From Offshore: Behind the scenes at the fair
Thursday, October 06, 2011 5:26 AM
"I'm here to pick up the Oliver," the old fellow said, from the seat of a shiny red pickup towing a large trailer. We had stopped by the collection of antique tractors just long enough for my husband Paul to admire the 1950 John Deere one more time before we left the fairground. Paul pointed around the side of the maintenance building. "It'll be right around there."
This is dedicated to the memory of Common Ground Fair Electricity Coordinator Noel Dechar.
Eva Murray lives, works and writes on Matinicus Island.
This week, the Fryeburg Fair over in western Maine rounds out the year's agricultural fair season. As fairgoers, do we stop to think about all that goes into making a big event like that happen?
My husband, daughter and I volunteer at the Common Ground Fair and it is truly a labor of love. It takes a huge amount of work, in hundreds of specific areas of expertise, to make the fair look easy.
Paul's a master electrician and volunteers his services in that capacity, as do several others. It takes a half a dozen electricians and a handful of helpers to get the fairground wired, lit, and rigged to crank out the food for 59,000 hungry people. I've had lots of jobs at Common Ground over the years-painting faces, delivering electrical cords, working at first aid and information and safety and MOFGA membership, setting up parking lots, selling tickets, sorting trash, counting money - so I can be a general-purpose gopher, assistant, pinch-hitter and substitute as needed. I make frequent trips to Mac's True Value in Unity for electrical boxes and plumbing fittings.
Each day of the fair, the volunteer staff has an early morning meeting. They discuss everything from honeybees to septic tanks to which area coordinators have too many folding tables and chairs and who has too few. The EMS coordinators (I guess we've really outgrown being considered just "first aid") report that they've had more medical calls at their tent than some years, but with paramedics and doctors volunteering, a lot can be done right on the fairground. "Doctors?" I wonder, "just for the fair?" But 59,000 people, which is what the Common Ground Country Fair really handled over three days this year, is a larger group of folks than live in any municipality in Maine except for Portland.
At the Saturday meeting, the parking coordinators say they're shorthanded for that morning; I'm free for a while, so I go help out in parking.
The utilities people stay busy. There is always something. One night, a clog in the pipe between the bathrooms by the livestock area and the septic field put four or five guys back to work late, but the bathrooms were open for the fairgoers by the next day. Somebody reported that a power cord they needed was stuck under a forklift belonging to one of the timber-framers, and of course, no key for the forklift. That problem was solved with a little nudge by a large Massey-Ferguson tractor. When word came that the ATM wasn't working, the electricians found the problem: another power cord, unrelated to the temporary ATM but plugged into the same ground fault interrupter outlet, had a chunk out of it where somebody had evidently hit it with a lawn mower. Replace the bad cord for the other area and the ATM was fine. As for the fairground electricians, we decided that their motto is "We look for trouble."
I discover that they are shorthanded on Safety on Sunday afternoon so I go to work in that department. The vendors want to pack up and leave right away and many of them push the time when they are permitted to move vehicles. We can't let anybody drive on the fairground until most of the pedestrians have left. I am not a bit shy and don't hesitate for a second to get right in the driver's window of a truck and stop its progress. I make a pretty good safety volunteer.
Taking the fair down goes a lot faster but it comes with a bittersweet feeling similar to taking down the family Christmas tree. Everybody's tired and ready for some peace and quiet, but I'm a little sad that it's over. Electricians scramble to "drop out" the big black cords that power the food vendors; many of these vendors need to hurry up and get down to Cumberland Fair, next on their summer circuit.
After a day of unwiring the fairground, we pack up our campsite and say goodbye to the other utilities guys, including Bob Weyer who does plumbing and Steve Plumb who does wiring (I am not kidding), and Tristan and Parker, young men who ran around the fairground as children along with our own children not so long ago, but who now are responsible for communications and lighting. We won't see most of our fairground friends until we volunteer to run wires and set up lights and do all this stuff again next year.
An hour or so later, we found ourselves right behind the red truck with the antique Oliver tractor in tow, driving down the east side of China Lake. See you next year, too.