June 22, 2018
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Skowhegan State Fair boasts strong agricultural tradition

By Christopher Cousins, BDN Staff

SKOWHEGAN, Maine — There’s nothing like seeing a teenage girl win a tractor pull.

That’s how Jerry Swain of Canaan saw it, especially when it came to his daughter Emilee and their hulking, red-and-white International Harvester Model 1466. Emilee — who is now Emilee Robertson — wasn’t more than 12 or 13 years old when she adopted her father’s love of tractor pulls. She could always count on Swain to give her a better-than-average shot at accomplishing the grand slam of tractor pulling: the full pull.

“Some people used to get a little upset about a girl beating them,” said Robertson.

The problem was, Swain used to adjust the tractor to increase its horsepower above the competition limit — which frequently got Emilee disqualified, full pull or not. So today, some 16 years after Robertson’s debut in the sport, the International Harvester has a name: “The Disqualifier.”

“Only now we don’t cheat,” Robertson said after having the horsepower on her machine tested Friday at the Skowhegan State Fair.

Sadly, whatever glory awaited her will not be witnessed by her father, who died two months ago in an accident while hauling chopped hay with a farm truck.

“This will be an emotional pull for Emilee,” said her husband, Ethan.

The tractor pull, a summertime Maine tradition that dates back decades, is only one of the many farm-inspired competitions taking place at what organizers say is the longest-running agricultural fair in the country. The 192nd Skowhegan State Fair features truck, tractor, horse and oxen pulls, harness racing and continuous live-stock, produce and cooking competitions. As usual, crafters and artisans from Maine and beyond are displaying their wares in several buildings at the fairgrounds on U.S. Route 201 in Skowhegan.

“The agricultural part of the fair really is phenomenal,” said Denise Jones of Skowhegan, who is the fair’s marketing director. “There’s a lot of work and pride put into the Skowhegan State Fair to make it one of the best fairs you can go to.”

The 10-day fair, which kicked off Thursday with a heavily attended tribute concert for United States military personnel, runs through Aug. 21. In addition to the agricultural events, the fair offers a vibrant midway and a wide range of activities ranging from a continuous schedule of magic shows to a pig scramble on Aug. 21. For those who enjoy metal-on-metal carnage, the fair’s schedule includes three demolition derbies, the second of which is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday.

Tonight’s main activity is one of the fair’s largest draws, the truck pull, which begins at 6:30 p.m. Harness racing begins Sunday afternoon and continues through Thursday, and a Battle of the Bands is scheduled for 8 p.m. Sunday.

The breadth of events is designed to attract fair-goers of all ages to see things they couldn’t see anywhere else. One example of that is watching 10-year-old Thomas Bickford of Misty Meadow Farm in Clinton keep two huge steers behaving and doing what he wants with nothing other than a few taps on the nose and commands like “gee” and “haw,” right and left. Showing cattle demands a lot of practice (the hardest part is convincing them to back up), but Bickford said the rewards can be worth it.

“First prize is $35,” he said. “I want to put that money in my bank account.”

Or maybe he’ll spend some of it on an all-you-can-ride midway bracelet, which costs $10 on weekdays and $14 on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Gate admission and parking fees may also apply.

For a complete listing of the fair’s events, visit the website www.skowheganstatefair.com.

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