The rides are all up, the booths are stocked, the fryers are on, the clams are shucked and the chowder's in the pot. Tonight is opening night of the .
Things were pretty mellow on Thursday afternoon at the fairgrounds, as a handful of volunteers mosied around chatting, checking on things and putting the finishing touches on their handiwork.
It was a last chance to see the fairgrounds before they're flush with flashing lights, piped carnival music, muffled 50/50 calls, fairgoers and festivity.
To pull what has become probably the largest firemen's fair in the state all together, it takes a crew of dedicated volunteers following their hearts and more than 100 years of tradition.
The started with very humble beginnings before Fair Haven was even Fair Haven. A lot has changed since then. And Patch chatted with a couple of familiar firemen who filled us in on a few interesting fair tidbits that many may not realize.
Doug MacFarland, 20-year member of the fire company and steadfast fair volunteer with a signature handlebar moustache, runs what was known as "the hot dog booth," now the Out Back, "out in back" of the main dining room. "Everybody shows up, everybody does a little bit and it happens," MacFarland said as he filled Patch in on some behind-the-scenes fair detail.
Longtime fire company member Mike Connor, whose family is rooted in all things fire company, runs the main kitchen, famous for its fine home-cooked fried seafood platters served up with slices of fried eggplant and coleslaw, clams, corn on the cob and Manhattan clam chowder — the finest paper plate dining around.
The trick has become beating the long line to get one of those famous fair meals in the gullet. "That's Mike's kitchen," MacFarland reminded. "Raquel Falotico runs the dining room. She's one of the finest people around."
And, how much food does it take to feed the fair masses? Just to give an idea, "Every year we make 150 gallons of clam chowder," MacFarland said. "We do it three times, and that's 50 gallons each time. That sorta starts things out."
In the Out Back, MacFarland said, "We probably 600 to 800 a night ... hot dogs alone." I started out. I was building a house in '91 and Jackie Muvihill said, 'Doug, if you're gonna be a member of the community, you should go over and work at the fair.' I started here when Paul Walsh was in charge. I worked under him and did whatever had to be done. And when he left, I took over for him."
The hot dogs and hamburgers in the Out Back come from Wenning's.
Out in the Out Back, each person "takes care of a certain something," MacFarland said. "Trish Brett does ice cream, Jim Cerutti handles the hot dog side. He takes the kids, puts them where they're needed, takes the adults puts them where they're supposed to be. His wife, Molly, does the cotton candy. Then, there are basically a whole bunch of people working funnel cakes, pretzels and popcorn. Joe Perotto ... he is like the administrator of everything, making sure we're all stocked and set. It all falls into place."
Millie Felsmann was long known to spin the cotton candy at "the hot dog booth." Her grandson, John peered out of a fire truck and waved on Thursday — another fire company regular at the fair.
And things have changed since the supervisor of the stock room ran stock from the rec room in the firehouse to booths on the grounds. Now there are sturdy trailers that lock, rather than tents.
"Back in the day, we used to have a night guard by the booths," MacFarland reminisced.
Majestic Midways has brought the rides to the fair for countless years now. And they seem to multiply each year. There was a time when the Ferris wheel and the octopus-like whipping Sizzler were the only rides out front. Now ... take a look.
Then there was the miniature golf, which is the only attraction imported from another miniature golf course, refurbished on the fairgrounds and stored there. It's still in, basically, the same spot.
Craig Haese, master of the mini golf, has set it up and run the course for 31 years. He was on the grounds Thursday.
"Yup, Tommy Kirman Sr. and me used to put it all together every year," he said. "Since he passed, I still do it, but I have the kids help me set it up. It's hard to put together. Hey, weren't you the little girl who used to hit the balls off the course all the time and hold up my line?"
The answer to that: Yes, and gym class was no picnic, either ... Fore!
Rounding a corner, a wave came from inside a booth. It was longtime fire company member and former mayor Bill Leonard. He chuckled as he said he'd been in the same spot for many years and said he he'll be right there all through the fair.
Everyone will see a lot of old-timers still manning their booths, like Anne Dupree at the Super 50/50 and Jeanette Choma at the . Bill and Barbara Lang are expected to come home to Fair Haven to work in the 50/50 booth with son, Doug. And there are so many more old-time favorite faces.
Many reunions will take place on the grounds, as usual, and much has changed, yet so much, like the heart of it all, has not.
There's a very familiar greeting around town this time of year ... "See you at the fair!"