The Fairest of the Fairs (#151)

It’s Columbus Day weekend, and I’m wistfully thinking of Sandwich. No, not A sandwich – a place called Sandwich. It’s named after the same English Earl, John Montagu, as the edible sandwich, though. For those unfamiliar with the history of either sandwich, well, the fourth Earl of Sandwich lived in the mid to late 1700s. He was either a compulsive gambler or a workaholic Lord of Admiralty. The Earl didn’t want to stop gambling (or working) to eat, and instructed his valet to stick some salted meat between two slices of bread and bring it to him at the gaming table (or his desk).

While Sandwich is the largest township in New Hampshire, stretching from the Lakes Region into the White Mountains, its population is just over 1,500. (Unless two families have moved, in which case it’s now under 1,500.) But for one weekend in October, Sandwich becomes the 4th largest city in New Hampshire. Because the the fair comes to town. A few years ago, Andy and I got to go.

Going to the Sandwich Fair is like diving into Charlotte’s Web. There are carousels, and rides, and cotton candy galore. But the biggest and best part of the Sandwich Fair is the livestock competition. There are pigs, goats, sheep, chicken, cows, horses, and more.

The biggest animals of all are the oxen, and they are gorgeous.

Look at these oxen! With their blue ribbon!
Look at these oxen! With their blue ribbon!

The ground shakes as yoked pairs parade by on their way to the judging ring. In the ring, each team pulls a sledge of what look like massive cinder blocks. Once upon a time, oxen and the giant horses (such as Clydesdales or Shire horses) were needed for logging and assembling the bridges in New England. Now the logging is mostly done by trucks, but some pullers still keep their teams in shape by hauling felled trees.

Last year, the Sandwich Fair canceled the oxen pull due to a scandal (there was cheating, or at least arguing over the rules). Boo. But I hear the oxen will be back in action this year.

Yoked oxen, ready for the pull.

There are also pulling and driving competitions for the horses, plus riding competitions. Dog agility, too.

Most of the animals are competing based on their looks, though, rather than their abilities. Many are entered by teens who participate in the 4H programs.

And – sorry, my vegan readers! – while some of the animals are sold as breeding stock, many are destined for the dining room table.

Maggie and her blue ribbon.
Galloway Cow, Galloway calf, and Galloway blue ribbon.

I asked the mother-daughter owners of a Champion Galloway Cow how they could stand to raise and get attached to a creature for 4-5 years, before selling it — possibly for slaughter.

The mom just gave me a “that’s life” shrug.

The daughter explained, “When the cows get older, smarter, and bigger, they get meaner. Then you sell ‘em and you can buy another sweet young one again.”

There you have it. Donald Trump’s philosophy on wives, applied to cattle.

While the majority of the cows and oxen were placid and pettable, there were a few exceptions. One moody Highland cow – perhaps miffed over her lousy showing or a crap judge – bellowed angrily on her way back to her stall. She had some fierce-looking horns. She was not afraid to use them. Her handlers yelled at everyone to get out of the way of those horns.

Andy and I got out of this cow's way in a hurry. Other fairgoers were more nonchalant.
Andy and I got out of this cow’s way in a hurry. Other fairgoers were surprisingly nonchalant.

Ms. Angry Horns made it back to her stall without marking human flesh. Thwarted, she promptly took her rage out on a sweet stallmate named Sunshine, bashing her several times while Sunshine mooed piteously.

Poor Sunshine. But don't worry, she's okay.
Poor sweet Sunshine. But don’t worry, she’s okay.

Sunshine wasn’t hurt, and Ms. Angry Horns moved away, but I saw the Galloway owner’s point about old, mean cows. Especially when they have horns.

You might be wondering how the heck so many large creatures can be housed in one place safely. Simple. The Sandwich Fairgrounds are huge – and permanent, for the most part. While some temporary marquee tents are erected for judging, the actual oxen barn is just that – a wooden barn. The barn is so massive that the school children of Sandwich (all sixty of them) use it to play soccer on rainy days. Even the poultry house is a permanent house.

When the Fair is not in residence, people with motor homes can get permits to use portions of the Fairgrounds for their vehicles. The fairground stage is frequently used for local productions by a Shakespearean Troupe called Advice to the Players. In a town of 1,500. Who knew?

My favorite part of the fair is seeing the animals, of course, but most people are there for the rides and the food. Others are competing in photography, art, sculpture, or baking. Unfortunately, regular fairgoers do not get to taste the award-winning baked goods. Boo.

Most county fairs are held over the summer. The Sandwich Fair is the final fair in the region, which means that on Columbus Day, the last day, there are excellent deals to be had on products and food, since no one wants to carry extra inventory.

You can even get a cool shirt like this:


Of course, every time I wear this shirt in Los Angeles, some stranger invariably runs up to me, exclaiming, “Oh my God! There’s an actual fair?! For sandwiches?! That is awesome! Where is this fair? When is this fair?!”

So listen, Town of Sandwich. If you add a competition for SANDWICHES at your fair, and you let fairgoers eat them, you could be the biggest city in New Hampshire ever.

For three whole days.

Click here to watch an oxen team in action.

Big guy in the ring.
Some sheep demand a lot from their hairdressers.
Seconds after this Nubian goat won, she had to be milked.
More Amazing Oxen

Want more pictures taken by better photographers? Here’s the official website, with photos from all the events I missed, like tractor pulls, giant vegetable contests, etc. 

Published by

Autumn Ashbough

WF writing about the humorous perils of life with Chinese-American significant other.

21 thoughts on “The Fairest of the Fairs (#151)”

  1. This is a kind of fair that I have never experienced. It makes sense as to why some are keen on selling their livestock at the fair – as you said, they became meaner. They become more of a handful. They could have prepare the meat for the dining table at home, but perhaps that is a bit too much of an effort. Then again, who doesn’t want to make a good buck of what they don’t want anymore.

    I agree. Sandwich Fair should be a fair about sandwiches. Sandwich is literally a universal language.

    1. Well, one cow can feed a big family for a very long time, and you’d need a massive freezer. My dad bought just a part of a steer in Utah from a 4-H kid and I think he had to buy a freezer. Sandwich is a rural community, too, and I think locals there buy new breeding stock at the fair.

      Most cultures do have some sort of “wrapped” food that you can eat on the go. Europe was a little late with their creation of the sandwich!

      1. I forgot about that, that you need a big freezer to store most of the cow if you choose to keep and eat it. Hmm. Hmmmmm.

        Australia has always loved the sandwich. But a lot of sandwiches here are rather plain.

  2. While I am disappointed that there isn’t a sandwich fair (how has someone not started one already?!) the oxen are very pretty and Ms Angry Horns had fabulous hair 🙂

    Also loved this – “There you have it. Donald Trump’s philosophy on wives, applied to cattle.” hahaha

  3. Oh man, I love stuff like this. It’s so very American and perfectly captures the spirit of those old American values that seem so long gone. And seeing animals are so fun! Dang, those Galloway cows are huge! And the colors on the leaves during the festival must be amazing! Did Andy enjoy going to it? I’m sure he saw nothing like that in Hawaii!

    By the way, the line about “Donald Trump’s philosophy on wives, applied to cattle” is brilliant. And sad at the same time. Sigh.

    1. Oh, it’s gorgeous this time of year. Andy loved it. He found the trees very soothing. He found the lack of people and traffic even more soothing.

      Well, there’s good and bad about those old American values. New Hampshire people are incredibly hard working and unpretentious and they pride themselves on self-sufficiency. And they love to insist that they have no race problems. Which is true, since they only have one race (with the exception of a few pockets of Somalians in their one big city). But when Obama was elected, wow, suddenly folks that you wouldn’t have thought cared were incensed that there was a black man in the White House. Various older public officials ran off at the mouth and some were forced to resign.

      The problem with only having one race is that you get all your info from TV, and depending on what channel you watch, you can get a very skewed view of other races. Thank you so much, Fox News.

  4. I liked the daughter’s practical comment about selling the old mean one and buying a young, sweet one.

    Great photos. I never thought oxen could be so beautiful.

    Isn’t the Sandwich Islands an old name for Hawaii?

    1. It is, and Sandwich’s buddy Cook did give them that name. Of course you know that. 🙂 There are few other islands with the same name, like the South Sandwich Islands in South America.

  5. This looks so American, haha, it’s like the fairs that appear on The Simpsons. Those cows and oxen look fab! I think in Spain all cows have short hair. Maybe because it’s hot? 😀

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