The longest lines at the Harford County Farm Fair may form for the funnel cake, but without question, the largest crowds gather at the pig track.
That's where, come post time, three groups of young pigs -- for the mash several times a day in what has become a Farm Fair tradition. They'll be at it again today, as the four-day fair winds up its 1992 run.
The typical pig race lasts only 15 seconds, but it's a crowd-pleaser.
Especially when the Yorkshires are running. They're the little white pigs children seem to favor. Only nine weeks old, they are the youngest racers at the fair this year, and they're also the fastest. But even the pot bellies and razorbacks, a little older and a little slower, brought fans of all ages to their feet during opening day races.
"They aren't the smartest pigs," said a disappointed Michelle Staley, of Bel Air, after her favorite, Pig #4, stopped about 10 yards into the race of the pot bellies and headed back toward the starting gate. It wouldn't have been so bad, said the 8-year-old, if the other pigs hadn't turned around and followed him.
Besides the pigs, a field of five pygmy goats and another of four Indian runner ducks also race daily at the miniature track. Goats are less predictable than pigs, says Merle Mills, the Gaithersburg man who owns the animals and travels the fair circuit operating the animal races out of a trailer.
"It all depends on how they feel. They're moody."
Indeed they were in their first race. Two of them stopped to visit with a toddler along the fence in the first quarter turn and never did finish the race.
The ducks, with their follow-the-leader mentality, took the longest to reach the finish line. When one stopped to investigate a morsel lying on the ground, it took the crowd two minutes of coaxing to break up the bottleneck and cheer them back on track.
The animal races continue today, at noon, 2:30 and 3:30 p.m. It may be your last chance to see the young pigs in action, says Mr. Mills. In a couple weeks, they'll be sent offstage for fattening up.
"It's just two months of glory before the feed lot," he says.
Though they may be hogging the spotlight, pigs aren't all that's happening at the fair. Today's schedule also includes log-sawing and pole-climbing contests, tractor pulls, an air show, an antique car display and plenty of music.
Youngsters who come to the fair for the first time will be hard pressed to come away without learning something new about farm life. There are plenty of horses, cows, goats, chickens, rabbits and even birds to get to know in the barns and in ongoing competitions. And 4-H members are more than willing to describe the work they did to win their blue, red and yellow ribbons.
Even at 4, Alyssa Williams, of Windsor, Pa., had become an expert on miniature horses during her visit to the fair earlier this week. She lingered at the stall of Pride, a miniature mare, and her two-month old foal, Mariah, who was about the size of a hobby horse, while trainer and 4-H member Kerrie Clark explained how she cares for the horses.
"Come here and pet her," Alyssa coaxed her 2-year-old sister, Rebecca, who preferred to observe the horses from her stroller. "Mommy, take Rebecca out so she can pet her," Alyssa insisted.
Youngsters who prefer riding horses to petting them can take pony rides. And those who have little interest in animals have an array of other activities in the kids' tent to choose from: spiral painting, designing and making their own badges, ring and ball toss, face-painting.
While the kids are occupied there, Mom and Dad can walk next door to the Home Arts and 4-H tents, where prize winners in dozens of categories received ribbons.
One thing you won't find at the fair are big commercial rides.
"The focus here is meant to be on agriculture," said fair coordinator James Fielder, who noted that early receipts from this year's event were running about even with last year's. Nearly 70,000 people attended last year's fair.
The lack of a midway didn't seem to bother young fair-goers on opening day, especially those who discovered the "Dunk a Cop" booth, sponsored by the Bel Air Police Department. For $1, they could buy five chances to throw a baseball and trigger the officer's dunking in the pool.
Crowds grew larger as the officer's taunting grew more bold.
"Come on, all you noodle arms. Get in line," came the challenge from Lt. Norman Ross, perched behind a wire cage in his swimsuit. "Sorry, dude. Go home and learn to throw and come back next year."
One after another, the contestants missed the target.
"Oh, look at this guy," Lieutenant Ross teased one teen who spent close to $10 at the booth that benefited D.A.R.E. (Drug Awareness Resource Education). "Somebody, please, call 911; this guy needs to be rescued."
Finally, 10-year-old Joseph Wigglesworth, of Edgewood, stepped up, and, on his second pitch, hit the bull's eye, soaking the chatty officer, to everyone's pleasure.