A continuing tale of life in the boonies

No. 086

Hay Day triumphs despite rain

Farmington's 6th Annual Hay Day was a triumph for the human spirit. Despite several hours of drenching rain, the crowd, which numbered over 4,000 people, proved loyal until the end, and when the last major event, the Bed Race, hurtled through the streets, their enthusiastic cheers were undampened by the elements.

The celebration began on Friday evening at Fernald Park with a band concert given by Pease Air Force Band. A sophisticated and knowledgeable audience signaled their appreciation after each musical piece with a tumultuous honking of car horns, while Business Association members, in their natty red aprons, scurried around hawking popcorn and Diet Pepsi. Dusk fell pleasantly, and although atrocious weather was in the forecast, everyone hoped that the meteorologists would get it wrong again.

As first light broke on Saturday, Farmington slowly began to stir. Dogs stretched and thought dreamily of winning a gymkhana bone. Little Annie Oakleys pondered meeting the right young Bill Hickock. Many Gabby Hayes, stumbling blindly towards the medicine chest, contemplated panning enough gold to buy another case of Bud.

By 8 o'clock, with the sun still shining, Main Street was already bustling. Barricades were up and booths were being erected. Selectman Berry was rolling out the trash barrels from the trailer that had once launched an icehouse to fame, and the bank building, which was to be the H.Q. of Robert Parish, had become a hive of activity, as evidenced by a swarm of green T-shirted worker bees.

The sky began to cloud over ominously while the dogs of Farmington gathered at 10 o'clock for their annual gymkhana. The 1987 course, the canine fraternity soon discovered, had more tricks in store than in previous years. There were cones to be negotiated, a seesaw and ramp, an inner tube to be leapt through, a jump...and then the Ignore The Cat Tunnel. Many a pooch was startled when a savage black plywood cat sprang out in their path with an electronically amplified "Miaow!" as it emerged from the tunnel into daylight. None more so than James Spear's dog, Chrissy. She took off through the crowd, up Main Street, past the Town Hall and around a corner, never to be seen again, although young James returned from his futile pursuit collect the prestigious comical dog prize, The Funny Bone.

Soon, the debris from a gymkhana was thrown aside, and at 11:30, with the first plump raindrops falling from a glowering black sky, the sheaf toss was under way on the church lawn, courtesy of B. & B. Fabricators who lent the steel pole extensions necessary to increase the height of the bar from last year's 19 feet which Big Dan had easily attained. Competitors in 1987 seemed to have done a lot of practicing behind the woodshed - Barron Brothers bags of hay were heaved over the steadily heightened bar with Cameron's pitchfork with confidence and polish.

It was rain, ironically, that came to the organizer's rescue, by substantially adding to the weight of the hay sack, and sapping the strength of the contestants before the uppermost level was reached. Big Dan's superior bulk proved decisive in the end, with a heave of 22 feet to take him ahead of three times runner-up Dave Tufts, and into the record books.

The rain had now become a downpour, knocking out the rides on the fire truck, but Davidson's train, the Puddledock Express, continued to pack 'em soddenly in for the trip around downtown. Music-in-the-Park fled for the cover of the Town Hall. Some craft booths packed up for the day, but food joints, seeing that the crowd miraculously refused to be budged, stuck with it.

In preparation for the Gabby Hayes Gold Rush, the Fire Department unloaded a big holding tank in the street opposite Vinnie's Pizza, and proceeded to pump it full of water. Then five large bottles of food dye were emptied into it, turning the liquid into a heaving yellowish-red sea.

"That's more like town water," approved former Mudder-of-the-Week Martin Stanley, as he peeked over the edge, and watched 100 gold coins sink into the murky depths. It was almost 1 p.m.

Well now is the time when the Gabby Hayes gather

With fry-pan and lasso for their gold rush prank

With beans for a filler

And then sarsaparilla

They’ll bubble that water when they dive in the tank.

Twenty-five Gabby Hayes and Freddi Olson’s donkey gathered at the southern end of Main Street and, to sustain them over the course, each was offered a plug of chawing tobacco. Only the donkey accepted.

Next, like passengers waiting to board an airliner, they had to listen to a short speech imploring them not to shove and elbow each other. Then Elsworth Hancock (the old-timer whose brother is also named Elsworth Hancock) blasted his cannon, and with a tremendous orgy of elbowing and shoving, the Gabbys were off, and making for the first checkpoint – the pot of beans.

Operating the bean ladle was Planning Board stalwart Ann Chapline, who realized just a few seconds before they struck, that a bunch of old western geezers had transmogrified into a stampeding herd of gold-crazed bison. There was no time to flee, but hang on for dear life to the stove, bean pot and ladle. Ann did manage to give her neighbor, Judge Whittum, three scoops of beans as he was swept past in a cowpoke fury of Stetsons, beards and spurs. When the dust had settled, Ann discovered she was still alive, but covered from head to toe in beans and juice.

The uproar had moved up to the Square, where Mary and Nick Jolles, using ropes, were tugging a two-headed cow on wheels, back and forward across the street, as 25 elbowing and shoving Gabby’s tried to lasso the horns before moving on to the next stage.

All the ropes seem to find the target together prompting a mass dash into the pub to down a sarsaparilla and a spin with a dancing girl.

Unluckly, when a score of panting old cowpokes burst through the saloon door, the dancing girls took fright and cowered behind the gambling wheel. Only the bravest were coaxed out, causing a bottleneck of Gabbys.

Soon the leading pack of gold rushers, eight or nine of ‘em, were approaching the last checkpoint before the water tank – a checkpoint where they had to give a ten-second yodel.

Mr. Eck Elliot of Cape Code and Mr. Walter Harris of Atlanta, the guest guitar players-in-waiting, had decided, after hours of consultation to go with a Jimmy Rogers blue yodel.

Instruments in tune, despite the appalling weather, they were prepared, as the first Gabbys drew level.

"Right, lads," said Mr. Elliot, " 'Waiting on a Train' in the key of D."

"WHHAAAAAA!" yelled the Gabbys without slowing down, and sped on towards the gold.

Within seconds, the tank was a seething mass of bodies, groping for coins and fighting for air. The Gabbys, to the last man, had been violently seized with such a bout of gold fever, as to put their very lives in danger. To prevent drowning, elbowings, hypothermia and shovings, the tank had to be drained and the contestants reluctantly clambered out with their plunder, leaving as a memento of their presence, in the floor of the tank, a pathetic collection of sodden beards, twisted frying pans, bent spoons and water-logged bandanas.

The crowd was struck dumb. No words could describe that to which they had just borne witness. The rain slackened a little as the winner was announced ... Kevin Willey, a Gabby with 16 gold coins and a mighty big thirst, pardner!

Life after the Gold Rush: Armed with slices of sizzling pizza and hot dogs, the crowd swelled in the Farmington National & Savings Bank car park, where Robert Parish had emerged to give a basketball demonstration at the custom-designed hoop, during a lull in the precipitation. Then came the distant but unmistakable oom-pah-pah of an approaching band, and the parade swept down Main Hill and up Central Street. Fire trucks, decorated beds and floats proceeding in fine order. As the procession passed, the rain returned with a vengeance, driving the Sanford Silver Band into the Town Hall for a concert recital, and slightly delaying the start of the bed race.

Trouble with the public address system (a broken microphone wire, it later transpired) prevented the spectators from being notified of each bed's ownership and time, but the excitement of the spectacle was sufficient to rivet the crowd as a record number of entrants, decorated as covered wagons and the like, hurtled around the course. Despite being fresh from a bed race victory in Alton, favorites Farmington Fire Department, were beaten into second place by the green-shirted youths of the bank team, inspired, no doubt, by the presence of the Great Ballbouncer.

After this, undeterred by the rain, Robert Lapierre emerged as champion from a record field of 30 top horseshoe throwers, defeating last year's winner, David James of Rochester, in the final. Louise Kidwell took the ladies' title, and Ted Healey, the under 16s.

At the 4 p.m. prize-giving, as the rain slacked to a drizzle, Norman Barrett with $40.55 in his containers, just succeeded in holding off Ronnie Dumont of Dumontskis (formerly Kristie’s), ($39.20) to be voted the Ugliest Person in town.

The St. Onge family, despite strong links with the road crew, shone as the brainiest bunch in Farmington by winning the Annual Quiz. (Hey! Need another dump of sand, buddy? – The Road Crew)

To conclude, Jessica Vachon was judged best-dressed girl as a Saloon Lady, and Jeremy Randall best boy as an Indian. The Business Association, thanks to those aprons, won the Spirit Award, while Union Telephone lifted the Best of Parade trophy.

All those with strength left, not too many, turned up at the Contra Dance at night, to join other fans of the Lamprey River Band from as far afield at Chester, Brookfield, Madbury and Dover. Even a lady who had twice appeared on Prairie Home Companion playing her own face, showed up to dance joyously as rain battered the windows once more. Quite a day!

Aug. 25, 1987

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