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SMALL TOWN RINGS IN NEW YEAR IN BIG WAY

Don't sit home this New Year's Eve watching the excitement of the Times Square ball drop on television -- experience it yourself in Wilson.

The Town of Wilson may be small, but people there know how to usher in the New Year, thanks to Floyd "Red" Clark.

Ten years ago Clark, the owner and operator of Clark Rigging in Niagara Falls, came across a 10-foot-diameter aluminum ball in a junk yard.

The ball originally came from an industrial plant and held some sort of gas, but when Red Clark saw it, a light went on over his head.

His son, Steve Clark, said only his dad, who is a "real idea guy," would think of painting the giant sphere bright red, decorating it with lights and suspending it from a crane.

Red Clark talked to the town officials and offered to perform a New Year's Eve ball drop that some say rivals New York City.

Wilson officials loved the idea and have been thrilled to have Red Clark bring his ball and crane back every year. Wilson Mayor Jerry Dean said, "We've enjoyed it, and he does a great job."

Red Clark's ball drop operations have expanded. When he found another, smaller sphere four years ago, he had the equipment to perform a second ceremony for the Niagara Falls Festival of Lights.

Although his New Year's Eve operations have expanded, Red Clark's first love is the Wilson event, where he has has gotten his sons into the act. Although he is retired and spends his winters in Florida, Red Clark comes up each year to help with the preparations.

A lot goes into getting ready for such a brief event. Right after Christmas, Steve Clark and his crew get the ball out of storage, clean it up and check the lights.

On the day of New Year's Eve, the ball and crane are taken to Wilson where the ball's lights are hooked up to the crane and generator.

As the sun sets the sphere is lit and hoisted 170 feet into the air where it is left to dangle, reminding everyone of the coming attraction. And at that height it can be seen for miles.

Dean is expecting another big crowd, weather permitting. In the past as many as 4,000 people have showed up to watch the ball slowly drop down to the basket beneath. When the ball reaches the bottom, at the stroke of midnight, the basket will light up to announce the new year.

Steve Clark admitted, "For a little town, this event is impressive."

The streets are closed around the ball drop, at the corner of Lake and Young, and the crowd starts to gather around 11:30 p.m. This year spectators will enjoy the town's new Christmas decorations along the streets.

There will be a short ceremony to announce and present awards to the winners of the Christmas Decorating Contest sponsored by the town. Judges for the contest were Bernie Kent, Tom Geise and James Stephens. First prize will be awarded to Jerold Pearce of 60 East Galewood, and second place goes to Kevin Cornell of 256 Wilcox Street.

In the past, church organizations have sold coffee and hot chocolate, and youth groups have sold popcorn.

To make the occasion even more exciting for spectators, the Lions Club will be selling tickets for $1 each for a chance to get in on the act. Two winners will be chosen. One will get to operate the crane, and the other will get to light up the basket.