NEW HAMBURG, Mo. -- When asked what makes the annual New Hamburg Picnic so special, event chairman Nathan Dirnberger didn't have to think long before answering.
"It's just good, small-town fun," he said. "It's a good atmosphere, and everybody is always happy."
This year's picnic is set for 5 to 11:30 p.m. Friday and 3 to 11:30 p.m. Saturday in the farming community in the hills of Scott County. The two-day event is an annual fundraiser of the town's only church, St. Lawrence.
"It brings everything back to the basics," Dirnberger said of the festivities.
A home-cooked dinner serving almost 950 people is from 4 to 7 p.m. Saturday in the church's parish center. Fried chicken, chicken and dumplings, roast beef and gravy, buttered potatoes, cabbage and cucumber slaws and fresh tomato slices are included in the menu.
According to dinner organizers, to prepare the dinner, kitchen help use 260 pounds of kettle beef, 800 pounds of chicken, 200 pounds of hens (used for dumpling broth), 33 dozen eggs (to make dumplings), 300 pounds of potatoes, 20 gallons of corn, 24 gallons of green beans and 130 pounds of cabbage for slaw.
The cost is $8 for adults; $4 for children ages 6 to 12. Children 5 and younger eat free.
"The picnic is so important to the town," said Chris Grojean of New Hamburg. "It's a time we can catch up with people we don't see often -- even those of us who live in town. We work and don't always get to see each other. The picnic is about the only time we really see and do something together, and it brings everybody back together."
In addition to the homemade dinner on Saturday, freshly smoked pork for sandwiches and potatoes cut into curly fries are popular food choices on the picnic grounds both nights, Grojean noted.
Grojean, who is the chair the New Hamburg-er Stand, estimated about 300 pounds of beef in hamburgers and about 200 pounds of pork is used during the weekend. New Hamburg resident and caterer David "Coop" Dirnberger smokes the pork for the barbecue sandwiches.
The annual event is documented as occurring back to at least 1903. There were also at least two time periods over the years when the picnic wasn't offered. It was suspended in 1942 due to World War II and resumed in 1948.
According to church documents, the picnic also stopped somewhere around 1969-1971 and returned with a festival in 1972. By 1973, the event was held on Friday nights and eventually put on Friday and Saturday, which is how it is today.
Picnic co-chair Jewell Moore recalled when the picnic used to take place on the parking lot across the street from the church.
"We had 10 stands on that parking lot which was gravel back then," said Moore who has attended every picnic for the past 46 years, which is how long he's been married to his New Hamburg native-wife, Pat.
To spread out the event and accommodate the increasing crowd, it was moved to the town's ball field, which sits just below the hill from the church, Moore said.
Activities scheduled for later Saturday are turtle races at 6 p.m. and a children's tractor pull at 7 p.m.
Turtle races chairperson Terri Stuckey said the adults get a kick out of the races just as much as the children.
"The adults -- even the ones who don't have children participating -- like to watch," Stuckey said.
Stuckey said she typically has between 25 an 35 entrants each year. Ten turtles are placed in a heat, and the number of heats depends on the number of entrants, she said.
In each heat, turtles start in a circle and after a "1-2-3...go!" count, the turtles are released by the child, and the first one out of the circle is the winner of that heat, Stuckey said.
"I usually have crowd participation, and it's so crowded, I can't see the whole circle," Stuckey said. "I usually have three or four adults serve as spot judges and see which one crosses the line first."
Typically, first and second place winners advance to the final heat, which results in the top winners, who receive cash prizes.
"It is interesting to see how the turtles will react,"Stuckey said. "Sometimes the ones that are most active and trying to crawl out of the buckets before the races fall asleep in the circle."
Stuckey said each participant ages 14 and under should bring their own box turtle and register about 15 minutes before the 6 p.m. race.
Both nights include refreshments, carnival-type games for children and adults, including a petting zoo, Plinko game, ring toss game and dart game. A bingo stand will be offered to players 16 years and older.
This year's petting zoo will feature baby pigs, miniature donkeys, miniature horses, haired sheep, puppies, kittens, goats and bottle-fed calves.
In other entertainment, a washer tournament is set for 6:30 p.m. Friday on the ball field, where a horseshoe tournament is slated for 1 p.m. Saturday.
Floyd Klipfel, who co-chairs the soda stand with his wife, Carol, said he enjoys the picnic. He estimated he's attended the picnic every year for the past 60 or so years.
"It's been a tradition," Klipfel said.
Dirnberger, who is 32, also said he couldn't recall ever missing a picnic.
"It's something you write on the calendar from year to year," Dirnberger said.
As a child, attending the picnic was always better than going on any vacation, Dirnberger said.
"Once you got there, you didn't want to leave, and when you did have to leave, you couldn't wait for it to come again the next year," Dirnberger said.
Now a father of two small children, Dirnberger said his goal is to keep the picnic going so his and other children in the community can enjoy it the way he always has.
Grojean said the picnic is priceless.
"Even if we broke even (with this church fundraiser), I think we would still have this picnic," Grojean said. "What everyone gets out of attending is worth more than anything money can pay for."
New Hamburg, MO