For 12 days every August just over a million people have a love affair at North America’s largest county fair in the Erie County Fair in Hamburg, N.Y.
"This is what America is all about — families, friends, fun and a fair" said Holly Smyczynski, senior marketing co-coordinator of the Erie County Fair, which averages more than one million guests annually. It’s about a 20-minute drive from the Niagara, Ont. border. And what a great fair it is. Having visited the fair before I knew I’d need more than a day to cover the 173rd annual event which started on Aug. 8 and continues until the 19th.
If you like to walk, wear comfortable shoes. There’s a lot to take in on the 111-hectare fairground. If walking is not your thing, you can take a tram operated by Shriners from Buffalo’s Ismalia Temple. It costs 50 cents with all the proceeds going to their worthy causes. Wheelchairs and electric carts are available for rent.
Parking is $5 US and admission is reasonable: adults $10 at the gate, seniors (60 +) $7 and children under 12 free. Further discounts are available if you purchase your tickets ahead of time at Tops Supermarkets and the Peace Bridge Duty Free Shop.
Now that you’ve got the lay of the land, back to the fair.
The fair consists of 86 permanent buildings, a midway of 70 rides and 100 games; plenty of vendors who promise not to let you go hungry (try the giant turkey legs on for size or the hot stuffed peppers), lots of free entertainment, casinos and traditional agricultural and husbandry displays with more than 2,500 animals and well, unusual things.
One of my favourites is to walk inside Allen’s Original California Redwood Log House. The tree is about 4.2 metres in diameter, 10 metres long and cut from a stump of a tree more than 1,900 years old. It’s pulled across the United States and plumped down at annual fairs. Drop a few coins when you exit the house.
Nearby is the restored mid 1900’s San Francisco Cable Car. The car was purchased by the Erie County Fair in 1962 and travelled mounted on a bus chassis 4023 kilometres to Hamburg where it has become a travelling year-round billboard at other events and parades for the fair.
Although it was not my cup of tea you can pay an extra dollar or so and peek in the tents that hold the "Man-eating Giant Snakes" or the 45 kilogram, 1.2-metre long "Giant River Rat".
One of my perennial favorite is Ramblin Lou’s Country Family Show. Lou and his wife Joanie (they’ve been married 48 years) have been performing at the fair for the past decades. Today, they are joined by their children and grandchildren who are all great musicians and entertainers. Mark this as a must-see, even if you’re not a country music fan. Lou’s corny jokes make it all worthwhile.
No visit to the fair is complete unless you visit the horse barns. Get up close and personal to these magnificent creatures. Dan and Sue Blesy of Boston, New York have been taking horses to the fair for many years. They don’t get paid but Dan says, "The payback is when we see how the crowd re-acts to our animals. We love the fair".
Check out the 4-H open class livestock shows and Open Horse Shows that run continuously free of charge.
Smaller farm animals like chickens, pigs and goats in a nearby barn are interesting to observe but the aroma takes getting used too.
If you get here the first few days of the fair see the fresh award winning fruits and vegetables. The produce is displayed in a non-air conditioned building. I never new squash could grow as big.
Before I leave I try and see one of the three free live top-notch concerts held in the massive grandstand during the evenings.
There’s no doubt, the Erie County Fair represents what America is all about.