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Altamont Fair Special Section Archives The Altamont Enterprise, August 12, 2010

Steeped in tradition, the 2010 Altamont Fair also offers many new attractions

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

ALTAMONT — The plaintive midway cries of children futilely begging their cash-strapped parents for just one more ride will be a thing of the past at the Altamont Fair.

This August, admission will go up three dollars to $15, but that will allow fair-goers to ride free all day. Parking is still free.

“Families don’t want to have to keep shelling out for food and rides,” said Marie McMillen, the fair’s director.

Reithoffer Shows will still run the midway; the company will get a percentage of the gate, said McMillen.

“People will pay one price at the gate and everyone gets free rides,” she said.

On Wednesday, seniors will be admitted to the fair for free.  “We’ve lined up golf carts to get them around if they want,” said McMillen.

On Sunday, veterans will be admitted for free.

A big attraction this year will be “The Nerveless Nocks Thrill and Stunt Show Circus,” performed three times a day, featuring such acts as motorcyclists navigating a high wire. (See related story.)

The Zoppé Circus won’t be at the fair this year. “I found them out of The New York Times,” said McMillen of the charming European circus family. “People complain about always having the same thing,” she said.

Instead, the fair is introducing a new show. “We’re bringing in ‘Wild About Monkeys,’” said McMillen. “It’s educational and entertaining.” (See related story.)

Instead of racing pigs, this year’s fair will feature “Cuzin Grumpy’s Pork Chop Revue.”

“Pigs are very popular,” said McMillen. “This is a program where the pigs do different tricks…It’s really cute.”

In addition to the traveling shows, the fair will offer a lot of homegrown entertainment. This includes tried and true events like the Miss Altamont Fair pageant as well as new events like a Dutch barn-raising. (See related stories.) “Dog Magic” will be back again this year as local canines demonstrate their skills and a traveling team shows off its Frisbee-catching prowess.

Hometown Heroes in Action will feature a safety puppet show, fire demonstrations, a police dive tank, and child fingerprinting. The Battle of the Teen Bands still has room for a few more entries. Other bands performing at the fair range from country to rock.

Some new demonstrations will be added to the domestic stand-bys of baking and sewing, such as weaving bee skeps and knitting Halloween hats.

McMillan loves to put on a show. She used to show off her sewing and cooking skills at the Altamont Fair when she was a girl in 4-H. Then, in 1979, when her oldest daughter was involved in the horse and pony shows, McMillen got even more involved.

“It doesn’t get old,” she said. “I’ve always loved planning parties…I like creating activity.”

She went on, “I love the fair. It’s always been constant in my life…The fair is a very wholesome entertainment. It takes us back in time in some ways, and is progressive in others.”

McMillen laments the way some of the old stalwart organizations, like the Eastern Star and the Grange, are dying out. This year, there will be no Church Restaurant at the fair. “The young people are not stepping up to fill the shoes of those who are aging,” said McMillen.

But new events are replacing the old ones and some of the stand-bys are being revived as well.

Among the fair’s museums — all free and run by local volunteers — the Farm Machinery Building is packed with new displays this year just as the 1890’s  Building and Carriage House is brimming with entertainers. (See related stories.)

“It’s a disease”

For the third year in a row, fairgoers will have a chance every day to see a cow give birth. Witnessing farm animals give birth used to be commonplace, said Stuart Lyman, the veterinarian who came up with the idea for “The Miracle of Birth,” and oversees the daily birthing sessions, answering questions from onlookers. But now, milk comes in bottles and beef comes in plastic wrap at the supermarket; most Americans are cut off from the sources of their food.

“The Miracle of Birth” gives people “a reference point about what is the basis of life,” Lyman said when the exhibit was new; it continues to be a popular attraction.

Lyman and his wife, Jane, who handles publicity for the fair, have a farm in Delmar. For more than 30 years, they’ve shared their talents — his in veterinary medicine, hers in working with wool — at the tri-county fair in Altamont.

The Lymans started with pick-your-own strawberries, raspberries, and pumpkins, and expanded to raise sheep and draft horses. Jane Lyman processes and dyes the wool from her sheep. Then she spins, weaves, and knits with the wool.

This year, Stuart Lyman is the president of the fair board.

“Everybody is always asking me, ‘What’s new at the fair?’” said Lyman.

The fair will continue to be a combination of what is traditional along with new innovations. “Are you going to see blue ribbons for the best flowers and artwork and sheep, goats, rabbits, and chickens?” he asked, answering himself, “Yes, you are.”

New this year will be a dog dock-diving show. “The dogs compete to see how far they can ran or jump into a pool,” Lyman said. “It’s a big crowd pleaser.”

Dogs will also play fly ball, where they run a relay course in teams of four, hurdling jumps before hitting a paddle that shoots a ball in the air, which they have to catch.

“It’s a first for us,” he said, adding, “People cheer and get behind a team.”

Oxen will be returning to the fair this year. Longhorn oxen will demonstrate three times every day; when yoked together, their horns span nine feet.

An ox pull will be held on Wednesday when 12 yoke of oxen will compete.

The next day, it will be the horses’ turn to pull. “We’ve changed the style of our horse draw,” said Lyman.

The competition will be divided into two classes, based on the horses’ weight. Six to 10 teams — coming from New York, Vermont, and New Hampshire — will compete for prizes in each class.

Each team of two will pull a boat, which is a flat sled with a driver and blocks of cement on it, of increasing weight. Instead of pulling the boat eight or 10 feet as in years’ past, this year, the teams will pull the boat 27.5 feet.

If watching animals perform isn’t enough, fairgoers can watch humans perform, too. “We’re trying to bring back the atmosphere of entertainment all around the fair, not just on stage,” said Lyman. “We’ll have almost 200 performers.”

In addition to singers and instrumentalists, there will be jugglers and stilt walkers as well as a backyard circus.

Asked what has kept him contributing to the fair for so many years, Lyman laughs and says, “It’s a disease.”

He recalls that, after being married in 1972, he and his wife brought some vegetables they had raised to the fair and their involvement grew from there.

Married on Aug. 19, Lyman said, “Our anniversary is always during Fair Week. We celebrate with a sausage-and-pepper supper.”

“This year, we’re having fireworks at the fair for the first time in years,” said Lyman. He quipped, “I don’t want people believing I arranged the fireworks so I wouldn’t forget the anniversary.”

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