The Fair Flash
News, views and more from this year's Island County Fair
John Bleakley is happy to give you a big hand — in wax.
“Business has been very good, considering the rain,” he said. “It’s a small community fair, and I enjoy doing it.”
For $5, Bleakley will create a wax replica of your hand (or your baby’s foot).
First, you select a pose. Then you dip your appendage in a pot of warm wax, then into a pot of ice water, then wax, then water, wax, water, wax, water — about 10 times each.
When the wax has built to perfection, Bleakley pops it off your hand, and it’s ready for the mantel.
Some people do clasped hands; others attach a baseball or little eyeballs.
Bleakley, of Everett, said he has been offering his service at events throughout the area for 20 years.
Does he get any dodgy requests?
“All the time,” he said. “But I made it a practice many years ago not to do it. These are family fairs.”
Sage the cavie will be going for the gold at the fair’s Guinea Pig Race on Sunday afternoon at the Cavie Barn.
Actually, she’ll be going for the yogurt treat, said her owner, Lizzie Fry, 13, of Oak Harbor.
“I’ll give her one at the end,” said Fry, a member of the Cavies and Company 4-H Club. “I don’t know how fast she is, because she’s never raced before.”
Nevertheless, she said Sage, a 1-year-old brown-and-gold cross-breed she’s raised since the animal was four months old, has been getting in a lot of practice running around the house, where she lives in a cage in Fry’s bedroom.
“She can run, but not always in a straight line,” Fry said. “She gets distracted easily.”
Rich Pearson of Langley looked like the lonely Maytag Repairman of TV commercial fame as he sat in his camp chair under an awning at the fair on a drizzly Thursday afternoon.
“I’ve had a couple people stop by,” he said. “I think the rain is holding them back. They’re probably running into the buildings.”
Pearson was tending a display of propane and wood stoves and portable generators set up by Ace Hardware in Freeland.
“Last year, we had one stove fired up,” he said. “This year we didn’t bring propane with us.”
He said that even though business appeared to be slow, the fair display never fails to generate some interest in the equipment, perhaps as much as a year later.
Pearson said that as an extra incentive this year, there’s a federal tax credit on the purchase of a new wood stove.
“This time of year, a lot of people give consideration to an upgrade in their heating systems,” he said as he settled back in his chair to watch the midway traffic passing by.
Jay Johnson, 10, is all business when it comes to raising rabbits.
His 2-year-old gray Holland female named Storm won a Junior Fitting and Handling Champion trophy, along with a first-place blue ribbon and a second-place red one in judging competitions at the fair.
“They’re known to be real gentle,” said Johnson of Oak Harbor, a member of the Anything, Everything & Beyond 4-H Club. “But they can be hard to take care of. You have to be patient.”
“And they’re not so great as meat,” he added. “They don’t taste so good.”
Johnson has two rabbits at the fair, and others at home. When it comes to raising rabbits, he’s full-service.
“I butchered one a couple of days ago, and we had rabbit stew,” he said.
Don’t try to sneak into the fair the back way. Ruth Ohm and her husband John are on guard.
“I know all the people who run the fair,” said Ruth, who checks everyone who passes her flagged rope for one of eight required wristbands, tickets or other credentials.
“It’s a fun job,” she said Thursday, the first day of the fair. “But by nighttime, I’m ready to go to bed.”
The Ohms now live in Redmond, but were longtime island residents (she’s a member of the Gabelein family). They’ve looked after the back entrance to the fairgrounds at Fairgrounds Road for the past five years.
“We do this together, but right now he’s taking a nap,” she said.
Any unauthorized visitors? “Not so far,” she said. “There seem to be some cars that aren’t supposed to be there.”
She said her intentions were to come to the job prepared, since rain was in the forecast.
“I told John whatever you do, bring the chairs and the umbrellas. He brought the chairs,” she said.
You might say James Engen is providing a back-end service at the fair.
He’s one of several young people from the area in green and white shirts reading “Fair Staff” who collect the trash and roll it in their carts to the dumpsters out near where the RVs are parked.
Engen, 15, of Oak Harbor, has been doing the job for three years, and said he usually works the morning shift, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
He said business had been down so far on the first day of the fair.
“I’ve collected 10 to 12 bags so far,” he said. “Usually I would have about 30.”
He said sometimes the bags get messy — open tops and spilling contents and the like — “but we get plastic gloves.”
Engen said he’ll be back next year, if he can’t find a permanent summer position.
“It’s a fun, relaxed job, with great people,” he said, munching a red licorice rope.
Unlike other political gatherings in the news, no one’s tried to shout down the volunteers at the Island County Democrats’ hot-dog stand.
“Everybody’s been well-behaved,” said Marshall Goldberg of Oak Harbor, former chairman of the county organization.
“We’re selling to anyone, not just Democrats,” he added. “We don’t ask people for their IDs.”
The county Republicans, meanwhile, were selling ice cream elsewhere on the midway and there was no chilling effect on fairgoers.
Goldberg said the hot-dog stand has run more smoothly since the group decided to separate the food booth from the political booth.
“There was too much confusion,” he said of the former set-up. “People didn’t want to have a political discussion when they were trying to get food.”
Mix a few cans of Flossi with about 400 pounds of sugar, and you get enough cotton candy to satisfy a midway full of sweet teeth for four days.
So says Amber Berger, a Californian who has been dispensing the fluffy treats at fairs and carnivals around the country for more than 30 years.
She said business has been down by half wherever she has been this year, thanks to the economy.
She said the intermittent showers Thursday had slowed the traffic a bit at her little stand in the middle of the midway, “but that will change.”
She offers bags of cotton-candy balls for $6 and $4, and cones for $3. Fruit flavors correspond with the colors of the candy, and there doesn’t seem to be a clear favorite.
“It all depends on what people want,” she said. “Sometimes they want a caramel apple.”
“Holy cats!” rang through the air at the Pole Building early Thursday afternoon, and you knew gardening guru Ciscoe Morris was in the house.
“Oo-la-la!” was the introduction for Morris, Seattle TV and radio gardening celebrity, who spoke, actually shouted, to about 50 people on the first day of the fair.
“I come to Whidbey Island all the time, but I usually bring my Boxer,” Morris said. “This time
I came by myself!”
The hyper Morris challenged the audience to “Stump the chump!” for prizes.
“I used to throw Brussels sprouts at people who give the wrong answers,” he said. “This year it’s beets — they go a lot farther and go splat!”
He said his questions are so hard, “they send people into tizzies of fear!”
Then he turned to tomatoes and potatoes. He showed a canvas contraption from which you could grow tomatoes hanging from a beam.
He said the Sun Gold variety of tomato tastes the best, and always wins the contests.
As for spuds, which can turn toxic if left in sunlight, he said: “Never eat a green potato!”
Sharon Lundgren of Langley grabbed a front-row seat for the program.
“I love my garden and thought I could learn something,” she said.
“I need help!”
There’s so much happening at the fair, it’s hard to capture it all. But we’re trying:
Some kids were willing to put their school before pleasure.
South Whidbey High School Booster Club volunteers manned the gates and directed traffic during the group’s largest fundraiser Thursday by offering parking in one of 400 spaces available next to the Island County Fair’s main entrance.
Each of 12 sports teams takes a four-hour shift, then splits proceeds evenly.
Last year, the student’s efforts brought in roughly $14,000 that the teams use for travel, equipment and uniform expenses. It also helps to provide scholarship money for fees, said organizer Ursula Shoudy.
“We also have handicapped parking and full re-entry privileges if someone needs to leave,” she said.
Before motorists can find a spot, they need to get by incoming freshman basketball player Chelsey Schultz, who has identified 14 ways to spell her first name.
She’s not worried about missing the action inside.
“I’m helping my team today so I’ll probably be at the fair later, riding the Tilt-a-Wheel,” she said. “Everybody’s been real nice so far, no road rage or anything.”
Fred and Barbara Bennett of Sho-Nuff Foods spent the day before the fair opened applying their “magic” dry spice rubs on giant pork shoulders. Before it’s over, the Bennetts will have roasted 100 pounds each of pork, ribs, beef brisket and chicken.
And a whole mess of barbecued baked potatoes with all the fixins’.
“We put them into the smoker (designed by Bennett and built by Freeland’s Dave Buzzard), fired up by a secret wood mixture at a secret temperature all night, then
I add my secret sauce,” Bennett said with a big grin. “You gotta try it.”
Maybe it’s because she’s a little shy around folks, but after six years trying, Adrianna Royal took the Grand Champion prize for showmanship in the senior 4-H class for her rough collie Dream on Thursday.
“Showmanship is designed to show off the dog’s best features, but there’s also a major focus on the handler,” she explained. “They have to be immaculate, nails clean, no dirt in their ears and with a proper collar. The dogs, not the handler.”
Royal is a member of the All-American Puppy Paws club in Coupeville and part of the huge
4-H presence at the fair.