Cumberland County Fair

I took a vacation day Friday and we spent a three day weekend in Maine.

There was a little unfinished business with the roof, or at least with the skylights; the finish carpentry, the trim around the bottom of the skylights, wasn’t done. Porky was going to come in the morning to do that, and to pick up a lot of tools he had left in the garage. We also figured that it would be a good time to get the oil burner annual service done. So we expected two people to come over between 8 and 9 in the morning. When Porky told us when he would be there, he forgot that school would have started and they would have to drop off a kid at school, so it turned out that he was later than we expected him. But the oil burner guy was on time, so we hadn’t wasted getting up at a reasonable hour.

The weather wasn’t promising, showers on and off, mostly on, in the early morning, tapering off to mostly off in the late morning. By the time the carpentry work was done (and it took extra long because the wood was too thick, so you couldn’t get the screen out of the skylight, and Porky took it back to his house to cut down on his table saw) the sun was out and the day looked pretty good. We decided to go to the Cumberland County Fair for the afternoon and stop at Lowe’s in Windham on the way home to get the crank for the skylight that you can reach by hand.

The Cumberland Fair is much smaller than the Fryeburg Fair, maybe a quarter as big. It has most of the attractions, just not as much of anything. We went to the Fryeburg Fair on Saturday last year, and this was Friday, so it’s not really a good comparison; but this was so much less crowded, and so much less traffic, that we liked it a lot better. It’s pretty close to Portland, so it probably gets quite crowded on weekends.
We went over to look at the trotting races first. I’ve heard people say that in Massachusetts the so-called “agricultural fairs” are just an excuse to have horse racing, and maybe there’s something to that. At Cumberland there weren’t all that many people watching the racing compared to the overall attendance. When we left a woman working at the gate told us that they used to have racing at night at Cumberland, but they stopped it because there were too many problems, drinking and rowdiness.

But whatever, Arlene and I had never seen a trotting race before (and only one other horse race, at Churchill Downs, in 1984). We got there a few minutes before a race was about to start, and sulkies were warming up on the track. Now I have to tell you, I’m partial to sulkies because when I was a kid, Wheaties cereal boxes used to have model vehicles on the back you could cut out and assemble (add a piece of spaghetti for the axles), and one was a sulky. After making a few of those, I’ve always liked seeing real ones.

This race was two laps around a half-mile track. It’s not clear to me how the start really works; there was a truck towing the starting gate and when all the horses were pretty close behind it the announcer said something like, “They’re in motion!”, the truck and gate pulled way ahead and off to the side, and the race was on. I was probably too concerned with getting a few pictures and not enough with really watching, but here are the pictures:

Gotta have two pictures, because as I said, the race was two laps.

There seemed to be more people watching the draft horse pulling contest than the horse racing. When we came in the announcer was saying “This round, 3400 pounds.” There was a sort of sled with recycled railroad track for runners and concrete blocks, not the little ones used in buildings but big blocks of concrete that probably weighed 200 pounds each, stacked on it. A tractor would tow the sled to the starting line, people would rake the ground rough where the previous contestant had smoothed it out with the sled so everyone had a similar surface to contend with, then the horse’s handlers would back the horse up to the sled, hook its harness to the front end of the sled, and get the horse to move. It looked as though five or six feet was as far as they needed to go, because if it got much beyond that the handlers would let the horse stop and the announcer would say, “All the way! Good job!” If it didn’t get that far, the announcer would say “Twenty-nine inches,” or however far it was. As far as we could tell, the idea was that all the horses that pull the load “All the way!” get to go on to the next round, probably with 200 more pounds. The last horse to pull the load all the way, or the one that goes farther in the last round if none of them pull it all the way, wins. It was a little hard to believe that both the pulling and the racing were about horses, but then, Olympic weight lifting and sprinting are both about humans.

New England fairs, at least in autumn, seem to include giant pumpkin contests. We saw giant pumpkins in Fryeburg last year. The TV news reports of the Topsfield fair, the one closest to Boston, always include shots of giant pumpkins (maybe that’s because they hold very still to be photographed.) Here are some from Cumberland:

Each of those is probably over three hundred pounds, and not much use for anything except entering in the contest.

The ferris wheel was very pretty from the opposite side of the racetrack. Many of the most interesting exhibit buildings, such as a museum of antique farm equipment, a blacksmith shop, and an exhibit about making maple syrup, were over here.

We had supper at a restaurant run by one of the local churches; it seemed to offer our best chance to get something that wasn’t fried. The special was barbecued chicken, which was OK and quite reasonably priced for fair food, but not as good as I make on the grill. We split a piece of custard pie, which was quite good. We sat at the counter, hoping to hear more of the general conversation than we would at a table. A lot of the customers did seem to know each other and the people running the place. Unfortunately, I can’t recall any of it any more.

The midway was as gaudy as you could ask for.

There was a nice display of antique trucks in a building on the far side of the midway. I’ll put those pictures in a separate post.

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