WINDSOR — Labor Day weekend is supposed to be marked by taking a break from work, but for Edward Katz and hundreds of others who helped keep the Windsor Fair going this year, each weekend day was just another day on the job.

“We keep things clean at all costs,” Katz said, barely looking up from the toilet he was scrubbing with a brush in one of the men’s rooms. “It’s about efficiency and staying quick.”

The fair, which wraps up its nine-day run Monday, always ends on Labor Day weekend. That’s fitting, since the fair exists to offer people a break from their work.

But behind the scenes, hundreds of people logged thousands of hours cooking, cleaning and even pulling to make sure the more than 100,000 visitors have the best experience possible. Labor Day, for these fair employees and volunteers, will be a day of labor.

“We have people that are unbelievably dedicated to the fair,” Windsor Fair President Tom Foster said. “They work their hearts out. It shows in a lot of different ways.”

The evidence of Jean Royle’s hard work can be smelled wafting across the fairgrounds as she and the other volunteers from South China American Legion Post 179 barbecue a few hundred chickens each day. She said it takes about three people, who arrive around 8:30 a.m., to get lunch ready in time for the 11 a.m. sitting. Not everyone works all of those hours, but Royle said she will have worked about 100 hours over the nine days of the fair. She’s worked the barbecue pit for 20 years.

The sales provide most of the revenue the Legion needs to support its various charitable events, such as dinners for veterans and donations.

“Without this, our post wouldn’t have an income, really,” Royle said.

Bob Dow, of the Legion post, has worked the chicken barbecue since 1965, an era he describes simply as “a long time.”

“We had a tent when we started,” Dow said.

Dow on Sunday morning was manning the barbecue pit with Mike Roach. It was not even noon, and unseasonable temperatures already had cracked 80 degrees on their way to near 90.

“It gets hot and smoky,” Roach said.

The post splits the cost of supplies, and the revenue, with Order of the Eastern Star Freemasons from Weeks Mills. John Wardwell said he, too, will have put in about 100 hours by the time the fair is done. Wardwell enjoys his work, which is a good thing, because there is precious little time to enjoy anything else at the fair.

“I go around and look one night when I’m done,” Wardwell said. “Other than that, I hardly go down the midway. Labor Day is here. It has been for 10 years.”

Royle said she keeps hoping to see young people willing to step forward and take her place, but so far that hasn’t happened.

“We’ll do this as long as we’re capable of doing it,” she said. “The young people just don’t want to volunteer their time for these programs.”

Katz, from Pennsylvania, has cleaned bathrooms at events across the country. He oversees a crew of eight people, two of whom went home early after suffering health and personal problems. Katz works at a fever pitch to make sure the sinks and toilets keep their sparkle. He smiled when a vendor offered his unsolicited opinion that the bathrooms look better than they did in the other years he attended the fair.

“We do it right and keep it right,” Katz said. “It’s busy, but as long as you keep on top of things, it should not be hard.”

He and his crew work about 12 hours each day of the fair. They earn a small base pay for their work. The tip jar at the entry of each bathroom provides their biggest income. The public’s generosity can be fickle. Katz has to work harder when there are big events, such as Saturday’s monster truck rally, but the tips can dry up as he struggles to keep the bathrooms looking their best.

“Some people understand and some people don’t give a rat’s patootie,” Katz said. “Some people appreciate it and some people don’t.”

Foster, the fair president, standing just outside the bathroom Katz cleaned, pointed to a fair worker who stopped to pick up a plastic cup lid and straw off the ground. Unlike the contracted Katz and his crew, most of the people who work at the fair — there are about 250 of them — are volunteers or earn a small fee that covers little more than travel expenses, Foster said.

“We work hard on cleanliness,” Foster said. “The grounds are important to people.”

Many of the fair’s workers, including Justin Miller, who works for Augusta Public Works, take time off from their regular jobs to be at the fair. Miller, who has gotten to know the pulling teams and follows them in a way not unlike fans of the New England Patriots or the Boston Red Sox, said he enjoys being around the competition and the atmosphere of the fair itself.

“I enjoy coming to the fair,” Miller said. “I enjoy working for Greg.”

Greg is pull supervisor Greg Baker. He and his wife, Sue Baker, from Pittston, spent more than 20 years organizing pulls around the state. Now they work only Windsor. The Bakers, Miller and the five other people who help with the pulls begin most days at 5 a.m. and don’t finish until 10 p.m. Baker said the work is fun but not easy.

“Probably the toughest part of the job is staying up late at night and getting up early in the morning,” Baker said. “The long days are tough.”

Foster said rarely hears complaints about the hard work or long hours. People come back to work year after year, often passing down the tradition to the younger generation. For most, it is a Labor Day of love.

“These people are from all over Kennebec County, and Knox and Lincoln County, all over the place,” Foster said. “They just love the fair. It’s just a passion.”

Craig Crosby — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @CraigCrosby4

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