Legions of Fun

Cambria county fair delights

Colt Nagle, 6, (bottom left) of Ebensburg watches from outside the fence as his brother, Race, 12, rides the Inferno along the midway of the American Legion County Fair Sunday. Mirror photo by William Kibler

EBENSBURG — Alica McCarty of Summerhill gives her grandchildren timeouts on occasion for misbehavior.

On Sunday, McCarty gave them what she called a timeout — but it was no punishment: rather, an eagerly awaited trip to the American Legion County Fair, where Brady Wills, 13, and Brittany Peters, 11, could pick from the amusements on the midway and the evening rodeo.

McCarty, 50, who grew up in Salix, has been coming to the fair — formerly the Cambria County Fair — since she was a kid.

“I would ride the rides and play the games,” McCarty said, as her grandchildren returned from the Inferno, a tilting, spinning disk, to rest underneath a tree. “Everybody was so nice. We just had a good time.”

Over at the draft horse barn, Maria Reffner of Vinco and Matthew Stanko of Kittanning were checking out the animals — in anticipation of later watching Reffner’s younger sister compete in the 4-H’s archery competition.

Reffner, 19, has aged out of archery, but she and Stanko may be victims of the archery practiced by a certain Roman god who’s sometimes portrayed as a mischievous youth: They’re dating, having been set up by a mutual friend, and they’ve found themselves to be compatible.

They’re both engineering majors with a focus on the heavens — aerospace for him, the Air Force ROTC for her.

She finds him “comfortable to be around.”

Asked what he likes about her, he said, “It’s a short list: ‘Everything.'”

As a venue for a date, the fair couldn’t be more different than a Caribbean cruise, he said.

But county fairs represent the fullness of summer, the “culmination” of rural labors as one heads into harvest and, as such, have a special flavor of their own, according to Reffner, who grew up with the Cambria County Fair.

The county fair turns out to be a perfectly “cool” place for a date, a pleasing and authentic antidote to the tech-screen-based life so many of us lead nowadays, according to Stanko.

It represents “the roots of what rural life is like,” he said. “Horses, livestock, produce.”

Horses are what brought Wendell Wright of Summerhill RD to the fair.

He was at the end of the same barn, keeping company with his four Percherons: Axle, Oliver, Lynn and Gideon.

“I raised them all my life,” said Wright, 82. “I was raised with them.”

Percherons are trustworthy and cooperative, he said.

You can trust them when you hitch them to a cart, and you can trust them not to bolt when there’s noise, like there is at the fair, or when something “flares up,” like the opening of an umbrella, he said.

You can’t trust all horses, he said.

And Percherons like working with people, he said. They figure out what you want, and they do it, he said.

He loves them, he said.

In a show, their virtues are in their “conformation,” their physical approximation to the Percheron ideal, he said.

Gideon is the son of a world champion, Pleasant View King.

Ace, a product of their farm, was the 1980-81 grand champion of Pennsylvania, he said.

The fair, which runs through Saturday, is closer to the authentic ideal of a rural event for the Baillie family of Kennett Square than are the country-themed events they’re familiar with in southeastern Pennsylvania, they said.

They are in the area because they have a cabin on Sproul Mountain near Claysburg, they said.

They like the good prices at the Cambria fair, the single admission charge and the lack of “commercialization,” as represented by the cheap trinkets that proliferate at events back home, they said.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.