For a few hours Saturday, visitors to the Maryland State Fair had it easy: no lines for a cheesesteak, immediate seating on the merry-go-round and no waits to milk your own Guernsey.
Eric Ritter, a Hamilton resident, said he followed a weather forecast that predicted no rain for the morning. He set off for Timonium with his wife, Elena, and 5-year-old daughter, Brooklyn, and son, Luke, 2.
"We did the rides first — the swings, the fun house, the bumper cars, at about 10:15 a.m. and got on whatever we wanted. It was great. No lines," said Elena Ritter. "My husband got his fried oyster sandwich without any waiting. He was delighted."
By late afternoon, organizers had decided to call off the rain-or-shine event for the day as Hurricane Irene approached — the fairgrounds closed at about 5:30, and other events wrapped up earlier. But the Ritters had no problems as they began their day. The fair was scheduled to reopen Sunday.
The Ritters tried their luck on the midway with the floating plastic duck game. "My 2-year-old loves this one," said Eric Ritter, a project manager for a wastewater utility business who was skeptical about forecasts involving severe weather. "We won three prizes. We then visited all the live animals we could. We do this every year and Saturday certainly had ideal conditions."
The family visited the Maryland Cooperative Guernsey Breeders Association's display, where a dairy cow was available for milking at $2 a try.
"The weather determines our ebb and flow. We got the fair all done in three and a half hours," Ritter said. "The only thing that we couldn't build into our time schedule was the experience of seeing a calf being born. My daughter experienced this a year ago, and we wanted the same for our son."
Rachael Quinn, an animal scientist from Abingdon, stood by the birthing quarters where a heavily pregnant cow attracted small groups of curious visitors.
"We're hoping it will be a heifer so we can name her Irene," Quinn said, adding that a calf at birth weighs 80 to 100 pounds. Earlier in the week, two calves were born in the cow palace barn at Timonium. A crowd of assembled children offered names for the heifer and the baby bull. They chose Emily for the heifer and, curiously, Bambi for the bull.
Kathy Miller, a Frederick resident, said that rain had no effect on the Guernseys she and her group brought to the state fair for the milking demonstration. On a sunny Saturday, there would be long lines at this popular feature.
"Cows don't bother with rain. To them, it's just weather," said Miller, the secretary of the state's Cooperative Guernsey Breeders Association. "But the weather for our human visitors has just killed us today. This is our big fundraiser."
Some 15 members of the extended Brown and Larrimore families left Cecil County and took hotel rooms in Timonium to show their prize, a Black Angus heifer named Lady Liberty, born July 4.
"I can tell you, the animals are antsy about the hurricane," said Ruth Brown of Rising Sun. "They are jerking their heads and being frisky in the show ring."
Claire Podles, a 12-year-old Cockeysville Middle School student, led an alpaca named Serious through a small audience in one of the animal exhibition buildings.
"He's jumpy today, " she said. "He just sat down. It's not like him. It seems as if he definitely reacting to the weather."