strates and his wife with a certificate proclaiming Aug. 1, 2014 as “fair train day” in the village, as well as a key to the village. “The arrival of the fair train in Hamburg has been a highly anticipated occasion for fairgoers and those who love Americana,” he read. “And we thank the Strates family and the Erie County Fair for all they do.”

“Think fair thoughts,” concluded Biniasz. “It’s only a few days away!”

The Erie County Fair runs through Aug. 17. For more information, visit


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