MARIETTA - Waving makeshift paper fans in one hand and grasping a bid number in the other, hundreds of Washington County Fair visitors gathered in the shade of the Rabbit and Poultry Tent on Monday afternoon for the annual Junior Fair Small Animal Sale.
Outside the tent, young 4-H and FFA members tugged on goats, loaded rabbits into laundry baskets, and ushered their turkeys toward the tent for the culmination of months of hard work.
"I think if you're gonna do it, you've got to do it right," said 16-year-old Hunter Smitley, of raising his grand champion turkey.
A large crowd cheers on their favorite potbellied runner during an afternoon bout of Chase’s Racing Pigs. (Photo by Jasmine Rogers)
The trick is to really work with the birds as much as possible, said the Wingett Run teen.
"I like to let them walk around and build leg muscle. It helps in the long run," he said.
Smitley's method worked well. He was all smiles after his turkey sold for $330 dollars at the auction.
"I'm very excited. This is a thank you for my buyers," he said indicated a basket full of fall-themed items.
Watering the three New Zealand rabbits she raised with a cousin was the highlight 10-year-old Cayley Cox's 4-H project.
"They needed to stay with their mom for three weeks but then they came to my aunt's house and I watered them and my cousin fed them," said Cox, who has been helping to raise the rabbits most of the summer.
It was goats that kept 16-year-old Page Weckbacher, of Lower Salem, busy this summer.
"You have to do the usual stuff. Food and water and make sure their pen is clean. You've got to get them used to showing, like having their legs picked up," said Weckbacher, who had two goats at the fair.
But the hardest part of raising the goats was yet to come as Weckbacher waited for her animals to be sold.
"It's sad watching them go," she said.
While the animal sale was underway, hundreds of other attendees enjoyed some of the many other fair offerings Monday.
Garret Stewart, 9, of Sunbury, Ohio, had come to the fair to see the chickens that his cousin was showing, but ended up doing a whole lot more.
"I hit the mallet thing and won a prize," said Sunbury, who was toting a large inflatable gun.
The racing pigs were another highlight, he said.
A large cheering section gathered around Chase's Racing Pigs, which returned to the county fair after making their first appearance last year.
The pigs were certainly a first for Julie Smit, whose family would likely win the furthest traveling fair attendee award.
"We're from Luxembourg, in Western Europe. My son is married to a girl from Barlow and we're visiting family," said Smit, 57.
The fair experience was "absolutely fantastic", said Smit.
"This is a fantastic day for the family. They have nice rides and a petting zoo. We're loving it," she said.
Caleb Hartline, 10, of Marietta, and Isaiah Tullius, 7, of Beverly, were enjoying the rides Monday afternoon, but Sunday night's Buckeye Rodeo was the highlight so far for Tullius.
"They had bulls," said Tullius.
Tullius' older brothers ride bulls and someday he hopes to do the same, he said.
Caleb's younger brother, Grady Hartline, 6, said he was looking forward to Monday night's Mini Monster Trucks.
"I might get to get inside one," he said hopefully.
And the tractor pull was a big draw for Kail Bauerbach, 6.
"I like the cage tractors," he declared.
A weekend of sunny skies and very little rain helped boost fair attendance this year, said fair board treasurer Sandra Hickey.
"We're up both Saturday and Sunday over last year and there are still people coming through the gate today," said Hickey on Monday afternoon.
Hickey said she expected the crowds would pick up even more as they neared the evening entertainment, which was changed at the last minute due to a death in the family of scheduled performer Cledus T. Judd.
Zack Shelton and 64 To Grayson, an alternative country band, was called in to cover the 8:30 p.m. performance.
"One of our fair board members knew of them and called around to get them," said Hickey.
Sunday's attendance was up 700 people compared to the same day last year, where the fair was plagued by a rainy weekend.
"We're hoping this weather holds out. It would be the first time in like three years we haven't been rained out," said fair board member Frank Tucker.
The good attendance will hopefully help the fair board pay some of the bills left over from last year's fair and break even this year, said Hickey.
"We still have some expenses from last year. We still owe the ride company a bit. We're hoping to have enough to cover all this year's bills too," she said.