Thousands, appropriately, went out of their gourds Saturday at the Houston Pumpkin Festival.
“If the weather gods give us a nice day, we have a good crowd,” said Jon Taylor, secretary of the Houston Volunteer Fire Department, which runs the annual event.
The meteorological gods were downright considerate, providing bountiful sunshine and comfortable temperatures. And it was more than a good crowd that patronized the middle day of the 31st festival.
Festival-goers lined West Pike Street for a parade that seemingly extended from Glyde to Hickory, entered the costume and pumpkin pie-eating contests, boogied to bands, petted at the petting zoo, and noshed, conversed and purchased vendors’ wares.
Taylor and fire Chief Jim Denny declined to speculate on the number of attendees, but over the course of the day, it was well into five figures. The parade alone likely attracted 10,000-plus.
“The parade is generally the biggest draw,” Taylor said. “We try to get more kids involved in the parade, which means more aunts, uncles, grandparents come. This is very family-oriented.”
Saturday’s highlight, as always, was the parade. It included music, cheerleaders, dance groups, political dignitaries, cars, tractors, floats, adorable kids in costume and lots of fire trucks. Oh, and a heap of candy tossed to youngsters along West Pike.
And hurrah for the pumpkin pie – and the new champion, Josh Scott. He devoured his eight-inch pie in three minutes, four seconds Saturday, more than two minutes ahead of the runner-up, Jerry McCombs.
Brent Johnson passed on the opportunity to continue his crusty dominance. The four-time champ was a no-show after capturing the previous two pie-eating crowns, and four of the six since the event was introduced in 2008.
Johnson, of Washington, won last year in 2:41.
“He’s an eating machine,” Denny said.
So, in her category on Saturday, was Natashia Burton. A separate women’s competition was instituted this year and she won in 10:45, nearly 12 minutes ahead of the second-place finisher.
That wasn’t the only addition to the festival, which continues to flourish.
“We entertain changes every year,” Denny said. “We added some teen games and new vendors. We’re always looking for vendors with homemade crafts.”
The fire department and Denny have been involved in each of the 31 festivals. But this is the 21st year the unit has been in charge. The pumpkin fest is integral to Houston VFD’s existence.
“This is our biggest fundraiser,” Taylor said. “It provides 80 percent of our funding for the year.”
The three-day festival will end today with a program running until 5 p.m. It will open with an open-air church service at 9:45 a.m., and include a seed-spitting contest is scheduled for 2:30 p.m.