It’s a long walk from most of the parking lots at the Ag Expo Park to the entrance of the Williamson County Fair. It can be longer on a busy night when the overflow lots are open.
At the end of an evening of fun that may include a lot of standing and walking to begin with, that walk can seem like miles.
Thankfully, that problem was largely resolved right from the beginning, when the fair was relaunched in 2005.
“The first couple of years, we used school buses,” said Tommy Little, who co-chairs the courtesy cart committee along with Paul and Pat Webb.
The opportunity to use buses lasted until the start of the school year was moved up and, thus, landed in the middle of Fair Week. Initially, the buses were replaced by six golf carts used for helping the elderly and those with small children. The general populous had to walk, unless a passing golf cart happen to have extra room.
As the fair became more and more successful, the number of overflow parking lots increased. Fortunately, the number of golf carts was doubled.
“The Grove sponsored the golf carts, and we ran 12 carts, two shifts during the week and four shifts on the weekend,” Little said.
It took 24 volunteer drivers each weeknight and 48 on the weekends to make that happen.
Eventually, additional courtesy carts were added to the fleet and the service has expanded to include anyone who wants a ride.
“We’ll pick up anyone, especially at closing or those in the overflow parking lot across the street,” Little said.
Little and the Webbs are charged with arranging for getting the carts, developing lot routes, training drivers, keeping the carts filled with fuel and in good working order and making sure there are drivers for all shifts. If a driver doesn’t show up, someone may be working overtime.
Centennial High School parents and students take care of the parking. Included in their job is notifying the cart crew when lots open so the drivers know to go there to pick up fair visitors.
“As we take them back to their cars, we hear some hilarious stories,” Little said, recalling a story of a lady who “lost” her car in an overflow lot.
“I picked her up, and we went to the last lot in the back, by the light pole,” Little said. “2 1/2 hours later, we found her car in handicap parking near the front parking lots. We went through every row in every parking lot. If somebody can’t remember where they left their car, we’ll stay with them. We just don’t leave.”
If someone has a dead battery, the men and women in the courtesy carts will get it jumped. If someone has an emergency and needs to leave or is taken by ambulance, a courtesy cart will get the family to their vehicle quickly.
Williamson Memorial Funeral Home and Gardens provides larger vehicles to assist bands when they arrive with their equipment and Gators for fair officials to use to get around the grounds.
“We have a lot of different carts doing a lot of different functions,” Little said.
Finding drivers to work three- to four-hour shifts driving courtesy carts is not a problem. Repeat volunteers get their names on the list early. Water and restroom breaks are worked into the schedule, as are lunch and dinner break in the hospitality room.
And, of course, departing visitors often provide free entertainment.