On a cool autumn morning, Logan O'Neal and his wife Rachel wandered through a pumpkin patch near Hartsburg, searching for the perfect orange orb.
Logan O'Neal picked out two skinny, and tall, oblong pumpkins; with nary a scratch to be found. A third, more round one was shaped more like a big orange apple. His wife's pumpkin stuck out like a wart on a thumb, covered in prickly green bumps; looking more like a hideous creature straight out of "Harry Potter."
"I like the warty ones," Rachel O'Neal said while laughing. "They've got character."
The O'Neals were among thousands of attendees at this weekend's Hartsburg Pumpkin Festival, which celebrates the Hartsburg community, and of course, pumpkin farmers near Hartsburg. The yearly festival draws about 40,000 visitors to the town of 100. Pumpkin farmers reported good sales Sunday morning, while a local bar owner said the festival is his best weekend of the year.
The O'Neals drove from Fayette for the third straight year to pick out their pumpkin at the festival. Logan O'Neal said they planned to get a couple small pumpkins for decoration inside, and one to make a jack-o-lantern. Local farmer Landon Nahler sells pumpkins for $5 each every year at his pumpkin patch, and lets people pick them from the field.
With thousands lining the streets of the tiny farming community and undeterred by early Sunday morning rains, Nahler said business was better than expected. On Saturday, Nahler sold about 700 pumpkins. He expected to sell his remaining 300 pumpkins Sunday.
"We had a good day (Saturday)," Nahler said. "Typically, if it's raining during the festival, nothing is happening, but if it rains the night before, people still come out."
Jo Hackman stood outside Hackman Farms in Hartsburg, gawking at a crowd gathered on the lawn. Kids gawked at dozens of boulder-sized pumpkins lined up on one side of her lawn. Others picked out smaller pumpkins from the bed of trailers lying on the lawn.
Hackman also said business was going well. Four weeks ago, Hackman said, the pumpkin crop looked about average. She said Sunday though the crop turned out well.
"It's a lot of work preparing for," Hackman said. "It's the first crop we've really had in three years, so we're happy."
Hackman also had concerns overnight rains would keep people away, but felt pleased with the turnout.
"I was afraid that because of the rain, the parking would be such a bad deal," Hackman said. "But evidently they're making do."
Jason Huddleston ran through the Hitching Post bar, barely able to catch his breath. Huddleston, the bar's general manager, worked 19 hours Saturday and another 12 hours Sunday. Huddleston said without question the pumpkin festival is his busiest weekend each year.
"Of course," Huddleston said. "Anytime you have 55,000 people coming to town over Saturday and Sunday in a town of 106, that's going to be the busiest day of the year."
Outside, the bar sold chicken, shrimp and steak kabobs. Inside, the bar sold its typical beer offerings, plus O'Fallon Pumpkin Beer. After the pumpkin festival though, Huddleston said the pumpkin beer loses its luster with locals.
"If we ever have any left over after pumpkin fest, no one buys it," Huddleston said.
Annual pumpkin festival offerings include a cutest baby contest, a parade and joint church by the town's two churches. Dozens of vendors selling food and craft displays lined the streets of the town, some of them supporting groups like the Boy Scouts, 4-H and the Lions Club.
Hundreds of cars lined narrow gravel roads near the town. Shuttles bused some visitors in, while others walked at least 1 miles into town.
Jamie Martin, who volunteered on the organizing committee for the festival, said turnout was good but average on Saturday.
The first day of the festival saw hot and humid conditions for October, while Sunday morning brought temperatures that hovered in the low 50s and 60s.
Martin said she was happy crowds were unaffected by the rain and that temperatures did not affect turnout either.
"I think it hasn't affected it that much," Martin said. "The rain was a big issue because we had to put out straw for all the vendors."