Jeb Wallace-Brodeur / Staff File Photo
A cement block sits on a thick layer of ice recently, well before the thaw, as part of West Danville's annual Joe's Pond Ice-Out Contest.
WEST DANVILLE — You can take the clock off of Homer Fitts’ deck, replace it with a new one, install a high-tech surveillance system to guard against shenanigans, and even sell payable online tickets, but there are some things about the Joe’s Pond Ice Out you just can’t change, and one of them is how you win it.
Just ask Gary Clark, who learned Wednesday morning that he won what may be Vermont’s most recognizable guessing game pretty much the same way that it’s been won since folks who live around the pond started selling tickets for the home-grown contest back in 1988.
“It was pure luck,” said Clark, who lives in Barre and is president of the local electrical contractor, Bates & Murray.
Yes, it was. But it was darned good luck as anyone who has ever purchased one of the $1 ice out tickets — Clark included — can surely attest.
This isn’t about science or global warming, and while Clark will tell you he put a little more effort into his 30 entries this year, the times he chose were totally random.
“I can’t even tell you when they were,” he confessed.
Except, of course, for one of them, and that’s only because Clark got the call from contest organizers informing him that the ice on Joe’s Pond went out at 8:46 a.m. on Wednesday — two minutes after he predicted that it would.
No one, including Clark’s 29 other entries, was closer, meaning he’ll pocket nearly $5,000, which amounts to half the proceeds from this year’s ticket sales, less expenses.
Clark said he’ll probably donate some of the money, though he hasn’t decided what good cause will benefit.
“I didn’t figure on a windfall. I just play it for the sake of having fun,” he said, admitting that this year he took it a little more seriously.
“I did my research,” he joked.
After reviewing the dates selected by past winners, Clark said he spread his guesses between April 14 and May 6 because that’s the latest the ice has ever gone out on Joe’s Pond. Though he entered at least once a day during that time span, there was no logic to the times that he chose.
“I wish I could say I had a strategy, but I really didn’t,” he said.
What Clark can say is he is the first person to win the ice out game with a payable online entry, because the ability to download tickets was one of several new contest features this year. It is one of the reasons Clark had so many entries, because in order to buy and pay for the tickets online you had to purchase them in batches of 10.
Clark’s $30 investment netted nearly $5,000 thanks to a contest that ended with an all-too-familiar chain of events that played out just a little differently this year.
New clock, new location equipped with a surveillance system, but the same old cement block mounted on a wooden pallet waiting to slip through the shifting ice and pull the plug on the clock to which it is tethered.
Well, ice out organizer Jane Brown said Wednesday night that things didn’t quite go according to script. When the ice parted Tuesday, the pallet, block, and flag dipped out of sight, but the clock kept on ticking.
“For a full day we had no pallet, no flag, but the clock was still running,” she said, explaining the rope was frozen solid in the ice keeping the clock’s plug from being pulled.
That prompted questions from locals who wondered what was up, but Brown said a little morning sunshine Wednesday freed the rope and ended a contest the Joe’s Pond Association uses to pay for its annual Fourth of July fireworks display.
According to Brown, 11,699 tickets were sold this year.
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