PITTSTON — The 65th annual Pittston Fair kicked into high gear Saturday with food competitions; horse-pulling contests; interviews for the titles of strawberry queen, princess and blossom; and french fries cooked up by members of the town’s firefighters association.

The fair continues Sunday.

By late morning, Roy Denham, of Whitefield, was the only entrant in the grilling contest, with three racks of ribs coated with dry rub roasting in the propane-fired grill and a camp stove nearby to heat up the glaze at the last minute.

He said he calculated the amount “to make sure the judges have plenty to eat.”

Denham, a member of the Pittston Fair Association since 1993, was the winner and sole entrant last year as well. He donated the top prize back to the fair.

He said the aroma draws quite a crowd once he unwraps the ribs.

In a nearby exhibition hall, Dona Smith, of Pittston, proudly showed a photo of the sticky buns she baked that took top prize Thursday in the King Arthur Flour Contest.

“No raisins,” she pointed out, “just pecans and brown sugar.”

Smith welcomed visitors to the hall, which held exhibits from the Grange, 4-H and community members.

At the french-fry booth, firefighters and association members offered a passel of freshly sliced fried potatoes for $5.

They start with over half a ton of potatoes in 50-pound bags and have a designated slicer. At one point it was James Eastman, president of the Pittston Firefighters Association; and then the fry-master, Adam Winchenbach, a lieutenant in the Fire Department, took over. He pulled the raw fries from a cold water bath before dunking them in the hot oil.

Dotty Hinckley, a captain with the volunteer department, brought out the crock pots with the gravy and cheese toppings.

About 10 a.m., the booth workers took a brief hiatus in preparations to take a nearby firetruck over to douse some debris that had rekindled after Friday night’s “Burn-Out” competition.

Josh Johnson, a volunteer firefighter with Pittston and a full-time firefighter with the Gardiner Fire Department, said the contest is somewhat unusual. People hook up their vehicles to “The Grabber II” and spin their tires on a fixed platform.

Judges determine who can make the most smoke and who can pop their tires.

“Some of them would bring their daily driver,” said Greg Thompson, of Whitefield, a firefighter with the Pittston Fire Department. A few, he added, had to call for a tow afterward.

Across the fairgrounds, Brady Pingree, of Phillips, hosed Tom, a 17.5-hand Belgian to cool him off and clean him up prior to his turn in the horse-pull arena.

Pingree held on to a short line while Tom danced around, either reveling in or trying to avoid the spray. On-lookers — maybe a little jealous as the day heated up — watched the show.

Pingree’s father, Regan Pingree, said four horses would be entered in the contest, in which teams of horses pull a sledge loaded with concrete blocks. The winning pair pull it the farthest, as measured by the judges.

The Pingrees have nine pulling horses, including two big ones — 2,500 to 2,200 pounds — which are Brady’s.

He said he was asked when he graduated from Mount Abram High School in 2012, “Do you want a truck or a pair of horses?”

He picked the horses; six months later, he got a truck.

Those horses eat more than a bale of hay a day, he said. The smaller ones, like Tom, consume about three-quarters of one.

The Pittston Fair, on Route 194, attracts anywhere from 4,500 to 7,000 visitors over its four-day span.

Al Smith, of Pittston, the fair association treasurer, was thankful the fair had avoided rainy weather. “It’s been great this year,” he said. “Usually that’s our battle.”

Gates open at 8 a.m. Sunday, with the Pittston Fair Fun 5K, known as “Carole’s Run,” stepping off then as well. Proceeds from the run benefit the ALS Association, Northern New England Chapter. Carole Marsano died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in March 2016, and this year, the stage was dedicated to her and to her husband, Steve Marsano, owner of Central Maine Pyrotechnics.

Sunday’s featured events include horse barrel racing, a baby contest, children’s bicycle giveaways, pig scrambles for ages 4 and 5, and the Strawberry Pageant coronation. Candidates for the titles were interviewed Saturday.

Fair admission costs $6 for ages 15 and older.

Regular fair features include a Strawberry Museum, where most items were donated by the late Bob Gleason, of Green Point Farm in Dresden. The display included many dozens of strawberry-themed dishes, other kitchen items and few unusual items, including vintage-looking cans of Pepperide Farm Strawberry Soup with Sauterne, advertised as “Delightful when served hot or cold.”

Curtis Jewett, 73, of Pittston, welcomed visitors to the Historical Museum, pointing out the wooden rims on a bicycle hanging from the ceiling and showing how rags were pressed into bales for resale.

Pete Weeks, the fair association vice president, rode around the grounds checking on the various exhibits and events. He’s at the fairgrounds practically year-round, even plowing a section of the grounds in winter so LifeFlight helicopters can land there, if needed, to pick up patients.

The year the fairgrounds sport new bathrooms at the far end. Weeks said they were built over five Saturdays by six or eight volunteers.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams

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