Gene Autry Days - Kenton

31.) Gene Autry Days – Kenton – June 26, 2011

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The Kenton Hardware Company was once the largest iron toy manufacturer in the world…

…the world!
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But, in 1937, the effects of the Great Depression became too much to bear. The company had already ceased making entire lines of toys while reducing the amount of days that employees could work.

Things were looking grim.

But then Williard Bixler, then Vice President of the Kenton Hardware Company, decided to take a chance on a cap gun idea, hoping it would save them from their troubles. He contacted the agent of Gene Autry (Singing Cowboy, film/TV star and Christmas song singer extraordinaire), telling him he wanted to replicate Autry’s six shooter at their company for their new toy.

Autry sent the company one to replicate and the new toy ended up selling for $0.50 – expensive in those days, especially when you consider the Great Depression.

But, by August of 1938, the gun became so popular that the town declared a “Gene Autry Day” with a rodeo, events, and a special appearance by Gene Autry himself. Autry arrived with his horse Champion and even toured the toy-making facilities (I’m not sure if Champion went on the tour as well).

Well into the 1950’s, that chance and Autry’s assistance…

…saved both the company – and the town.
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So, in 1994, it should be to no great surprise that the town would later try to reconnect with that part of their proud history…

…with an annual Gene Autry Days.

And although there wasn’t a rodeo like the 1938 version…
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…there were plenty of mini Autry markers scattered about town…

…to lead you to the festival location (county fairgrounds).

Set up like a western convention, the festival consisted of a fairgrounds building filled with…

…plenty of vendors…

…some yodeling entertainment…

…and a school style cafeteria window…

…with some pretty common vittles (kudos for having Klondike bars and Amish pie!).

Vendors were the biggest draw, since they offered everything related to Gene Autry and those western days, including…

…comic books and lunch boxes for the younger fans…

…Gene Autry books for the older ones…

…jewelry for the ladies…

…and guns…

…guns…

…a crazy salad set…

…and even more guns!

I, myself, thought the mechanical horse was pretty cool.

As I went from vendor to vendor…

…soaking in the Gene Autry paint books…

…and Gene Autry gun set…

…I couldn’t help but let the music transport me to that time period.

My only disappointment was that they didn’t sell cheap plastic cap guns as festival souvenirs. But I guess those types of guns weren’t what this festival was about since they would be made in China…
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…and not among those listed in the Kenton Hardware Company’s Directory.

Fortunately, I got some other souvenirs to remember the festival…

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…thanks to the look-a-likes who offered free photos and photo ops.

Here, we have Cat Ballou* and Gene Autry (I believe).

And in preparation of an up-and-coming Ohio festival (this is foreshadowing, folks)…

…I*** got my picture with Roy Rogers**.

* = Cat Ballou played by Mandy Whitescarver
** = Roy Rogers played by Gary J. McGinn
*** = check out my shirt! Doesn’t it rock? Click on it to make it bigger.
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