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Regional Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, August 14, 2008

Fair walkabout
Competition abounds, from peeling to big-money bake-off and the midway’s games

By Saranac Hale Spencer

ALTAMONT — One long, snaking curl fell from Judy Barra’s apple and she gathered it up triumphantly.

At 48 inches, it was the winning peel.

With a standard potato peeler and the care of a practiced hand, Barra had quietly surpassed her competition, keeping her tongue pressed firmly between her lips in concentration. 

About a dozen other fair-goers, with varying degrees of skill, each competed to produce the longest continuous peel from an apple in the Altamont Fair’s agricultural building on Tuesday.  Amid a selection of antique peeling and coring instruments, with ornately decorated wheels and wooden crank handles, each participant was handed a standard, straight peeler, with a white plastic handle freshly torn from the cardboard packaging.

New at the fair this year, the contest will be held twice daily, once at 3 p.m. and again at 6:30.  Each person leaves with a red ribbon that says in gold lettering, “I peeled at the Altamont Fair” and the winner takes home a $10 gift certificate for apples from a local orchard, which was especially pleasing to Barra, who said that her “sister won top prize of $25” in the pie contest that the two had entered.  Together with the $15 prize she had gotten for her second-place pie entry, the $10 certificate means, “Now, we each got $25,”  said Barra.

The recipe for cinnamon apple crisp that she found in a penny saver has won for her before, Barra said, but not this time.  “My mom and sister and I have a fierce competition,” she said.

Besides the pie contest, Barra is showing her beef cattle at the fair, a practice of hers for the last 40 years, since she was 10.  “I always like animals the best,” she said of her favorite type of competition.  “I love showing steers.”

As she trotted off toward the cow barn, naked white apple in hand, Barra said, “Now my steer gets the reward here.  He loves apples.”

Rising to the top

Some competitions carry a weightier prize, and those draw a crowd, said Sue Petrosino, assistant superintendent of the Arts and Crafts Building. 

As a crowd of competitors buzzed about the building, shooing flies from their homemade confections, Petrosino said of what piqued people’s interest in Fleischmann’s yeast contest, “It’s the money.”

First prize is $150, Petrosino said.  She surveyed the table in the center of the building, piled high with golden-brown breads, and guessed that the Altamont Fair had about 15 entries, while some other, larger, fairs might have 50.

A big, national company, like AB Mauri Foods, Inc., which owns the Fleischmann’s brand, is able to offer that kind of money, she said, while the Altamont Fair’s own contests yield a first-prize purse of $5.

It’s a thrill for kids to win the money, Petrosino said, as she explained that the fair’s biggest Arts and Crafts category is youth, under 19 years old.  Also, she said, “Kids like to come and see their things” on display and get the ribbons.  Similarly, for older competitors, she said, “Their neighbors expect to see their things.”

For Gloria Schaffer, who won a spectacular, tri-color, best-of-fair ribbon for her knitting entry, it’s nice to show the things that she’s made and appreciate the work of others.

Having learned to knit from her Aunt Francis, who crocheted left-handed but knit right-handed, “a good 40 years” ago, Schaffer now knits for her family and friends.  The Princetown native only shows her work at the Altamont Fair, she said, a practice she began with her uncle decades ago when he entered wooden bowls he had crafted.

“I like to try to get a ribbon,” she said.  “I don’t care if it’s first, second, or third.”

Another best-of-fair winner, for quilting, expressed a similar notion when discussing the upcoming state fair, of which best-of-fair winners can be a part.  “If it gets something, that’s just icing on the cake,” Jessica Vandenburgh said of her expectations for her quilt winning a prize at the upcoming state fair.

The geometric bedspread that won in Altamont is the product of Vandenburgh’s three or four years of quilting experience.  “My grandmother used to do it,” she said.  “I used to watch her.” 

After Vandenburgh picked up quilting, “I got hooked,” she said, and joined a guild just one year after starting the craft.  The interior designer concluded, “I need to keep my hands busy.”


Each dressed from head to toe in white, a handful of youths wrestle their finest sheep and goats into a shaded ring laden with wood shavings.

“We do it because we love sheep and want to educate the public,” said Kaitlyn Stoltman of why she and her family compete.  The 14-year-old from Georgetown, in Chenango County, has been participating for six years, she said. “I love sheep,” Stoltman said, as she looked up earnestly from tending to a braying ovine, tethered outside of the barn.

The Stuntmans use their sheep to graze the fields of their farm, she said, and use their wool to insulate the barns.

“If you have a good animal,” said Nicole Kuehnert, examining the practical side of the sheep and goat competition, “it’s a good way to find out if it’s as good as you think it is.”  The soft-spoken Altamont native had shown goats but recently took her brother’s lead and switched to sheep, which, she said, need to be controlled differently.

“It’s just fun,” Kuehnert said from inside her sheep’s pen.

Competition on the Miss Altamont Fair stage has a similar tone, according to this year’s winner, Brittney Shultes.  The Berne-Knox-Westerlo High School senior, who aspires to be a fashion designer, said that the best part of the pageant was “getting to communicate with other girls.”

Shultes suspects that it was her smile, stage presence, and confidence that gave her the crown, though, she said with a dimpled grin.

Winding down

Against the Helderbergs’ blue backdrop, the spinning lights of the midway draw the fair’s crowds away from the agricultural barns as the sun settles behind the hill.

Among the games of chance and shriek-inducing rides are some games that challenge players to compete.  In the early dusk on Tuesday, Kristin and Tim Fry each took aim at a target with a water gun, that swivels on its permanent attachment to the counter.  With heavy-metal music pumping from nearby booths, the couple laughed as they watched their competing targets fill with water.

“We like to compete against each other,” Kristin Fry said after they had finished, defeated by a player on the other side of the booth.  “It’s a husband-and-wife thing,” she added.

“I love competing — just anything,” said Barra after her apple peel win.

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