SKOWHEGAN — Forty-eight-year-old Laurie Roberge said she has worked the fair circuit for 30 years and knows what to look for when hiring people for the 10-day run of the upcoming Skowhegan State Fair.

No drinking on the job and no drugs, for starters, she said.

“We need their Social Security card; photo ID. We do a criminal background check,” said Roberge, who was in charge of hiring to set up the fair today. “If the background checks come back good, we’ll call them. They’ll come in for a safety meeting, get their uniform and their show ID and report to work for training.”

The fair opens Thursday.

Job seekers began showing up at the fairgrounds before 10 a.m. They lined up behind a table under the fair’s grandstand to get their work applications and paperwork — all 14 pages of it.

As potential workers filled out their applications, fair rides were being trucked in from Bangor, some still folded up on travel trailers. Workers assembled ticket booths. Food concession stands were hooked up and hosed down — Harmon’s Clams, Stan’s French Fries, Buchino’s Italian sausage — in time for the opening on Thursday.

Gene Dean, chief executive officer and president of Fiesta Shows, which operates the midway, said 25 to 30 workers are needed to set up the rides and booths over two days. A total of about 65 people are needed to help the fair’s regular operators run the midway.

The field of potential workers at the Skowhegan State Fair today was a diverse range of people, from unemployed residents to men and women looking for a short-term second job for extra cash. One Skowhegan man said he works in housekeeping at Sugarloaf Mountain in the winter and relies on the fair in August. Another woman said she does home health care work during the day and is willing to work the fair for 10 days.

Alex Castillo, 39, from Glastonbury, Conn., a college graduate with a degree in biology, said he spent the last month hiking in New Hampshire and stopped to visit his aunt and uncle in Waterville.

“I’m kind of an outdoor person. I don’t mind this kind of work,” Castillo said. “While I’m searching for full-time work, I can make some money at the Skowhegan fair. (Laurie Roberge) asked me if I have ever operated a ride. I said no. She looked at me and said if I never operated a ride, it’s something to put on your bucket list. I think it’ll be fun.”

Stephanie Hutchins, 37, of Norridgewock, and Jeremy Kelley, 34, of Madison, said they have worked on kiddie rides at the fair before and come back each year for the fun of it — and for the extra money.

“I like working at the fair because you get to interact with other people. I’m a people person, so I get along with everybody,” Kelley said.

John Bilowith, 52, an ordained minister from central Virginia, said he and his wife came to stay with family members recently in Skowhegan and started looking for work.

He said his search for employment locally so far has turned up nothing, so he responded to the job advertisement in the newspaper for carnival workers.

“Working equipment, which is what they’ll have me doing, that’s kind of a new thing for me,” Bilowith said. “I just really want to work. That’s pretty much it. It seems that’s what everybody here wants to do.”

Training for a job at the fair includes sessions on hazardous materials, forklift safety, electrical safety and emergency procedures.

The fair operator, Fiesta Shows, also hires longer-term workers who will help operate the rides and the many game booths along the midway. Some workers sign up to travel with the company through Columbus Day, sleeping in small house trailers on fairgrounds in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Connecticut.

Day laborers are paid minimum wage. Long-term workers are paid a salary based on experience and the job to which they are assigned, Roberge said.

Dean said he advertises for workers in local newspapers wherever the midway travels.

Julie Rabinowitz, from the Maine Department of Labor, said day labor and short-term jobs can be advertised by festival operators, but also are available through various temporary agencies, such as Bonney Staffing, Manpower, Labor Ready and postings on Craigslist.

“It could be for a daylong event, or it could be a short-term event, where an employer or a company is having an event and they need staff to work it,” Rabinowitz said. “Craigslist is a big source of the one-day jobs.”

Rabinowitz said employers are offering short-term jobs as flaggers for road projects, freelance writing opportunities for promotions and seasonal work on farms, such as blueberry picking, which has begun for the season.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367
[email protected]