FARMINGTON — Sunday's just right temperatures in the 60s and plenty of sunshine brought people of all ages in droves to opening day of the 171st Farmington Fair.
“Opening day has been great,” Priscilla Herrmann, fair staff member, said at midafternoon.
“They've come in bunches, like bananas, but we have a very good turnout. A lot of the old people have returned, and we've had a lot of new people come.”
The fair runs from Sunday through Saturday, Sept. 24.
From carnival thrill rides to livestock competitions, there was something for just about everybody on Sunday.
Heady aromas from a seemingly endless array of food booths also competed for attention.
While the main fairgrounds were full of people with more arriving, the crowd was much thinner down at the other end at the Horsemen's Gate entrance for the pari-mutuel races.
The grandstand was mostly empty 90 minutes before the first race was to begin at 2 p.m. and only about a quarter full by race time.
“It's 12:30; we should have been full by now,” ticket sellers Jerry Whitney and John Shardlow said earlier.
Shardlow said he thought the nation's poor economy was the root cause of crowd decline for the races.
“There are less and less people participating,” Shardlow said.
“All of my friends are deceased that I know would be here to bet a few dollars. But like the rest of the country, things are down.”
“We going to make money today?” an elderly man walking through the gate asked Shardlow who welcomed him in and answered affirmatively.
He said he's been working the gate for nearly three decades and can remember when a day of races would bring in up to $90,000.
Now, Shardlow said, they're lucky if they bring in $30,000.
“If we take in the same today as we did last year, I will say that for the times, it will be super,” he said.
“Give us good weather, and the fair will survive.”
Over at the track, jockeys riding behind horses soon began warm-up trots, drawing people to the chain-link fence to watch.
Two of them were 3-year-old Addison Decker and her mom, Amy Decker, both of Farmington.
“We come out for all of it,” mom said of the fair.
Grandmother Cheryl Baxter of Farmington said Addison loves the fair and could hardly wait for opening day to arrive.
“She's been watching it come up all this week,” she said.
“She was ready at 7 o'clock this morning and I wasn't,” mom said of Addison.
When asked what she liked best, Addison didn't even think before responding to her mother.
“Ferris wheel,” she said.
The thrill rides didn't start until 2 p.m., but once they did, people of all ages began lining up, and the air was soon filled with screams of delight from teens and younger children and fright from adults.
Two-year-old Owen Abbott of Jay came to see the tractors and lawn mowers, said mom Amanda Abbott of Jay.
“We come here every year,” she said. “He's obsessed with the lawnmowers. When we get over there, he'll be riding them all.”
Amanda Abbott echoed Herrmann's thoughts about the crowd.
“The crowd looks good for the first day,” she said.
Over by the pulling ring, country and gospel music vocalist Sammi Angel of Dixfield and her brother, Jim Harris, were performing to a good crowd.
Harris mingled with the crowd while crooning “Blue Suede Shoes,” and then without missing a beat, he and Angel switched to Elvis's “Let Me Be Your Teddy Bear” to the crowd's delight.
When asked why she came out on opening day, Edith Garey of Peru pointed at Angel and said, “She's playing.”
“I usually go most everywhere she goes,” she said.
“I also come to enjoy everything. You meet a lot of different people you never see. I think this is a real good crowd.”