County Fair and Record Ride Come to Close

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Thirty-eight days after he hopped on the Orange County Fair's Ferris wheel, Jeff Block jumped off Sunday--tan, tired and sure of one thing.

"I won't do this again," said Block, a self-described "Ferrisnaut" and "average Joe." Block made more than 100,000 revolutions on the 1949-vintage Ferris wheel before stepping off, tentatively, to the cheers of the crowd and into the arms of his girlfriend.

Block, a custodian at Fullerton College, beat his old world record of 37 days of Ferris wheel-riding and was paid $3,800 by the fair--$100 for each day on the wheel--to wrap up the final day of the fair in Costa Mesa. More than 640,000 people attended the 17-day event.

Rena Davies, who set the old record with Block in 1976, flew in from San Francisco to see her wheel mate make his last few turns. "I guess the challenge for him was eating up there--he was wearing his barbecue sauce for a while."

Another challenge for Block was answering the same questions over and over.

How do you go to the bathroom? "I get credited five minutes off the wheel each hour," Block answered.

Do you get sick? "No," he said matter-of-factly.

After Block set his record, fair employees dressed as oranges, squash, chickens and other fuzzy farm animals worked the crowd, in keeping with its theme: "We're Having Bushels of Fun."

Some bounced up to eager children while others were understandably droopy after more than two weeks of wearing stuffy outfits.

Eugene Als, a ticket taker at Cactus Jack's Haunted Shack, stomped out his cigarette and said that by Day 17, the heat had taken its toll on carnival workers.

"It's hell," said Als, wearing a black polyester robe, Raiders cap and ghoulish mask pulled off his face. "Especially when you got kids kicking you, slapping your face. But as long as I get a smile from those kids, it's worth it."

More than a week ago, a 41-year-old carnival worker was arrested at the haunted house on suspicion of fondling three girls as they walked through the attraction. Richard Allen Lee, who told authorities he is a transient, had been convicted of misdemeanor and felony child molestation in the 1970s, according to court records.

But the incident did not keep squealing children or their amused parents away from the haunted house Sunday.

"A guy came up with a chain saw and scared us," said Caia Curiale, 9, who went to the fair with her friends Krissy and Vanessa Vuoso and their parents.

Scary rides and animal exhibits were high on the Vuoso family's list of fair events.

"We watched pigs have babies this morning, and Daddy said: 'It ruined my breakfast,' " said Vanessa, 7, as her father winced.

In the Couch Potato Contest, Al Harris of Irvine beat out Michael Schowengerdt of Costa Mesa to win top honors. Both men had spent most of the fair's run on couches positioned in front of two television sets, near the fair's entrance. Harris got about 53% of about 30,000 ballots cast by fair-goers and won $1,500.

Other fair fare included baton twirlers, vegetable bowling and carnival games. One fair worker, Tony Fuentes, persuaded a reporter to test her strength by hitting a metal lever with a huge rubber hammer, shooting a ball upward on a pole until it barely passed the "Pee Wee" mark.

Fuentes, a harmonica player and part-time cab driver from Bellflower, shook his head and laughed.

"I'm sad the fair's over," Fuentes said. "At least people can come here and forget their troubles for a few hours."

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