In many ways, the Fryeburg Fair, held every year in October, is like any other county fair. It has a midway, with carnies hawking tickets to side shows and turns at arcade games, the usual mechanical thrill rides, and loads of artery-choking food stands whose grease factor, when converted to biodiesel fuel, would be enough to power a third world country. There are plenty of farm animals, 4H competitions for sheep, horses, pigs, cows and goats, as well as agricultural and craft displays, prize-winning quilts and baked goods.
I was amazed by the draft horse pull. Imagine a team of the giant horses (think Anheiser Busch) straining with all their might to pull tons of concrete (the winning team pulled 12,000 lbs) Teams of draft horses and oxen are still used in the logging industry in areas inaccessible to logging trucks, as well as by the Amish.
They also have a wife-carrying contest, in which a man, while carrying his wife, must run through a long and difficult obstacle course. The winners go to the national contest, and from there it’s off to Finland, for the International Wife-Carrying Contest. I am not making this up!
For the women, it’s a skillet-throwing contest, but lest you think that sounds sissified, those iron skillets are heavy and awkward and the tossers put shotputters to shame (the record is 64′ 8″: that’s one angry woman!). In 2009, a certain Mrs. Heath of E. Conway, NH threw out the first skillet. She is 100 years old, and threw from a wheelchair. (She won in her age class, and according to newspaper accounts, she lifted her arms in triumph to an adoring, standing-room-only crowd in the grandstands.)
What makes the Fryeburg Fair a little more unusual than the average country fair is Woodsmen’s Day, a tribute to lumberjack culture. There are two components to Woodsmen’s Day: heavy equipment bargains and competitions. Most professional power tool companies send representatives with displays of the latest and greatest, and they are sold at significant discounts. Probably 1 out of every 5 people is lugging a new heavy-duty chainsaw, snow thrower, or other significant tool through the parking lot the end of the day, headed for their pickup trucks and home.
But it’s the Woodsmen’s olympiad that is standing room only in the grandstands. Spectators come from hundreds of miles away to cheer and admire their favorite contestants.
Timed events include how fast these Paul Bunyans can cut through massive logs and cut down trees with chainsaws, axes, and bucksaws, logrolling, and to see how far they can accurately throw an axe. Other contests test their skills as truckers on hydraulic loaders, and cable and grapple skidders. Lest you think it’s only the men who flex their muscles, there are separate but identical contests open to women, who are known as lumberjills. (Alas, dear readers, although I hate to disappoint you, I will not be entering any of these contests anytime soon.)
Usually the fair dates conflict with the Jewish holidays in October, but this year (2010) Sukkos was finished by the end of September, so I could attend. It was a fun day, and I was only sorry my grandchildren couldn’t be there, too. They would have loved it.
Some farm animals from the Fryeburg Fair: