FRYEBURG — The Fryeburg Fair slows down overnight, but it never fully sleeps.

At 11 p.m. the fair-goers are long gone, and Michael Quigg loads the Beale Street Barbeque grill with 180 pounds of meat for Friday.

He compared the night’s work of cooking to sailing: “Load the grill with meat, then sleep for a few hours, then get up to check the ‘ship,’ make sure you are still on course, then get a little more sleep.”

In the cow barns, it’s the night to let loose. Thursday marks the end of beef, dairy and steer showing, and the party is in full swing. Megan and Adrian Knox chat with Fryeburg Fair friends Hannah and Seth Webber. The two couples have been bringing their cows to the same barn at the Fryeburg Fair for years and have developed a close friendship that Megan compares to family.

“Your barn is your family that you only get to see once a year,” she said.

At 12:30 a.m. “the bread guy,” Matt Reichel, is delivering bread to every food stand at the fair that uses bread. All vehicles have to be off the midway when the fair opens for the day, and Reichel gets his work done in the wee hours of the morning.

He says he hardly sleeps for a week, and that “we all pretty much run ragged.”

He keeps moving with lots of caffeine and stays motivated by money.

“Money will drive you to do anything,” he said, and this is the big money-maker of the year for him.

Back in the cow barns, Megan Letourneau is in high spirits. She says this has been her first real escape in years, the first time she has been able to relax since having kids, and it’s been good to let loose this evening and hang out with friends.

When the farmers who have been sleeping all night start getting up to do chores, “Everyone who has been up all night vanishes,” said Earland Stevenson, who gets up at 2 a.m. to start his day.

It’s true, the pace of the cow barns intensifies at 3:30 a.m. The barns get busy with stall cleaning and milking. Some farmers opt out of the hustle of the milking parlor and milk outside their barns.

Jeanie Lewis of Maple Row Farms in Auburn is at the milking parlor at 4 a.m., a full hour earlier than she milks her cows at home, because she is eager to get in and out of the milking parlor before it gets crazy. But it’s early.

“Too early to think,” she said.

Garbage collection starts around 4 a.m. with multiple crews criss-crossing the grounds cleaning up the previous day’s trash. Bill Glidden does rubbish removal during the fair and handyman work on the fairgrounds during the summer.

It takes all summer long to get ready for this one week, Glidden said.

David Currier sits outside Emily’s Restaurant at 4:30 a.m. and waits for it to open. People filter over to wait until the doors open an hour and a half later, at 6 a.m.

Waitress Teri Richard of Rumford said it’s her first time working at the restaurant at the fair, but will likely not be her last. She enjoys how different everything is at the fair.

“It’s like a city here,” she said.

She stops to admire a photo on Currier’s phone and fill up coffee mugs for a crowded breakfast counter full of farmers ready to start a new day at the Fryeburg Fair.

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