Most of the time, no attraction exists to draw motorists off busy Maryland Route 65 into Fairplay in Washington County. It's a town with more stop signs (two) than businesses (one).
To get here, come down 65 past Nibble Quik store and the Roxbury state prison complex, hang a right on Route 63 in Tilghmanton at the soybean field and drive a half-mile.
"We're just a quiet little spot between things," says Donnie Nutter, 52, a Fairplay resident for more than 35 years.
This situation changes when the Fairplay Volunteer Fire Company holds a fund-raising event. That's when this town of less than 200 people really hops -- when enough people find their NTC way here to more than fill up eight acres of parking.
The fire company, on Tilghmanton Road, is the social center of Fairplay with its annual June carnival week and periodic extravaganzas, such as a demolition derby held last year, and the Fairplay Antique Tractor and Engine Show that continues today. This tractor meet is co-sponsored by the fire company and the Washington County Antique Tractor Club.
"We feel sure we'll have 100 tractors or more," says John Ferry, 64, a member of the fire company and the club. While the tractor club members thrash wheat, pick corn, and hold a parade, tractor pulls and "slow tractor races," the fire company will be feeding the crowds from breakfast through supper.
"We'll be serving our famous food," says Mr. Nutter, a fire company member since 1959. "Our sugar-cured country ham has slices an eighth of an inch thick."
The fire company members -- 35 to 40 "active" firefighters and 40 more "social" -- aim to keep those crowds enjoying Fairplay. The biggest company event, an outdoor carnival held each June, lasts a week, featuring country music, games and rides, ending with fireworks.
"We've never done a head count on carnival attendance but you have to sell a lot of concessions to pay the $6,000 or $7,000 it costs for the entertainment," says Mr. Nutter. "This year, we had Clinton Gregory, Billy Crash Craddock and Darryl and Don Ellis. Patsy Cline sung here several times. Biggest crowd we ever had was for Red Sovine. The cars lined up all the way up Route 65 to Lappans Corner, two miles."
Formed in 1946, the Fairplay Volunteer Fire Company got its first truck, "an old Dodge," in 1947. "A bunch of members went on the loan to buy the truck," says Donnie Nutter. "Ed Eakle, a farmer, owned the ground where we are now and donated it to the company."
And now, "We have a 550-gallon pumper, a 1,500-gallon engine tanker, a 1,000-gallon tanker, a 250-gallon mini-pumper, the chief's car and a utility truck we converted from an old ambulance," he says. "We also have a basic-life-support medical unit."
The fire company answers about 300 fire and rescue calls a year, although "Sometimes, we can go two weeks without a call," Mr. Nutter says.
Its territory, about six miles square, is in the middle of the quadrant formed by Funkstown, Williamsport, Boonsboro and Sharpsburg.
On a normal day in the center of Fairplay, it's hard to imagine this place being overrun with crowds. The scenes are just too peaceful.
In Fairplay, frame and a few brick houses cluster around three hills. Narrow roads go off into the countryside. Residents commute to jobs at places such as the Eastalco Aluminum Co. in Frederick County and Mack Truck in Hagerstown or the prison complex. The fire company owns a chunk of town proper with its hall, Eakle Park, the former school and 30 acres of an old farm. But the town is small.
"You go up and down the road and you've seen Fairplay," says Barbara Huntzberry, 55, who lives with her husband and father-in-law in a white house on Route 63, separated from a cornfield by a stone fence. "I like it better here than Tilghmanton. Too much traffic there." Tilghmanton, Fairplay's "twin village" and former rival to the east, gets the traffic of Route 65, the main route between Hagerstown, the county seat, and Sharpsburg.
Her father-in-law, Ralph Huntzberry, 84, recalls Fairplay having a church, a doctor and "even an undertaker" in the past. Today, Terry Obitts, an electrical contractor who runs Fairplay's only business, Terry's Electric, keeps his trucks on the road most of the time, and his building, once a church and the fire hall, is quiet.
Not far away, Devona Pashen, 34, leaves the white house where she and her mother, Betty Monninger, live overlooking the village. She walks toward the barn and pasture of the 37-acre farm, home to 32 miniature donkeys, 17 miniature sheep, two pigmy goats, six rheas (South American ostriches), a potbellied pig, an Anatolian shepherd dog from Turkey, and a Fila Brasileiro Brazilian guard dog. The gentle donkeys gather around her seeking attention.
"I moved here with my parents in 1978," Ms. Pashen says. "It was more rural then but it's starting to build up now."
How small is Fairplay? Says fire company member Nutter: "I've had guys not all that far from here who say they've never heard of Fairplay. Maybe we're better off that nobody knows where we are."
Except at big event time.
The Fairplay Antique Tractor and Engine Show will be open today, from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the Fairplay Volunteer Fire Company grounds, along with a flea market and craft show. Admission is free. For information, please call (301) 582-0099.