Field Days 2018
By Ruthie Laroche
For the County Courier
For Forty-three years the Franklin County Field Days have been providing the county with an extended weekend full of agriculturally based events and activities, as well as fair-style rides and plenty of tasty treats.
Tractor and truck pulls and demolition derbies draw big crowds every year as folks come out to see the fastest, strongest, and toughest vehicles flex their muscle under the bright lights.
Events like the draft horse show, 4-H exhibits, and a parade of antique tractors offer a more traditional feel. Crafts, contests, concerts, rides, and kids' games and activities round out the event.
This year's Field Days begin on Thursday, and Fernand Gagne, Chairman of the event, shared some amazing numbers and interesting facts with the County Courier, giving folks a glimpse of just how many people come through the Field Days each year and what they enjoy eating, drinking, and doing while they are there.
Gagne has served on the board since 2005; he’s been the chairman for three of those years.
Gagne finds that the Field Days provide a safe, fun event that folks can enjoy without breaking the bank.
"The Franklin County Field Days are a lot of fun and everything is reasonably priced--you get in for ten dollars and that includes all of the rides and shows," said Gagne, "It's an unbelievable deal."
Many people take advantage of that great deal. About 6,000 to 7,000 people attend the Field Days per night.
Managing that amount of car and foot traffic is no small endeavor, and Gagne draws an interesting comparison.
"We oversee parking, food, and entertainment each day. We have two fire departments on hand every night and an ambulance. It's like maintaining a small city for those days," said Gagne.
Keeping the lights on and the power going keeps the crew on their toes before and during the event.
"There are 18 electrical meters keeping the field days going, and lots of electrical work that has to be done. Swanton Village is on call and we have a full-time electrician on the grounds at all times," explained Gagne.
Thursday, opening night, hosts the annual demolition derby, which draws about 4,500 spectators and includes about 60 cars.
Traditionally, Friday night sees the largest crowds as folks come out to enjoy the truck Ppull. Roughly 5,000 to 5,500 people come out for that event, and about 75 trucks take the track to wow the crowd. Gagne noted that two years ago there were 100 pickups in the pull.
Gagne's numbers show that 25 kegs of beer are consumed on an average Friday night, and that doesn't count glasses, bottles or mixed drinks.
"Franklin County is pretty thirsty on Friday night," said Gagne.
Saturday the Field Days welcome 7,000 visitors. The night's big event, the tractor pull, draws 4,500 spectators for the evening. Most years there are about 50 tractors entered in the contest.
Farming families from all over the area bring their strongest and best tractors to compete with others. Bill Rowell and Green Mountain Dairy send a tractor every year, according to Gagne.
"The Curtis boys, Jason and Asa, bring their tractors every year. They also mow all the lawns at the Field Days. That's a big job!" said Gagne, "And the Broudeau brothers bring tractors for the pull and also spray the grounds for mosquitos before the event."
The ATV drag races also draw great crowds, and on average, about 120 ATV's compete on Sunday.
All of those folks need to eat, and there’s always a wide selection of fair food and drinks.
Gagne has rough estimates on some of the big sellers. About 6,000 quarts of french fries are served, 3,500 maple creemees are eaten, 6,000 hot dogs, and 8,500 cups of lemonade and ice tea are consumed.
The Franklin County Field Days bring a good amount of revenue into the county.
"All the local businesses and vendors benefit from it. It's good exposure for all of our commercial exhibitors," said Gagne.
Children love the Franklin County Field Days, taking in all the sounds and smells, the rides, the animals, and the games and food. Gagne highlighted some of the weekend's most popular children's events.
The Little Piggy roundup is a classic. About a dozen piglets are released in an enclosed area and kids have the task of gathering them. Gagne loves the event and the chance it gives children to interact with animals in a safe and fun environment.
"Some kids have never touched a pig before," said Gagne with a chuckle, "When they get near the pig it's so fun to watch them try to catch it."
Kids who want to participate in the Little Piggy Roundup can catch the action at 4 pm on Saturday.
Kids have more opportunities for fun on Sunday with the Grady Howrigan Peddle Pull and the Kids' Demo Derby.
Kids in the age range of five to six years old ride on their small, motorized cars and trucks with balloons tied to the front and the back. The winner of the power wheel derby is the one who has the most balloons left. The Demo Derby begins at 2 pm on Sunday.
The Grady Howrigan Peddle Pull takes place at 1 pm on Sunday afternoon. The event was a favorite of Grady Howrigan, a lively, funloving Franklin County kid who participated in it for years. The peddle pull was named in his memory this year.
James Messier, who teaches the Animal Science classes at MVU, and his wife Ronna, have been working with the Franklin County Field Days for years. The Animal Science program oversees animals in the petting zoo and runs an ice cream booth.
"The MVU Animal Science Program is the only program that brings animals to the petting zoo. This year they will have one of our beef animals, two sheep, two goats, and Breezy Acres farm is loaning two piglets. We will have six laying hens, and we hope the kids can gather eggs," said Messier.
The Animal Science Program will also have fun activities for kids to take part in during the weekend.
"Kids can make butter using baby food jar and a marble used as an agitator. Last year we had an exhibit where the kids could weigh and candle eggs. Three weeks ago, I put eggs in an incubator at school, and I'm hoping that by Friday thechickens start to hatch. I put a few eggs in at different times so we can have eggs hatch on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday," said Messier.
Messier was glad to see his students embrace a larger part in the festivities.
"We've been more involved in the last couple of years than in prior years," said Messier, "The ice cream booth raises money for the Animal Science Program, which is a tremendous help. My wife Ronna will be in charge of the ice cream booth again this year."
The older students in the Animal Science Program, Anna Mashtare, Journi Louten, and Trinity Chevalier, participate at the Field Days working at the ice cream booth and helping with the animals. A number of other students will be working with Ronna serving ice cream.
"I look at it as an opportunity to show the people who are paying the bills at school what the program is doing. It takes a lot of time but it lets people see what we are," said Messier.
Messier has many memories of Field Days in Franklin County, and some of those go back to a time when things were very different from today.
"Several years ago there was no such thing as a demolition derby, a truck pull, or a tractor pull. It was all about the animals," said Messier, "The kids that participate today showing their animals have just as much enthusiasm as we did when we were involved. Their numbers are down, but they are very enthusiastic about their work."
Members of the 4-H program will be active throughout the weekend showing their animals. Breakfast will be served at the 4-H booth in the morning hours of the Field Days and there will also be a 4-H parade and a 4-H Dairy and Fitting Show on Friday.
Earlier in the summer word was traveling that the Franklin County Field Days might be looking for a new location in the coming years, but Gagne and Sharon Bosquet, Highgate Selectboard Chair, see no need for concern.
"There is a land swap that is going on with the Field Days and the state is working it out with the Field Days. I don't think the state is going to hurt the Field Days in any way. The only change that will take place will be in the parking," said Bosquet.
Gagne noted that the change to the parking, which used to see cars parked on the left side of the airport opposite the Field Days site, may make things easier for people.
The Field Days now has a new parking area seven acres in size on the same side as the event. That portion of the property was fully wooded this spring, and it has been cleared and is ready to serve as parking for the weekend.
"Heath Wright did the excavating, mostly by donation. The new parking area is much better than the old," said Gagne, "it will actually require less walking."
Bosquet is pleased with the decision to keep the Franklin County Field Days where it has remained for four decades. For her and many Franklin County residents, it's an event that brings some good things to the county.
"The same thing that stood out about the Field Days to me when I was young stands out now. It's a very agriculturally based community that we have in Franklin County. The Field Days does a really great job of celebrating that and bringing it together. It's not just about carnival rides and cotton candy. It's about tractor pulls and a place to visit people you haven't seen,” said Bosquet.
The Field Days tradition, which began when Franklin County had a broader base of farmers in the community, provided the agricultural community with a much needed break in the midst of a very busy time of year.
“Farming can be a lonely job. You see the people who come to the farm, but it's hard to get out. The Franklin County Field Days still gives people a chance to get out and visit. It's nice that it hasn't changed very much over time," said Bosquet.
The Franklin County Field Days also serve as a reminder that, although the number of farms in the area has decreased, the county is still deeply rooted in agriculture.
"We are all related to the agricultural community in one way or another. No matter where you work your grocery stores and car dealerships are supported by the farmers," said Bosquet, who works at Fleet Pride.
For those who don't have a direct connection to agriculture, the Field Days also provide a chance to learn about animals and those who raise them.
"I always enjoy the horse pulls and petting zoos and the 4-H kids love to show their animals," said Bosquet, "Whatever we can do in our communities to support healthy habits and kindness--which can be done through raising animals--we should encourage it. Raising animals gives kids that feeling of responsibility and the need for kindness."
Bosquet hopes that folks will take the time to get out and enjoy some time together at the Field Days this weekend.
"It's a wonderful feature that we still have in our communities. If you look at their gate receipts the Field Days are just continuing to grow and the event is still popular. People look forward to this all year," said Bosquet, "It's all about good times with good friends."