SHILOH – The line outside the Shiloh Fire Station ran the length of the driveway and curved down Delaware Street, cars and pickups parked in every nook and cranny along the road.
Towards the front of the line, George Lilly of Crestline waited patiently for a slow-cooked, melt-in-your-mouth roast beef sandwich.
“That’s the main attraction,” he said with a smile.
Lilly has come to the festival nearly every year since moving to the area in 1953. His grandson, Aaron Woody, stood beside him. A Crestline native, he came all the way from his home in Asheboro, North Carolina for a visit and a sandwich.
But it’s not just the famous sandwiches that bring folks to the Ox Roast. It’s a kind of informal reunion.
Woody said he loves the hospitality on display at the event.
“You’re celebrating the community and the whole community comes together to make this happen,” he said. “It’s just kind of neat to see people come together and lift up one another.”
Just ahead, Ryan Reed waited in line with his wife Sarah and their daughter Lilly. For the Reeds, who both grew up near Shiloh, the Fireman’s Ox Roast is an annual tradition.
It was just past noon on Friday and the pair had already had a sandwich for lunch. Now they waited in line to buy a few more to take home and freeze save for later.
“Once you eat it, you’re going to come back every year,” Ryan said.
Reed said the fire department serves the community well, despite having few paid employees.
“When my parents were sick, anytime we needed them, they were right on it,” he said. “You’d call them and they were down there in a hurry.
“It’s pretty impressive for a volunteer (force) they don’t always have somebody stationed here. They always stop what they’re doing and go to help other people.”
The Firemen’s Ox Roast has been raising money for the local fire department for 56 years.
Assistant Fire Chief Ben Burrer said the fundraiser helps reduce the tax burden on residents of the the Cass, Bloominggrove & Shiloh Joint Fire District. This year’s proceeds will go towards new equipment for the department, including a new ambulance.
The process for roasting the meat began Thursday, when firefighters loaded coals into a pit spanning 105 feet long, 40 inches wide and nearly six feet deep. After feeding the fire throughout the day, volunteers loaded more than 10,000 pounds of beef, seasoned and double-wrapped in aluminum foil, into the pit to cook overnight.
While roast beef sandwiches may be the main attraction, additional items like donated pies and side dishes were also for sale.
Burrer, who spent the early afternoon grilling hot dogs, can’t remember a time where he wasn’t working behind the scenes of the event.
“My dad (Chief Jeff Burrer) has been on the fire department ever since I can remember,” he said. “I’ve been a part of it for all 34 years of my life it seems like.”
“It’s just kind of second nature that the last weekend in July, this is where I’m at.”
Burrer said the way the community comes together for the festival is what makes it so special. Putting on the two-day festival takes a lot of volunteers – from current and former firefighters to local clubs, school groups, families and members of the Mennonite community.
“We’re pretty tight with them,” he said. “They come and do shifts. We have a lot of families that just kept coming back every year. It’s a family event. It’s just special because everybody shows up and helps out.”
Despite being a regular attendee, Burrer said he was impressed by the size of the crowd.
“It’s 12:30 on a Friday and it seems like it’s a Friday night with the amount of people here,” he said.
“With prices the way they are and everything else, it’s kind of amazing to see all these people still come out and support us – give us their money when it doesn’t go as far anymore.”
Burrer said the amount of beef the fire department prepares for the event has doubled over the last 10 to 15 years. How fast it goes depends largely on the weather.
The sun shone brightly Friday.
“We try to keep up with the demand, but people just keep coming,” he said. “(If you want a sandwich), you better get here early tomorrow.”
The Life section is supported by Brethren Care Village in Ashland.