Those driving along Pitts School Road always know when fall has arrived.
An assortment of children’s characters, created from carefully stacked and spray-painted bales of hay, spring to life from a cleared field along the north side of the road. This fall’s crop includes oversized versions of Thomas the Tank Engine, Peppa Pig, Blaze and the Monster Machine, Goofy and a giant green dinosaur.
Every September for the past eight years, Regina Hinson – with the help of her husband, Ron, and cousin, Dale Furr – spend about a week crafting the colorful creations, which Ms. Hinson describes as “hay art.”
They require the use of heavy equipment, operated by Mr. Furr, a cattle farmer. He moves, lifts and shifts the 800-pound circular bales into the right positions as Ms. Hinson provides direction.
“Oh, they’re plenty heavy,” says Mr. Furr, who tends to more than 100 head of cattle on 102 acres that sit directly across the road.
Though she describes her cousin as a practical soul, and notes that their families have farmed the land for generations, Ms. Hinson says Mr. Furr secretly enjoys helping her with her worthwhile side work.
Ms. Hinson uses the characters to draw attention to a Halloween tradition that recently changed its focus, switching from a haunted woods to a more family friendly format, but still remains close to her heart: It serves as a fundraiser now benefitting the Greater Carolinas Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
Peggy Stallings, Ms. Hinson’s aunt, lived with multiple sclerosis (MS) for nearly four decades before succumbing to the disease in 2014 at the age of 68.
There is no cure for the MS, an unpredictable disease that damages the myelin coating surrounding nerve fibers in the central nervous system, which interferes with the transmission of nerve signals between the brain, spinal cord and the body. MS effects everyone differently, with the most common symptoms being fatigue, numbness, weakness and poor coordination, with a smaller set suffering from tremors, paralysis and blindness, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
“She was diagnosed in her 30s, and lived with it for years,” Ms. Hinson says of her late aunt. “She was bed-ridden the last five years of her life.”
More Cowtrain, Please
For $5 per hayride, or $5 per ride aboard the family’s customized cowtrain – imagine a tractor pulling carts crafted from metal barrels that are cut in half and equipped with seats for children – families can enjoy a tour of the Hinsons’ 50-plus acre farm, and its hoofed residents. For $8, visitors can enjoy both tours.
Afterward, they can take photos alongside the assorted hay masterpieces that change year to year, and are always inspired by Ms. Hinson’s 4-year-old grandson, Mitch Kanady. “We always try to introduce new ones,” she says, “though the dinosaur is a repeat.”
Ms. Hinson has raised approximately $57,000 for MS research since 2004, mostly by soliciting donations and participating in multi-day walks – many times with Ms. Stallings – that always benefitted the local chapter of the National MS Society.
She estimates that about 300 people enjoyed last year’s farm tours, raising approximately $2,500 for MS research. Not too shabby considering that they are only offered a few weekends every October.
Those interested in getting an up-close look at Ms. Hinson’s hay art and farm can do so between 3 and 6 p.m. on the following Saturdays and Sundays: October 5-6, 12-13, and 19-20.
Just swing by the farm, located at 699 Pitts School Road, and enter at the metal gate. Visitors can park on the grounds and purchase their tickets upon arrival.
From Walker To Tour Guide
Ms. Hinson and Ms. Stallings participated in multiple walks benefitting MS research over the years, requiring that they solicit donations from family, friends and neighbors. Shortly before her aunt’s passing, Ms. Hinson began thinking about ways to raise money that did not require her to travel too far from home, explaining that she attended fundraisers in South Carolina and Georgia over the years.
With the help of local high school students, who would volunteer by “haunting” the woods surrounding her family’s farm, she was able to raise thousands. Though the event was successful, Ms. Hinson said it required a lot of preparation and coordination, adding that the mandatory insurance coverage was starting to eat away at donations.
“It was getting to be a bit much,” says Ms. Hinson, whose daughter is eagerly expecting her second grandchild in late October. “So, we came up with ‘Hayrides and Cowtrains.'”
She switched gears two years ago, offering an event that has greater appeal to families, especially those with young children.
“We used to do ‘Hayrides and Hauntings,’ and now we offer ‘Hayrides and Cowtrains,’” Ms. Hinson says, though her hay art continues to be the main attraction. “The community just really seems to like it.”
Hayrides and Cowtrains
(What You Need To Know)
- Hayrides and Cowtrains is an annual fundraiser benefitting the Greater Carolinas Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society
- The farm is located at 699 Pitts School Road. Visitors can enter, park their cars and purchase tickets near the metal gate
- Hayride tickets are $5 each; Cowtrain tickets are $5 each; Or you can enjoy both for $8
- Tours are offered from 3-6 p.m. on the following Saturdays and Sundays only: October 5-6, October 12-13, and October 19-20
- Regina Hinson hopes that her second grandchild, who is due in late October, won’t arrive until after her MS fundraiser is finished.