Food, friends and fun at Sykesville Freedom District Fire Department Annual Carnival

Brentwood Police Chief Bobby Alchoff spends his days working on the force.

But one week each year, he takes a vacation from his life in the department to spend his days doing something entirely different.


Pit beef. Pit turkey. Pit ham.

For the past 20 to 25 years, Alchoff has been taking a vacation to cook meat for the Sykesville Freedom District Fire Department Carnival.

"I like cooking," he said simply, as he tended to his grills on a hot Monday night.

Smoke billowed up around him as he checked on the meat, sweat on his back, a smile on his face.

The annual carnival at 6680 Sykesville Road was in full swing Monday night. The event takes place from about 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. every night through Saturday.

By 7 p.m. rides twirled as lights flashed. Music played, the sound mixing with ringing and clanging of carnival games. But perhaps most noticeable was the mix of smells — funnel cake and deep-fried Oreos, french fries, pizza, pit beef.

For many in Carroll County, it's the ever-famous carnival food that keeps them coming back year after year.

Chuck and Mary Ellen Struhar are some of those people who make a trip to the grounds each time the carnival comes around. Why?

"The food," Chuck Struhar said, referring to the pit beef and turkey sandwiches. "It's a carnival staple."

His wife, Mary Ellen, sat at a picnic table Monday during the first day of summer, snacking on french fries, waiting for their sandwiches to come out.

The sandwiches aren't the only thing the two look forward to each year. Hoffman's Ice Cream always has a stand at the carnival, and the Struhars always get themselves a cone.

While the ice cream draws the Struhars in, for others, the temptation of the Sno-Ball is strong.

Cindy Watkins, a parent helping out at the Sno-Ball stand, said the summer treats are popular.

"Sno-Balls are big in Maryland," she said.


Watkins was working with the Sykesville Fire Department Juniors, who run the Sno-Ball stand each year. It's something that helps teach them responsibility and hard work.

Fourteen-year-old Megan Hall, captain of the Juniors, has been working at the stand for a few years.

"It's fun to help out and to see the community," she said.

That sense of community is an important element of the event.

The Struhars have been coming out a few times each year to the carnival, and have been for the past three decades.

And while the food may be a big part of it, it's also about supporting the local Fire Department.

"It's … important that you come out and support the fire company," Chuck Struhar said.

Bill Rehkopf, public information officer for the Fire Department, said the carnival has been taking place for decades.

"It's just a great event for us," he said. "It's one of our favorite things to do."

There's a lot of pride that goes into it, he added. The food's a big part of it. There's always a line to pit beef, he said.

But more than the food, the rides, the games — it's the sense of hard work, a trait passed on to the large juniors department they have, that's important.

"We put a lot of effort into it," Rehkopf said.

And it teaches the younger generation in the department what kind of effort it takes to keep the company running. It teaches them what hard work and strong effort can do.

"It's really a tickle to be (here) and see the people come out and support the department and the county," Rehkopf said.