Sweaty laborers worked quickly Thursday evening, zooming around the Fonda Fairgrounds by golf cart and straining under bundles of heavy striped tent canvas.
The 171st Fonda Fair opens Tuesday, and with a combined 80,000 people expected to come through the gates over the week, there’s a lot to get done.
“This is the biggest single event of the year in Fulton and Montgomery counties,” said fair board President Rich Kennedy, “and it’s shaping up to be a good year.”
A few days before those gates open, the grounds look like a small city, or very large, complicated trailer park under construction.
Eddie Strickland balanced precariously about 6 feet off the ground, ratcheting a bolt into a section of roller coaster track. He works for Reithoffer Shows, the carnival company out of Florida that provides Fonda’s rides. While the Fonda Fair is the largest thing in two counties, it’s just a small piece of Reithoffer’s business.
“We’ve got plenty of spots,” he said. “We’ve got one right now set up in Yankee Stadium.”
But while the rides are a perennial favorite and no fair would be complete without them, they aren’t the point of the event.
The Montgomery County Agricultural Society runs the fair, which hints at the real purpose.
“Educating the youth about agriculture is one of our main goals,” Kennedy said.
This year alone, nearly 200 cows, 300 horses and 50 sheep and goats will fill the fairground barns. Tables will be covered in fresh produce. Local 4H clubs supply many of the exhibits, which help to get rural kids interested in the land, but they also educate city kids, according to Kennedy.
“Every generation is further from farming,” he said. “Ask a kid where beef comes from, he’ll tell you the grocery store.”
But as the grounds come to life, the barns remain empty.
According to Harry Shaker, owner and operator of the Hitching Post, a fairgrounds diner, the farmers are staying away until the road construction stops this weekend.
Before the 30A bridge construction began two years ago, it was agreed that all construction would stop for the week of the fair every year until the project was finished. So while lines of traffic stretched out in all directions Thursday, by the time the gates open, everything should be running smoothly.
The barns might be empty for a few more days, but there are some animals already living at the grounds.
“Hey there baby,” Shaker said as he shook the eager hand of a monkey through its cage door. “They’re pretty calm right now.”
Everything from baby lions to lemurs to South African rodents filled cages out back of Shaker’s diner. He doesn’t actually own the small zoo, they were shipped up from Tennessee. He just checks up on them occasionally while their owner is out.
The monkey is a special friend, with a very strong grip for a creature the size of a cat. In fact, his little hands are strong enough to steel the cap of one Gazette reporter’s pen, which was then used to barter for pieces of banana.
“Once the fair starts, they’ll all end up in a tent out on the midway,” Shaker said.
For more information on the fair, visit www.fondafair.com.
GAZETTE COVERAGEEnsure access to everything we do, today and every day, check out our subscribe page at DailyGazette.com/Subscribe
More from The Daily Gazette: