SKOWHEGAN — Stan McGray took a rainy day Thursday at the Skowhegan State Fair to look back on a quarter-century on the midway.

Stan’s French Fries opened for business at the fair in August 1987.

“Life has been good to me,” said McGray, 67. “The fair life has been good. I’ve made money, had hard roads with the economy, but we still survive with repeat customers.”

McGray had to rebuild his business after the big fire in March 1999 that destroyed the original wooden grandstand and briefly took away his livelihood.

“I lost two french fry trailers, three campers and one truck — total loss, no insurance,” he said. “I started new in 1999 all over again. I slowly rebuilt.

“We have good, loyal customers,” he added.

He said his french fries are popular all over Maine, and for good reason.

“We go to the farm and get our own potatoes. Ninety percent of the time, we don’t buy them over the phone like most of them have to do,” he said. “Say I need 50 bags of potatoes. I go to the farm in Lewiston and Dover-Foxcroft. I grab one bag of potatoes, drive ’em home, try ’em. If they cook good, I call the guy back and say ‘Good, I need 50 bags.'”

The secret to good french fries is to get the potatoes fresh, not from cold storage, McGray said.

“We don’t buy ’em unless we try ’em,” he said.

McGray’s product was named the official french fry of the Skowhegan Fair a few years ago by fair vice president Mel Blaisdell. His two french fry trailers are now on prime real estate — one at each entrance to the new grandstand.

“We pay our rent, but it’s a prime location,” he said.

He judges that he’s been treated well by the fair.

“The fair used me good here,” he said, using a local expression, “because we lost everything at this fair and I’m local — born and raised right here in Skowhegan.”

Before the french fry venture, McGray ran a gas station for 10 years on North Avenue; and before that, he drove a taxi in Skowhegan for five years. McGray said he begins the fair season in June at the Houlton Fair and end at the Fryeberg Fair in October, riding much of the time with Smokey’s Greater Shows.

The 194th annual Skowhegan State Fair continues today with a draft horse and pony show at 9:30 a.m. and a 4-H sheep show at 10 a.m. The Fiesta Shows midway opens at 1 p.m. Harness racing also is set for 1 p.m.

A demolition derby is scheduled for 7 p.m. and live music begins at 7:30 p.m. with acoustic rockers Mellow Endeavor and country rockers Steel Rail Express.

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