Country Fair. It's blue-ribbon season -- a time for horse-pulling, livestock judging, strolling the midway, and a ride on the roller coaster
THERE should always be two faces to any self-respecting country fair. There's the farmers' part: the prize-winning cow or dahlia. Then there's the midway -- you know, first the fried dough, then the roller coaster. The Topsfield Fair, an hour or so north of Boston, has both.Skip to next paragraph
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Topsfield claims that its fair is the oldest in the country (1818). While small, as fairs go, it's by far the biggest event in Topsfield, which isn't a very big place.
Along the midway here you can win a large purple stuffed animal through games of skill, or do a solid year's worth of screaming while hanging upside down on the SuperLoop. But you get a different impression of the fair, a more interesting impression, when you wander through the farmers' tents and booths.
``Hey, we're unloading pigs, lady,'' Dan Hurld, a tall, thin man in blue jeans, explained the day before the fair opened. ``C'mon, Rosita; c'mon Rosita,'' he coaxed, as an immense black pig strolled majestically into her pen, closely attended by 14 piglets. ``We've got everything here for you, kid,'' he said generously, pouring water in the trough.
Mr. Hurld has been doing educational demonstrations featuring farm animals for the last 33 years. In addition to Rosita and his Arabian mare, Kismet, he has a dairy cow he has worked with for four years. ``She kind of looks forward to it,'' he said. Also, sheep shearing and police dogs. ``That's very popular; the place'll be so jammed you won't be able to see the pavement.''
We returned to the pig. ``They're the smartest, pigs,'' Hurld said. ``Can't train 'em -- they're smart, but they grow too fast. What are you going to do with a 1,000-pound pig? They like to play; if you're familiar enough with them, you can see them smile,'' he said, bending over a small piglet.
``She'll be the most photographed thing in the whole place.''
The day of the grand opening dawned a bit chilly: a morning of orange trees against a gray sky. A hundred people or so were waiting for the parade, which was announced first by a blare of fire engines, then a distant thumping from the band.
``They make a big whoop and holler about it every year,'' said a man who was opening up a red-striped tent selling plastic blowup Kermits and Snoopies, and fudge.
Then the parade hove itself around the corner, led by the Waltham American Legion post playing The Battle Hymn of the Republic, followed by black-haired Mrs. Essex County, Christine Mclaughlin, waving from a convertible MG.
The Future Farmers of America, in a float pulled by a front-end loader, wereknee-deep in apples and pumpkins, and a supplementary tractor behind them pulled a handsome vegetable display. Several teams of draft horses stepped briskly by; then a woman in a tiny cart.
``That's Carlene White with her donkeys; definitely a strong addition to the parade,'' the announcer declared.
The most popular event at the fair -- and deservedly so -- was the horse-pulling.
The horses, their withers higher than a man's head, were harnessed together with a hitch on the back with a hole in it; the drivers had three chances to attach it to the sled of concrete blocks. This task was made more difficult by the fact that the powerful beasts surged forward as soon as they heard the smallest clink of metal hitch on metal hook.
The sun had come pouring out; when not competing, the drivers, short, stocky, tough-looking men in baseball caps, sat relaxing in deck chairs.