Chilling Behind the Scenes

Hundreds of people rely on the work of Mike Elrod during the Apple Festival. Photo by Rimas Zailskas

An event as large and long as Hendersonville’s annual Apple Festival takes some mighty coordination. Among the challenges is simply the time of year — in this case, the hottest time, when temperatures routinely scrape the nineties. Enter Mike Elrod, normally the transport manager for the Blue Ridge Humane Society. At Apple Festival time, he is transformed into the volunteer Ice Man, responsible for keeping festival staff and visitors cool. He’s held the job for about a decade; Bold Life recently caught up with Elrod during the run-up to this year’s event.

How did you become the Ice Man?
I started helping to sell cold drinks and the T-shirts and hats and so on, but pretty soon they needed someone to help get the ice out. They already had one guy doing it, but it got to be too much for him and he retired after a couple of years. I took over the job.

What’s involved?
We supply the ice to all the service workers, the police and city workers and so on, and to the performers. And we sell ice to the vendors so we can help cover the cost of buying it. We break even, or sometimes we make a couple-hundred bucks. I take the Festival days off from work, but really it takes a lot of planning all during the year.

How much ice do you use every year?
We fill a freezer tractor trailer with 15 or 16 pallets of ice. Each pallet has 244 bags of ice on it. The good thing is that the company we buy the ice from won’t charge for an unused pallet, and we can just return it for no charge. But sometimes we run out, so we have an arrangement with Harris Teeter, where I work part time as a backup.

Do you find yourself providing unexpected services?
There’s so much going on during the festival … more than 200,000 people coming every year. The police on duty sometimes have to crawl up in the trailer to cool off for awhile. Some of the visitors overheat and are brought to the trailer, too.

And you have to do this all on your own?
It’s definitely not a one-man job. I work with at least two helpers, and everyone helps out when needed. And there’s Alexis [the granddaughter of the festival’s executive director, David Nicholson]. She’s got to be about nine years old and is the cutest little thing. She climbs up onto the trailer, helps load the ice and hand out bags. She has a name tag that says she’s the Director Of Ice Services. I’m a little nervous because it won’t be long before she might be my replacement.

The North Carolina Apple Festival runs September 1-4 in and around downtown Hendersonville. For more information, see ncapplefestival.org.

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