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Ray Routhier

Portland Press Herald staff writer Ray Routhier will try anything. Once. During 20 years at the Press Herald he’s been equally attracted to stories that are unusually quirky and seemingly mundane. He’s taken rides on garbage trucks, sought out the mother of two rock stars, dug clams, raked blueberries, and spent time with the family of bedridden man who finds strength in music. Nothing too dangerous mind you, just adventurous enough to find the stories of real Mainers doing real cool things.

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Posted: September 19, 2016

Get out to the grandstand; the fair necessities won’t come to you

Written by: Ray Routhier
Skillet toss events at Maine fairs are a must see. Catch one at Fryeburg Fair this fall. Photo by Joe Phelan/Staff Photographer

Skillet toss events at Maine fairs are a must see. Catch one at Fryeburg Fair this fall.
Photo by Joe Phelan/Staff Photographer

Call them the fair necessities.

They include skillet-throwing and manure-pitching contests, racing pigs lured by Oreos and hot dogs, 1,000-pound pumpkins about to bust the scales, one-man-bands playing Beatles music and trees being felled in just seconds flat.

All of the above spectacles can be seen at Maine fairs, but pretty much nowhere else. And with just three fairs left this fall, the time to check these “must see” events off your fall fair bucket list is running out. If you don’t have such a list, now’s a good time to start one.

The Common Ground Country Fair opens Friday in Unity, followed by the Cumberland County Fair in Cumberland on Sunday. The Fryeburg Fair, Maine’s biggest, closes out the season Oct. 2 through 9.

Each fair will offer plenty of fried dough and French fries, rides for the kiddies and lots of animals to pet and peruse. But you can get fried food at Old Orchard Beach, and you can go on a Tilt-A-Whirl at Funtown.

If you want to watch piglets with numbered racing attire going as fast as their little legs can carry them or see a pumpkin bigger than some hipster’s tiny house, you better get out to a Maine fair.

Here are the details about some of the one-of-a-kind sights on view in the next couple of weeks.

Pigs dash out of the starting gate during the 4H pig racing event at the Cumberland County Fair. Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

Pigs dash out of the starting gate during the 4H pig racing event at the Cumberland County Fair.
Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

SPEEDY SWINE

The cuteness quotient of the daily pig races at the Cumberland County Fair is off the charts. First you have the piglets, usually 12 or 13 weeks old, each wearing a colorful little blanket with a number on it. They’re all lined up at a starting gate, a mini version of what you might see at a horse track. Then there are the pig trainers, ages 6 to 9, situated at the other end of the race track with whatever treat they’ve trained their pigs to race toward.

In past pig racing seasons, these have included Oreo cookies, peanut butter sandwiches, carrots, hot dogs and links of Polish sausage. The pee-wee pig whisperers are all members of the Cumberland County 4-H Swiners Club. The racing pigs are only with the kids for about four weeks, during which time the children have to figure out whether their piggies are more motivated by cookies, vegetables, fast food or something else. The races usually include four heats of four pigs each, a total of 16 speedy swine in all.

The pig races are scheduled for the Cumberland County Fair’s Show Arena, Sunday at 12:15 p.m. and 6 p.m., Monday through Sept. 30 at 6:30 p.m., and Oct. 1 at 12:30 p.m.

Professor Paddy-Whack Rick Adam of Buckfield will do his one-man band act at Fryeburg Fair this year, as he has for some 37 years. Photo courtesy of Rick Adam.

Professor Paddy-Whack Rick Adam of Buckfield will do his one-man band act at Fryeburg Fair this year, as he has for some 37 years.
Photo courtesy of Rick Adam.

THE ONE MAN BAND

The venerable Fryeburg Fair fixture known as Professor Paddy-Whack looks like he opened a crammed closet in music class and all the instruments fell on him. He’s got a hat with a xylophone, an alarm clock and bells and whistles attached to it. He’s got a drum on his back, an accordion strapped to his chest and cymbals rigged to his knees. He also might be strumming a ukulele or blowing a horn. A twist of his head or the knocking of his knees can elicit sounds from one or more instruments.

His versions of old standards like “Happy Days Are Here Again” or “When the Saints Go Marching In” are, it’s safe to say, unlike any you’ve ever heard before. For 37 years, the good professor (singer-songwriter Rick Adam of Buckfield) has been amazing people at the Fryeburg Fair with his performances. This year, he’s debuting a new contraption, a rolling cart he calls “Beatlzania.” The cart has a guitar, bass, a couple microphones, a harmonizer machine and a four-piece drum kit. Adam says he’ll do old Beatles favorites like “She Loves You” and “Eight Days a Week,” singing in three-part harmony, by himself. “I’m the Fab One,” he said.

Professor Paddy-Whack can be seen at the Fryeburg Fair’s Hayseed Theater stage, near the Old MacDonald’s Farm petting zoo, on Oct. 2 and 3, hourly from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. He’ll also be seen strolling around, throughout the run of the fair, playing his various contraptions.

PITCHING IN

The Common Ground Country Fair has a strong focus on organic farming practices. And what can be more natural, more organic, than using good ol’ manure as fertilizer?

Each year, the fair celebrates the time-honored farming tradition of shoveling, or pitching, manure with a shovel or pitchfork. The fair’s annual Harry S. Truman Games feature two tests of manure tossing skill, a distance event and a 25-pound accuracy toss.

The fair’s manure pitch event is named for the former president, who was known for his down-to-earth style and vocabulary. The event’s founder, Mort Mather, said the name came from a story about a woman who was said to have asked Bess Truman if she could get her husband to stop using the word “manure.” Mrs. Truman supposedly answered, “You don’t know how long it took me to get him to start using that word.”

The two manure-pitching events will feature three age classes: 12 and under, 13 to 17 and 18 and over. Because really, you’re never too young or two old to pitch a little manure. Winners get ribbons and organic, cotton fair T-shirts.

The manure-pitching at the Common Ground Country Fair will take place at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Saturday, near the composting and recycling tent.

A team of volunteers lowers a giant, 555-pound pumpkin onto a scale Sunday at the Cumberland Fair. Photo by Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

A team of volunteers lowers a giant, 555-pound pumpkin onto a scale Sunday at the Cumberland Fair. Photo by Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

WHO WANTS PIE?

The whole idea of growing a pumpkin that weighs 1,000 pounds is a little mind-boggling. Maine’s giant pumpkin growers (and there are hundreds of them) say a giant can gain 45 pounds a day in peak growing season. They might drink 90 gallons of water a day, too.

The only way to truly understand how big a pumpkin can get is to see a giant in person, and the Cumberland County Fair’s Pumpkin Contest is the place to do it. Last year’s winner was 1,046 pounds. The weigh-in and judging begins at 11 a.m. Sunday, with the giants staying on display through the run of the fair.

Chris Cicora of Springwater, N.Y., lets our a yell in celebration after hitting his target in the pole fell event at the Woodsman's Day at the Fryeburg Fair, Monday, October 1, 2012. Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

Chris Cicora of Springwater, N.Y., lets our a yell in celebration after hitting his target in the pole fell event at the Woodsman’s Day at the Fryeburg Fair, Monday, October 1, 2012.
Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

AX ME ANYTHING

For most people, cutting down a tree with an ax, or cutting a board with a chainsaw, is a slow and cautious affair. But the ax-wielding folks who compete at Fryeburg Fair’s Woodsmen’s Field Day every year are speed demons.

People from all over the country travel to Fryeburg for the field day, which includes 27 lumberjack-type events. There’s ax throwing (hitting a target with an ax), buck sawing, wood chopping, crosscut sawing, log rolling, tree felling and springboard.

The last involves a woodsman (or woods-woman) chopping a notch into a tree trunk, then lodging a board into that notch and standing on the board, to chop another notch for another board. The chopper keeps doing this until they reach the top of the tree trunk, maybe 12 or 15 feet high. This year’s Woodsmen’s Field Day at Fryeburg Fair will begin at 9 a.m. Oct. 3, in the fair’s racing grandstand area.


SKILLED WITH A SKILLET

At most fairs around Maine, skillet tosses are just for women. Legend has it the event stems from the days when a woman spent most of her day in the kitchen, and, if she needed a weapon for protection or to keep her husband in line, a skillet was the nearest and best choice.

The official rules for the skillet toss at Fryeburg Fair this year include that it’s “open to the world’s women,” no practice throws are allowed and each contestant only gets one throw. So they better be skilled with a skillet before entering. The skillets are provided by the fair. The skillet throw will be held at noon on Oct. 3, at the Hog & Goat grandstand.

THREE FOR THE ROAD
The last three Maine fairs of the season and your last, best chance to see manure-pitching, pig races and skillet-throwing until next year.

COMMON GROUND COUNTRY FAIR

WHEN: Friday through Sunday
WHERE: 294 Crosby Brook Road, Unity
HOW MUCH: $10 in advance, $15 at the gate, free for children 12 and under.
INFO: mofga.org

CUMBERLAND COUNTY FAIR

WHEN: Sunday through Oct. 1
WHERE: Cumberland Fairgrounds, 197 Blanchard Road, Cumberland
HOW MUCH: $10; free for children 12 and under.
INFO: cumberlandfair.com

FRYEBURG FAIR

WHEN: Oct. 2 through Oct. 9
WHERE: Fryeburg Fairgrounds, 1154 Main St., Fryeburg
HOW MUCH: $10, free for children under 12.
INFO: fryeburgfair.org

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