EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 3, 2013

Fair play

195th Topsfield Fair opens tomorrow with animals, food, music and rides

By Will Broaddus
Staff writer

---- — Interest in the Topsfield Fair’s Giant Pumpkin Weigh-Off gets bigger every year, just like the pumpkins in the competition.

Visitors can check out this year’s batch of orange monsters at 1 p.m. tomorrow, when they are lowered onto scales in the arena, kicking off 10 days of agricultural exhibits, contests and activities.

George Hoomis, director of the New England Giant Pumpkin Growers Association and chairman of the weigh-off, remembers when people wondered if pumpkins would ever reach 1,000 pounds.

“We figured it would take a few years,” he said.

Last year, Ron Wallace of Green, R.I., set a world record at 2009 pounds and won a $10,000 prize for growing the first pumpkin ever to exceed 1 ton, but it took less than a year for his entry to be topped.

“There’s a guy in Europe who grew a 2,360-something-pound pumpkin off the 2009 seed,” Hoomis said.

It didn’t set a new record, however, because it had a hole in it.

“It has to be sound, a sound fruit,” Hoomis said.

Pumpkins keep getting bigger because growers develop new breeds, using seeds from previous winners, and cross-pollinating early each spring. But genetics alone don’t create big pumpkins, which often require determined growers to get them through rough weather.

“I know one year there was so much rain, people’s pumpkins were going down, the plants were dying,” Hoomis said. “One guy dug a hole next to his plant and put a sump pump in it and kept it going. People do what they have to do.”

As the pumpkins get bigger, the fair — now in its 195th year — gets older and continues to draw huge crowds.

Music, old & new

One secret to this longevity is the fair’s combination of carefully cultivated traditions mixed with new attractions.

This year, for instance, performers will include Beverly’s Angie Miller, who finished third in the “American Idol” competition this spring. Fans on the North Shore who voted for Miller when she was on television can show their appreciation in person, when she appears in a free concert Tuesday, Oct. 8, in the Grandstand.

She won’t be the only local talent at the fair, which will include appearances by the SpiritHouse Band, also from Beverly, and the Ipswich-based band The Fools.

But the fair will also feature national acts, like English rapper and singer Cher Loyd, and Coco Jones, a singer who appeared in the movie “Let It Shine” on the Disney Channel. There will also be a visit from Bobby Vinton, whose string of hits started in 1962 with “Roses Are Red” and went on to include “Blue Velvet” and “Mr. Lonely.”

For those who prefer sawing to singing, the Paul Bunyan Lumberjack Show is coming back this year to cut lengths of white pine down to size.

Lee LeCaptain, a champion log-roller and cross-cut sawyer, started the show with his wife, Myra, 28 years ago.

“He was in the nuclear industry, and we were keeping track of the radiation,” Myra LeCaptain said. “We got back to what we like. That’s how we started.”

The six lumberjacks in the show, — which now includes the LeCaptains’ sons — will be splitting wood rather than atoms in events like axe throwing, underhand chopping and chair carving.

Take a ride

For visitors looking for a lift, there are rides at the fair that will boost and spin them to their heart’s content.

These include the new Speed XXL, which stands 118 feet high and holds a gondola at the end of each arm. Each gondola seats four people in a ride that reaches 3G speeds.

But there is also a range of kinder, gentler rides for people young and old, such as The Wheel, Merry-Go-Round, Super Slide, Tilt-A-Whirl, Freak Out and Remix.

For leisurely modes of transportation, families are encouraged to hop on Joy Town or the Hampton Tractor Ride, which lets children honk a horn while driving.

At it has for close to 200 years, the arena will host competitions among breeders of goats, sheep, cows and horses, all vying for a blue ribbon. The poultry pavilion will feature rows of prize-winning chickens, ducks and geese, and the beekeeping building will show how these industrious insects make honey and wax.

Horse pulls will display the speed and strength of magnificent beasts of burden that work in teams to pull “stone boats” that carry 4,000 pounds.

And if you get hungry watching these animals work, 100 food booths will offer every conceivable kind of fare, from cotton candy to kielbasa.

For dessert, there’s the Topsfield Fair Berry Parfait from Mann Orchards in Methuen, which was selected as the fair’s first-ever signature dessert.

This is also the first year the fair has adopted a slogan, which was coined by Julia Lawrence of Beverly and advises visitors to “Make time for a great time.”

TOPSFIELD FAIR When: Friday, Oct. 4, to Monday, Oct. 14 Where: Topsfield Fairgrounds, Route 1, Topsfield Admission: Weekdays, $11; weekends and holidays, $15. Children under 8 free when accompanied by an adult. Parking is $10. Information: www.topsfieldfair.org