Competitors in the 4-H working steer competition line up before the start of last year’s competition. (Roger Amsden photo)
By ADAM DRAPCHO, LACONIA DAILY SUN
SANDWICH — The Sandwich Fair Board of Directors has an unusual challenge. They’re the stewards of an event that dates back to 1886, yet they are also tasked with keeping the fair attractive to modern visitors. They’ve apparently done a good job, because the Sandwich Fair, the last of the season’s country fairs, consistently draws up to 40,000 people each Columbus Day weekend – not bad, considering the year-round population of this pastoral town is around 1,200.
The Sandwich Fair manages the trick of staying the same, yet changing from year to year. Events and entertainment have been added or removed from the schedule, but the experience remains centered around agriculture and family fun.
“The animals, the stage shows, and just seeing friends. That’s my favorite part, running into people and reconnecting,” Robin West said when asked her favorite parts of the fair. West, treasurer for the fair’s Board of Directors, said there will be a few new elements for fairgoers to take in this year. The Sandwich Fair will be open Oct. 7-9, with gates opening at 8 a.m. each day.
One of those new things will be “Stormin” Scott Norman, who bills himself as “The Picasso of Pumpkin Carving.” He will be providing expert pumpkin carving demonstrations twice on Saturday and again on Sunday.
4-H demonstrations and competitions are a focus of the Sandwich Fair, especially on Monday. This year sees the addition of two new 4-H events: a dog show, in which 4-H members will be judged for the care and training of either purebred or mixed breed dogs, and 4-H talks, in which members will take advantage of unused show rings to lead discussions about their animals and how they care for them.
Young people will also be able to take part in an event that was previously open only to adults. New for this year’s fair is the Junior Oxen Pull, for drivers age 13-16, working with teams of oxen under 1,300 pounds. That event will join the other oxen- and horse-pulling events.
The more mechanically inclined might be drawn to the tractor and antique tractor pulls. Returning for a third year is the Pickup Truck Pull, which, louder and faster than the tractor event, features a range of entrants, from purpose-built trucks to pickups that will go back to daily drivers after the competition.
Several years ago, the fair added the Ladies’ Skillet Toss competition, which has grown each year. Not to be left on the sidelines, the spouses of the skillet-tossers organized the Gentlemen’s Keg Toss three years ago, and that event is also gaining momentum. Both of those tosses will be held on Monday.
And then there are the time-tested favorites, such as the animal exhibits, horse-riding competions, antique auto show and parade, the Grand Street Parade, the musical entertainment, the midway rides and all of the food vendors. The Kids’ Tractor Pull, which invites any child to test her might by pulling a weighted sled behind a pedal tractor, will be celebrating its 25th year.
For people close to the fair, though, this year’s highlight will come at 8 a.m. on Saturday, when the fairgrounds’ flag pole, located near the Craft Building, will be dedicated to Peter Wright. Wright, who passed away last month, served on the fair’s Board of Directors for more than 15 years.
When the weather is good, 12,000 people or more will visit the Sandwich Fair each day. West said those people are drawn to Sandwich by fond memories of past fairs – and memories of the people they went to the fair with.
“It’s family tradition. Family brings family. Year after year we’ve done surveys, everything comes back as family tradition. We pull in new people, hopefully they come back as a new tradition,” she said.
If you go:
• Oct. 7-8-9. Fairgrounds open daily at 8 a.m. Rides open at 9 a.m.
• Fairgrounds are located at 7 Wentworth Hill Road, Route 109 , North Center Sandwich
• No dogs or other pets allowed at the fair.
• Parking is free. Get directions online.
• See www.thesandwichfair.com for more.