WAUSEON - They still had more than a week to work, but the crew building an expansion to the First Church of God Men's Group food stand at the Fulton County Fairgrounds was making sure last Wednesday that the building would be ready for the fair's opening this week.
"It's our main fund-raiser for the year," said Jan Kieswether of Wauseon, one of the church's parishioners who pitched in to help nail siding onto the addition that will become the new freezer room. That will free space in the kitchen.
A few yards away, other workers began jackhammering four-foot metal pegs into the ground to anchor one of the dozens of tents that will fill the 200-acre fairgrounds' open spaces during the week-long event, which starts Friday and typically attracts more than 250,000 to the complex just north of the Ohio Turnpike - many of them in campers who stay for the week.
Now in its 153rd year, the Fulton County Fair is by far the biggest event of its kind in northwest Ohio and one of the largest fairs in the state.
And more than ever, the fair emphasizes low-cost family fun, including many events free with general admission plus "affordable, quality entertainment" in the grandstand, said Carl Buehrer, Fulton County Agricultural Society president.
"We try to hold our prices where everybody can afford it," said Mr. Buehrer, now in his 37th year heading the fair board. The top price for show tickets is $22.
Among the new events on this year's schedule is a Firefighter Training Show during which audience members are invited to participate in a mock firefighting exercise. Mr. Buehrer said most of the participants are children.
Neal Snyder of Clermont, Fla., the show's leader, "actually runs the kids through the firefighting process," starting with dressing them in helmets and full turnout gear, Mr. Buehrer said.
At the same time, children are taught how to evacuate a burning building safely, especially staying low to avoid smoke and leaving rescue attempts to the trained professionals, according to the show's Web site.
For the first time, the fair will have a catch-and-release fishing pond, allowing anglers young and old to try their luck and test their skill, and a new draft-horse plowing demonstration in the field by the horse barns at the fairgrounds' north end.
Headlining this year's grandstand entertainment are country singer Blake Shelton, of Ada, Okla., who will take the stage at 7:30 p.m. on Labor Day, and the rock band Kansas, whose 36-year-affiliation continues with a Sunday performance, also at 7:30 p.m., on that same stage.
All seats for those two concerts are reserved, with ticket prices between $18 and $22 for Shelton and between $16 and $20 for Kansas. That does not include the regular fair admission of $5, although children 15 and under accompanied by an adult receive free gate admission.
Other concerts will be free with fair admission, including the performance at 5 p.m. Sunday of John Waller, a Christian contemporary singer-songwriter, in the Gospel Tent; country crooner Bob Wurst's show at 1:30 p.m. Saturday in the Veterans' Pavilion, and the 7:30 p.m. Saturday appearance of the Van-Dells, a perennial fair favorite playing Golden Oldies, on the South Stage.
The fair's annual tractor pull will be the centerpiece of Friday evening's activities, starting at 6:30 p.m. in the grandstand infield.
"For 11 years, we've been one of the top pulls in the U.S. Pullers from all over the United States come in," Mr. Buehrer said. This year, a team from the Netherlands also will compete.
Loud-engine aficionados also will enjoy the Rough Truck Challenge on Saturday evening, the Clashing Combines on Wednesday, and dual demolition derbies in the grandstand infield on Thursday evening.
Dance groups, singers, and instrumentalists will take their turns on the fairgrounds' stages, and it wouldn't be an agricultural fair without the agricultural and livestock shows and judging competitions that fill out a weeklong schedule.
"It's always neat if we have a calf born during the fair," fair Secretary Jean Johnson said. "It always attracts a big crowd watching the calf being born. And there's usually at least one every year."
But she acknowledged that some fair staples from the past are fading in importance. Harness racing, which once was held daily throughout the fair, is down to three sessions now - Saturday at 1 p.m., Monday at noon, and Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. - and is likely to be reduced to two next year "unless something changes," the fair secretary said.
The fair's campgrounds opened Monday, and fair officials said they'll fill up quickly. Campground setup this year was particularly arduous because campsites were renumbered to coordinate with nearby fair gates.
The Rice and Fredrick families of the Fayette area are among those for whom camping at the fair has become as regular as Christmas and birthdays. Now in its 32nd year, the Rice-Fredrick "compound" at the fairgrounds comprises six campers and several generations of each family.
"It takes us about four trips to get everything out here," said Joan Rice, her family's matriarch. "We have to pack the campers, the picnic tables, the firewood, and the grill. We do as much of the food as we can before we come."
Said Nedra Fredrick, whose family started camping at the fair in 1979, one year after the Rices, "We've never thought of not camping at the fair. The fair is reunion time to see relatives and friends and neighbors. We would not give up camping here."
Mr. Buehrer said the fairgrounds' 600 modern campsites, with electrical hookups, have a lengthy waiting list, and the June 1 deadline for renewing is strictly enforced. A fairgrounds campsite was once listed as property assigned in a divorce proceeding, he chuckled.
Campers who can't get into the modern campground may use "primitive" sites that don't have electricity, but some bring their own generators, Mr. Buehrer said.
Along with renumbering the campsites, the fair this year has color-coded the gates to make it easier for day-trippers to remember where they parked, although the fair president said there undoubtedly still will be some who will need help finding their cars when they're ready to go home.
"We have people tell us, 'I was parked in the last row,' but when they leave there are a lot more rows," Mr. Buehrer said.
Fulton County Sheriff Darrell Merillat said the campground's population alone exceeds that of the nearby village of Delta, while the fair as a whole easily becomes the county's largest community while it's in session.
The sheriff's department maintains a continual presence to direct traffic, reunite lost children with their parents and lost fair-goers with their cars, and investigate the handful of disputes, thefts from unlocked cars, or other problems that arise.
"Most people go to the fair to have a good time, not to cause problems," the sheriff said.41.55019 -84.13435
They still had more than a week to work, but the crew building an expansion to the First Church of God Men's Group food stand at the Fulton County Fairgrounds was making sure last Wednesday that the building would be ready for the fair's opening this week.