What the pre-Labor Day school openings took away, the dry, sunny weather gave back to the 114th Maryland State Fair.
"Attendance was a little lighter during the week because of the school openings, but we more than made up on the weekends," said security guard Bruce Robinson. "The weather has been so great. Not one day of rain."
And no stifling heat and humidity, said Patrick R. Davalos, assistant general manager.
The fair, which opened Aug. 25, drew about 530,000 spectators, about 20,000 fewer than last year. George Wills, public relations counsel and a member of the fair's board of directors, also pointed to the early start of Baltimore County schools as the reason for the decline.
This year's total was boosted by a strong final-day crowd of 66,212, up more than a thousand from last year's Labor Day gathering.
Judging from the number of phone calls received at fair headquarters early yesterday -- about six per minute from the early morning on -- many people planned to spend Labor Day at the fair.
Most visitors come from within 20 miles of the Timonium fairgrounds, Mr. Davalos said.
"We have a good taste of everything for everybody right here," he said. "The thoroughbred racing and livestock shows are the most popular."
The 10 consecutive days of sunny weather helped draw visitors to the fair, but crops grown by many of the farmers exhibiting at the event are wilting because of the lack of moisture.
"Our hope now is that rain will come to assist the farmers who were exhibiting here," said Mr. Wills.
Minutes before the cattle show, it was bath time for 20 about-to-be-judged bovines. Joey Taylor, 13, of Cooksville hosed, scrubbed and polished Illusion until the Charolais heifer's white hide sparkled.
"They all love the scrubbing, especially when they are just out of the field," Allison Miller, a senior agriculture student at the University of Maryland Research Center in College Park, said as she lathered Georgeanne, a 1,200-pound heifer, with scented shampoo.
Joey hoped to make Illusion, already a Howard County grand champion, a contender for the state crown. Like the other owners, he knew it takes more than a pretty coat to win a medal.
"Everybody gets them all prettied up," said Mike Tine, a UM junior. "Basically, the judges decide on breed characteristics, size and body composition."
Spectators with cameras couldn't resist the cattle bath. Jolanda Hoozemans, who moved to the United States two months ago from Rotterdam in the Netherlands, had never seen a state fair or a Charolais.
"This is so American," she said.
Bonnie Alford, 3, of Columbia searched the stalls from atop her father's shoulders. She peered at cows, and goats, and wondered, "Where are the dolphins?"
Another father, laden with a large plastic replica of Homer Simpson and several bags of his children's fair loot, waited patiently in a corner of the exhibit hall.
"It's a dad thing," said Jack Beach of Perry Hall, who could barely shrug his shoulders under the weight of his packages. "We come every year, and I'm used to it."
His 11-year-old son, John, combed the exhibits, intent on spending his last $10. Mr. Beach said the children were having a lucky day.
"They have each won something," he said. "Maybe, I should try keno."
Brian Crone and Mike Hartzell, both 14, called themselves veteran fairgoers. By noon yesterday, the boys from Lutherville had tested the major rides and sampled an astonishing mix of foods.
"The hot dogs stuffed with nacho cheese are the best," said Mike. "Two dollars but worth it."
Brian had won a huge stuffed bear. While they meandered around the exhibits, Mike stashed the cumbersome prize in his aunt's office at fair headquarters.
"We would come every day like we did last year, but school is already open," said Brian.
The boys planned to stay all day. When they ran out of money, they could still board the rides, thanks to an initial $10 investment in all day, all-you-can-ride bracelets.
"Where else can you go for good music, great food, rides and horse races?" said Mike.