SKOWHEGAN — It’s the aroma that hits you first at the Skowhegan fair: the grilled onions, french fries, Italian sausages, fried dough.

The next thing is the sound — the screaming from the scary rides, carnies pitching “Winner. Winner. Winner. We need a winner.” Balloons popping at the dart game. Hip-hop music blasting from the rides.

Finally, it’s the sights at the Skowhegan State Fair, which opened Thursday for a 10-day run, that really get you. The carnival colors of the midway tents and food booths, the smiling young faces, the colorfully tattooed ride operators and sideshow barkers.

The weather was perfect Thursday for opening day of the 197th Skowhegan State Fair, the longest continuously operating agricultural fair in the country. With gate admission costing $2 on Thursday and ride bracelets $12, the lines at ticket booths snaked all the way through the midway.

“It was a great turnout today. I think it’s one of the biggest turnouts we’ve ever had here on opening day. Very good,” said John Flynn, vice president of Fiesta Shows, which operates the midway. “The fair operators have put on a good entertainment package here for the fair, and it looks very good.”

New attractions to the fair this year include Vicenta’s White Tigers — four female and two male white-striped Bengal tigers. There is the World of Wonders, billed as the only show of its kind with sword swallowers, a knife thrower, a fire eater, champion hula hoop star and 10 more acts, plus the Aerial Escape Show.

New attractions also include the M-Ag-Icultural magic show in the children’s park area and live wrestling entertainment daily in front of the bingo hall. There will be live music nightly through Aug. 22, when the fair closes.

“I think we’ve got a beautiful midway this year. It’s full, we’ve got plenty of games, nice rides,” said Stanley McGray, owner of Stan’s French Fries, the official french fry of the fair. “It’s the best midway we’ve had in a couple of years.”

McGray said this is the second year in which he has sourced his potatoes from a local grower. He would not name the farm for competition reasons, but said Thursday the tubers are an early variety that were harvested recently in Somerset County.

Along the midway, the Diller family from Seattle all stepped off the Pharoah ride, a giant swinging ship that hurls passengers 50 feet into the air, and said it was a little scary, but fun.

“I think they’re awesome,” 8-year-old Jack Diller said of the rides. “Some of them are scary.”

Jack’s father, Brecken Diller, said he grew up in the Sugarloaf area and brings his family to Wesserunsett Lake every summer for a vacation. The Skowhegan fair is an added bonus, he said.

Flynn, the Fiesta Shows vice president, said the midway has five new kiddie rides this year and several new food booths, including a barbecue booth with chicken in a pita roll.

“There’s a lot of fried food that’s not good for you, but people love to eat it while they’re at the fair,” he said. “That crazy fair food.”

He said rides this year also include operations run by Smokey’s Greater Shows, a Maine-based carnival company cited by state officials earlier this summer for safety violations following ride accidents that injured three children and a woman.

Flynn said the state has inspected all of the rides, and he has hired a private company as well to do a separate inspection.

“My inspectors inspected them, so we’re fine,” he said. “The state was here today, too, and went through everything. I understand there was a bad run, but my own inspectors went through it.”

The fair continues Friday, when gate admission costs $10 and all-day ride bracelets costs $15. Gates open at 7 a.m.

The steer and oxen show is at 9 a.m., tractor pull trials at 10 a.m. All exhibition halls open at noon, with the midway opening at 1 p.m. The popular demolition derby — the first of three this year — is set for 7 p.m., with musician Lexi James performing at 7:30 p.m. in the midway park.

Harness racing returns to the Skowhegan Fair at 1 p.m. Sunday for seven scheduled racing meets.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter: @Doug_Harlow

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