The August heat broke into a balmy 73 degrees for the opening day of the Howard County Fair Saturday, and fairgoers took full advantage, strolling along Midway Boulevard as they waited for the rides to open, licking ice cream and squinting into the breezy sunshine.
"Things just went smoother this year," said Dianna Stafford, who was selling produce near the entrance to the fair. "Seeing the regulars is always nice."
Opening day attracted a lot of regulars, both longtime Howard County residents and lifelong farmers. Stafford, whose family has a small farm in Howard County in addition to a larger one in Westminster, said that her son, now a teenager, will be the family's fifth generation of farmers.
Stan Merson, who lives near Scaggsville, was born and raised in Howard County and said he grew up attending the fair. Decades later, he and his wife Donna came to opening day to share it with their three-year-old daughter, Brooklyn.
The Mersons have such a long history with the fair, Donna said, that 33 years ago, when her first baby was ten days late being born, it was walking around the fair that finally sent her into labor.
"It's a lot bigger, a lot better," Stan Merson said, comparing the fair to years past. "But we usually come at night, it's a bit slow now."
It was the fair's newest visitors, young children, who were most anxious for the Midway rides to open. Evan Baxter, of Annapolis, said his six-year-old daughter Lily's favorite part of the fair is the rides.
"The scarier, the better," he said, saying that he and his wife Bethany would join in on the rides on "whatever we can fit on." Asked what ride she was most excited for, Lily pointed with no hesitation at the Fire Ball, an imposing single-loop roller coaster.
Teresa Alzadon, of Odenton, waited near one of the ticket booths with her four-year-old daughter, Sofia. She said Sofia loves the fair for the rides -- especially the scary ones.
While visitors waited for rides to open, they had their faces painted, rode ponies and watched a magic show, "Peter Wood: Explorer of the Impossible." Kids giggled as the magician broke into "slow motion," lowering his voice and stretching every word as he asked the audience: "Did anyone else see the Queen of Spades?"
Local high school booster clubs and marching bands sold french fries and fried dough sprinkled with powdered sugar. The West Friendship Volunteer Fire Department hoisted huge red flags that read "FUNNEL CAKES." Stands sold everything from kielbasa to Wisconsin cheese to deep-fried Oreos.
Nearby but far from the commotion of rides and shows, exhibitors in dark barns took care of the animals they would be showing that week. Autumn Lippy, 18, of Carroll County, who was preparing for the Open Class show for Jersey cattle, said the cows are "extremely pampered" before a show.
The cows are clipped and washed, Lippy said, then the heifers are given top lines using a hair dryer and clippers. Her favorite cow is named Miss Congeniality.
"She has a bit of a temper, but I like her," Lippy said.
Nearby, across from Hop and Cluck Lane, was the 4-H Canine Show. Kiley Bitner-Parish, 17, of Columbia, waited with her sister Logan, 14, to see which dog would be named Grand Champion. Their dogs, Roscoe and Puffdaddy, had competed earlier that morning.
Kiley said one of her favorite tricks in the obedience competition is the "out of sight stay," in which her dog, Roscoe, had to sit still for three minutes while she left the building. "He did it!" she said, giving him a pet.
The fair runs daily through Sat., Aug. 12, from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Tickets are $5, $2 for seniors and free for children ages 10 and younger.
As the sun grew hotter and the clock neared noon, the crowd began to fill out and children grew squirmier. Ten minutes before noon, the ticket line grew and fair workers in blue shirts put the final touches on their attractions.
Finally, at noon, a bell somewhere rang, a gentle country music rolled over the crowd, and the Ferris wheel began to spin. The Howard County Fair was open for business.