Conor Perkins was having the time of his life.
After two years of rejection, Conor, 12, had been chosen to judge the Suewee pig races at the 18th annual Harford County Farm Fair. He joined thousands of people who turned out for Thursday's opening festivities.
Attendance was high, and lines were backing up shortly after the gates opened. Parking lots were filled, and shuttle buses were running constantly to designated locations. Vendors and craftsmen showed their wares. Livestock was being cleaned and groomed in barns and taken outside to dry in the warm sun. People filed through the tents and gathered to watch the shows and events.
But it was the pig races that drew Conor.
A lover of pigs
"I lovvvvvvvvve pigs," said Conor. "Pigs are the fourth-most-intelligent animals. Only humans, chimpanzees and dolphins are smarter. The announcer said pigs learn anything you can teach a dog better and quicker. And they're so much fun to watch."
What makes the races so enjoyable, Conor said, is the excitement that spreads through the audience when the gate is released.
"The pigs line up in lanes, and when the gate goes up, they're all over the track," he said. "The pigs run every which direction and people cheer them on. They stop in corners and look up at the spectators and we have to get them going again."
Judging the race was the best thing he has ever done, Conor said.
"The last two years I came out here and tried to get chosen to be a judge and never could," he said. "Actually getting to choose the winner of a race was so cool. I won't ever forget it."
His sister Erin, 15, said what she enjoys the most about the pig races is watching her brother watch the races.
"He jumps up and down and cheers, 'Go pig! Go pig!'" said Erin, imitating her brother with a few jumps and a couple of bellows. "It's so fun to watch him."
In a nearby tent, Sophia Marx of Jarrettsville was waiting to show Frazier, a Pomeranian she rescued from a shelter.
"I had another dog I entered last year because it's so much fun to participate," said Marx. "And I love looking at the rabbits when I'm done with the dog show."
A few feet away, Erin Nieberlein, 13, of Havre de Grace was watching climbers trying to scale a wall as she tried to shake off the memory of having a boa constrictor wrapped around her shoulders.
"My mom bet me $10 I wouldn't hold it," said Erin. "I did. It was creepy and yucky and slimy, and I'm never doing it again!"
A stroll through the fairgrounds led to Emily Wakefield of Bel Air, holding a leash attached to her cousin's sheep while it stood drying in the sun in front of a barn. Wakefield was grinning from ear to ear when she divulged she had won her first grand championship ribbon for one of her seven cooking entries, most of which won first place in the intermediate class for kids.
"I won for my cherry pie," she said. "It's my grandmother's recipe. I was really surprised, because last year my pie didn't do so well."
Inside the barn was 11- year-old Melissa Grimmel of Jarrettsville, trimming her 6-month-old lamb, Taylor.
Melissa, who has entered several types of animals in the competitions, said she prefers cows.
'I like hard work'
"I've won first-place ribbons for cows, pigs and sheep, but the cows are big and the most fun to work with," she said. "I work with the animals because I like hard work and meeting new people."
Today, the fair's last day, will include a rooster crowing contest at 9 a.m., antique tractor follies at 10 a.m., pig races at 11 a.m. and a costumed animal parade at 2 p.m. The fair closes at 6 p.m.
For more information, visit www.farmfair.org.