The shrieks, rides, games, livestock of Burlco Farm Fair

At the Burlington County Farm Fair, Zack Sabo, 25, of Burlington Twp., and Pattianne Kritz, 27, of Willingboro, watch as Larry Cauffman, 83, of Masonville, cranks up his 1925 Fairbanks Morris 3 horsepower engine. Sabo grew up on a farm, so misses the equipment. "I wish I still had one," he says, referring to a tractor. "That's how I learned to drive," he added.
At the Burlington County Farm Fair, Zack Sabo, 25, of Burlington Twp., and Pattianne Kritz, 27, of Willingboro, watch as Larry Cauffman, 83, of Masonville, cranks up his 1925 Fairbanks Morris 3 horsepower engine. Sabo grew up on a farm, so misses the equipment. "I wish I still had one," he says, referring to a tractor. "That's how I learned to drive," he added. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Posted: July 18, 2014

'OK," a woman's voice called out Wednesday from the white loudspeakers above the bleachers. "All our teams will be coming into the pull now at 4,000 pounds."

Afternoon was turning to evening in Springfield Township as a crowd of 300 gazed on a majestic team of golden horses being walked to a massive sled, weighted with concrete blocks, at the center of a narrow, muddy field.

Now approaching, said the announcer, were Bruce and Todd, two Belgian geldings with a combined weight of 3,290 pounds, owned by Tom Bowman of Orangeville, Pa.

In a moment, the two were hitched to the sled, their owner let out a "haaa!," Bruce and Todd heaved, and the sled streaked behind them, seemingly without effort, for about 14 feet.

The crowd burst into applause. "They weren't fooling around, were they?" one man said.

Just then, there came screams from across a grassy field. No one paid attention.

This was the 68th annual Burlington County Farm Fair, and the screams were coming from the midway, where a looming Ferris wheel rolled serenely above a landscape of tents and fields, young families, cows, goats, sheep, funnel cakes, hand-holding couples, scream-worthy rides such as the Zipper, and summer memories.

"You're out having fun with family and friends," said Scott Ryan, 21, of Lumberton, who looked cheerful despite having lost $5 trying - without success - to toss small rubber rings onto the necks of beer bottles to win a prize for his girlfriend. "You never win these things," Ryan, a tow-truck driver, said with a laugh. "But I do it anyway, for fun."

Like the cheap plush animals for which carnival contestants pay premium prices, screams were everywhere Wednesday evening, the second night of the fair.

"Oh, it was great," 10-year-old Erin Riddell of Shamong exclaimed after emerging from the Zipper, a kind of Ferris wheel on steroids featuring enclosed metal cars that tumble and slip as the wheel rolls.

"People were screaming their lungs out," Erin told her parents. "Can I go again?"

It wasn't all shrieks and screams, though. When 8-year-old Michael Cline of Browns Mills picked up a rubber duck marked "S" for small, he gave his prize - a plush purple penguin - to his mother.

And nearby, two girls leaving the Cuckoo Haus couldn't stop laughing, because the exit was a big, rolling cylinder.

The fair, which opened Tuesday night to a thunderstorm that forced a quick closing, ends Sunday. Its roots date back more than a century, to when Burlington County, like much of South Jersey, was mostly rural.

"Each year, the owner of a large and scenic farm would agree to host a one-day fair on his property," said Rosemary Kay, the farm fair's manager, who grew up active in the 4-H Club. "People would show their animals, hold contests, share food, and see one another. It was a day for farmers to be together."

In 1940, the fair moved to more permanent quarters at the Fair Grounds Plaza in Mount Holly, and in 1946, a group of farmers created the private, nonprofit Burlington County Farm Fair Association Inc.

Although the fair gets support from the county Board of Freeholders, said Kay, "we're not a county organization. Though a lot of people think we are."

The fair eventually grew to four days, a tradition that lasted decades. Last year, however, the fair board expanded it to six days and shifted its major recreational operations from a 10 a.m. start time to 4 p.m., when temperatures are cooler.

"I just tell everybody it's going to be sunny, breezy, and 80 degrees," said Kay, who acknowledged that this year's opening day had been an anxious one.

With threats of more high winds, heavy rain, and hail, organizers had closed the fair shortly after 5 p.m. and urged owners of animals to take them home for fear that tents might be blown down.

But the tents were still upright Wednesday morning, which dawned dry and breezy. "I think we're going to be all right the rest of the week," said Kay.

On Thursday and Friday, the rides, games, and vendors will be open from 4 to 11 p.m. They will open at 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, closing at 11 p.m. Saturday and 6 p.m. Sunday.


doreilly@phillynews.com856-779-3841 doreillyinq

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