One for the Ages – the Rochester Country Fair

After threatening a storm all day, the skies finally opened late afternoon Saturday, trapping fairgoers in the main tent to watch the fury of the thunder and lightning. The winds sent tents flying, and some vendors frantically packed their animals or wares into their trucks and hustled home.

This reporter’s 4 1/2-year-old son had never been to the fair before; this weekend he became hooked on the fair. The Kids Area provided the perfect mix of bubbles and Legos and a visit from some Disney Princesses and Spiderman. The biggest attraction was the Corn Box, a sand-box filled with dried corn kernels that the kids couldn’t help but lie down in and make “corn angels”. There were other kid’s events including making a cranberry bog, where children could bring home their very own bog in a cup or, the highlight for my son, – the pie eating contest – won by little Virginia Belben, beaming with pride, blueberry pie smeared on her cheeks.

The animal barn was filled with dairy and beef cows, calmly chewing the hay and graciously accepting the curiosity of little hands feeding them whatever green stuff they could find. Many of the cow’s heads were shaved and their tails and bodies brushed in preparation for the livestock shows. The rabbit and dairy goat shows, with young 4-H participants, fascinated my son, with the rabbits held quietly on their backs for inspection by the rabbit judges. The kids who competed in these shows showed serious commitment and dedication as they trimmed their goat’s hooves or tightly held their nervous rabbit before the competition.

The food offered at the fair provided no end of variety – fava beans, pizza, fried dill pickles, sticky barbeque, shaved ice, fresh local peaches, lemonade, and cotton candy, to name a few. Of course, Capt. Bonney provided their delicious ice cream, which we sampled a number of times, between other savory delights.

The competitions in the main arena ranged from the serious woodsman (and woman) show, in which the competitors showed not only their own strength, skill, and stamina, but also the impressive condition of their equipment. Watching the chainsaw or bowsaw cut through the lumber like butter, the crowd would erupt in applause as the winner completed the test. A less serious competition – the hot dog eating contest – showcased the contestant’s dubious skill of eating as many hot dogs as possible within five minutes. For the second year in a row, Rick Mullen beat out his competition, consuming 9 1/2 dogs in the allotted time. An all-star wrestling competition was scheduled for the Main arena on Saturday night, featuring 7 professional bouts, advertising “Tables Ladders & Chairs: No disqualifications – No time limit”.

The fiddle contest held in the Main tent was often in competition with the intense roar of the tractor pull – which included the Connecticut State Tractor Pullers Association, barreling down the track like freight trains – but local musician and instructor Jeff Angeley said it was a “sweet” contest this year, with many more fiddlers involved. A number of his students competed, including Hank Poitras who won first place in the Open division for the third year in a row.

Andrew Harding, a member of the fair’s Board of Directors, lamented that “Neighbors don’t talk with each other anymore.” He remarked that the value of the fair is the sense of community – the fair is a chance for people to come together. Harding’s 24-year old daughter Lindsey, who started competing in the Garden tractor pulling event when she was 8 years old, now volunteers with her father running the weigh station at the tractor pull. She has stayed involved in the fair all this time because “I like tractor pulling and the sense of community the fair brings.” I think my son may be on his own lawn tractor in the not too distant future.

By Sarah French Storer


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