For 49 years, the original Bob Evans Farm has celebrated the rural origins of the Bob Evans restaurant chain by hosting its annual festival in the fall.
While Bob Evans restaurants have been around for decades and are seemingly everywhere, it is still considered a regional franchise that covers just 18 states, including the Tri-State area. Back during the time of the creation of the popular eatery, Bob Evans made high-quality sausage at his Rio Grande farm that became popular at a diner in Gallipolis, Ohio. He took an entrepreneurial shot in the dark and decided to expand his business and that led to the first restaurant built on the family land.
By the early 1960s, the Bob Evans Restaurant chain was on its way to success and it was in 1971 that the first-ever Bob Evans Farm Festival happened.
Now approaching a half century, the Bob Evans Farm Festival has evolved into a multi-day event featuring live music, food and family fun.
This year, the Bob Evans Farm Festival will be held Oct. 11-13. Officially located at 791 Farmview Road in Bidwell, Ohio, on the outskirts of the small town of Rio Grande, it is an easy and beautiful one-hour drive from Huntington.
On a regular visit to the Bob Evans Farm, Homestead and Museum you can experience a working grist mill, a sorghum mill, a coal mine, a pioneer log cabin and more.
When the Bob Evans Farm Festival takes place this weekend, the event will feature performances by the top bluegrass bands Special Consensus, 18 Strings and Open Rail on Friday; the Hobbs Sisters, Cody Wickline and Jason Michael Carroll on Saturday; and The Rarely Herd, Carson Peters and Iron Mountain and The Cleverlys on Sunday.
There will be other acts and activities all three days of the festival, including Laurel Valley Creamery Cow Milking, Team Zoom Border Collies, Stanley Strode Sheep Shearing, the Hogway Speedway Racing Pigs, the Great Lakes Timber Show and the Reno Family Horseshoe Pitching Exhibition. The food for sale at the festival will include bean soup, kettle corn, apple dumplings, ice cream, Ohio-made cheese, cider slushies and more.
There is only one act that will perform this weekend that has been to all 49 Bob Evans Farm Festivals and that is the Reno Family Horseshoe Pitching Exhibition. Hailing from rural Pike County in southern Ohio, the family has a wonderful history going back generations.
The current leader of the troupe is Gary Roberts, the son of Ottie Reno. The elder Reno began the Reno Family Horseshoe Pitching Exhibition while throwing his way into the National Horseshoe Pitchers Hall of Fame.
“We will do three exhibitions each day where I will demonstrate different kinds of turns and then do some trick shots,” Roberts said. “We have a great time and we really enjoy performing at this event.”
The show has become a family tradition.
“Even though my name is Roberts, my mother was a Reno,” Roberts said. “Ottie Reno was our patriarch and he just died this year at 89 years of age. Ottie was a retired judge and he has also written several books on horseshoe pitching that you can still find today. One of our ancestors, Major Marcus Reno, was actually involved in General Custer’s Last Stand and at one point was blamed for what happened to Custer. But, he was later exonerated in a court martial hearing. The only one at fault was Custer himself for not listening to anybody. Ottie wrote a book about that event as well.”
Ottie Reno was one of the best horseshoe throwers in the country at one point, traveling all around the nation to show off his skills.
“Not only is Ottie is in the National Horseshoe Pitchers Hall of Fame, we have five members of our family in the National Horseshoe Pitchers Hall of Fame, which no other family can say,” Roberts said. “Last year, I won the Senior Horseshoe World Championship in Florence, South Carolina. We just grew up with it.
“Back in the day on Sundays, we’d go out to our grandparent’s house and all of the families and cousins would come in and one of the things we did was play horseshoes. But, it was more my grandfather Eli Reno that showed me how to pitch horseshoes. Eli was a character. In his early days he was known for consuming large quantities of alcoholic beverages. Back in the hollers, entertainment was lacking and drinking, rooster fighting and fist fighting were three of his favorite things. He did odd jobs like shucking corn and he never had a regular job.”
Ottie Reno was one of six children who grew up in those poor conditions, yet he became the only kid in his family to go to college, to become a judge, to write books and become a horseshoe hall of famer while starting the Reno Family Horseshoe Pitching Exhibition show.
“Ottie went to Franklin University in Columbus, Ohio, graduated and got his law degree, which was amazing considering he grew up in dire poverty, living literally in a tar paper shack,” Roberts said. “After all of that, he became a county official, practiced law some and then became a judge and a great horseshoe pitcher as well. Now, my horseshoe hobby has taken me all over the world. I’ve gone to South Africa five times as they have a game very similar to horseshoes there. I am going there to participate in their tournament soon. I’ve got them to throw horseshoes as well, and in Namibia, Turkey, Lithuania and other places.”
Roberts has enjoyed all 49 years of performing at the Bob Evans Farm Festival.
“We’re going to have a great time this weekend,” said Roberts. “The original Bob Evans was a really nice guy and he would always come over and talk to us. He was really responsible for us being there as he thought the sport of horseshoe pitching fit in with his theme. Bob was very easy to talk to and did not have the ego problems that some people in his position have at times.”