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Trying to build on last year; 172nd annual Erie County Fair looks to top 2010

The Erie County Fair is looking for a repeat performance of last year, when its all-time best attendance of 1,022,164 was tops among 51 state and county fairs held in New York State.

The 172nd edition, dubbed "Red, White and You," opens at 2 p.m. today for a 12-day run, through Aug. 21.

Tuesday, many of the 436 vendors were busy dodging raindrops to put the finishing touches on their stands, as workers finished assembling the rides that arrived by train Friday.

"I really think today is going to be pushing the docket as one of our busiest days ever, with [Nickelodeon stars Big Time Rush] sold out, $2 admission and $2 parking," said Jessica Underberg, assistant fair manager and agricultural manager.

Longtime visitors will notice some physical changes to the 172nd annual Town of Hamburg extravaganza.

Moving to new locations are the creative arts building, 4-H and the mall tent, while the new configuration introduced last year to widen walkways will remain.

The carnival's tallest ride, the Ferris wheel, will be lit with LED lights. Another sizable entry appealing to kids is the "Dinosaur Tour" -- a 30-foot-tall, 150-foot-long green dinosaur.

Making a new splash on the roster of animal shows is "Dock Dogs." After the handler throws a decoy, dogs scramble the length of a dock to catch it, landing in a pool of water. Rare Bengal tigers will be featured in one exhibit.

The fair's circus attractions also include the return of the Peking Acrobats.

New foods being introduced include beer-battered burgers.

There's also the doughnut burger.

Calories? Forget it.

"It's a glazed doughnut cut in half that [acts as] the bun, so it's about 4,000 calories," Underberg said.

Familiar attractions include the crowd-mingling Wacky Wheeler -- a giant wheel with a man in the middle. Also featured are Rocket the Robot and an actor portraying Deputy Barney Fife from the old "The Andy Griffith Show" and "Mayberry R.F.D."

Agriculture, of course, remains a major part of the fair.

Underberg, who grew up on a dairy farm in Collins, showed animals at the fair as a child. She said the fair remains a vital link to people who may be unfamiliar with rural life.

"People used to be able to go to a farm at their grandfather's, or go to their uncle's and spend the summer. People don't have that anymore. The fair is the last touch-point for people to be able to be involved in agriculture," Underberg said.

"We have five baby calves that people can come and bottle feed, and for a lot of people it's the only time ever touching a calf."

Along Fair Alley, Donny Bryant readied his stand that sells roasted corn and fresh-squeezed lemonade.

"I love coming up here because [visitors] like to hear me talk. I'm not from around here, I'm from South Carolina, and I enjoy seeing people I see every year," Bryant said.

Like most of the vendors, Bryant travels a fair circuit.

"We do Hamburg Fair, and then I go into Dutchess County Fair, then back down south to Georgia," Bryant said.
Art Pokrony was busy with others getting the New York Style Pizza stand ready. His wife, Barbara Wilson, who was back at her trailer, is the longest continuing operator. Her father, Matty Wilson, began in the 1930s.

Across the way at Butcher Boys, manager Tara Christensen and others were getting ready to open and sell steak sandwiches, charbroiled Italian sausage and other dishes.

"It's quite a bit of work. We've been setting up since Saturday," Christensen said.

When the fair opens, there will be 20 people working in what will become tight confines.

"There is no such thing as personal space," she said.

Other stands waiting to open beckoned with signs advertising fried dough, cotton candy, candy apples and "colossal onions."

Over at the rides, three men who gave their names as Jose, Julio and Efrael, were setting up the "Sea Ray," a large pirate ship that sways from side to side with brightly colored flashing lights.

"It takes about five hours. It's a lot of work," Jose said.

Brenda and John Curran, a Florida-based couple who have operated their fresh Italian sausage stand since 1968, said Western New Yorkers are knowledgeable consumers.

"The people here have their money ready, and they know what they want, [whereas] a lot of places, they don't, and you get a line of people," Brenda Curran said.

As for the fair's grandstand attractions: Concerts include Randy Houser, 8 p.m. Thursday; Miranda Lambert, 8 p.m. Sunday; America, 8 p.m. Monday; Terry Fator of "America's Got Talent," 8 p.m. Tuesday; and Ace Frehley of Kiss, 8 p.m. next Wednesday;.

Motorsports events include: tour, 7 p.m. Saturday; Ultimate Night of Destruction, 7 p.m. Aug. 18; Lucas Oil Pro Pulling League Truck and Tractor Pull, 6:30 p.m. Aug. 19 and 3 p.m. Aug. 20; and World's Largest Demolition Derby, 2 and 7 p.m. Aug. 21.

Though gates open at 2 p.m. today, for the rest of the fair the hours will be 9 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., with carnival rides operating until 11 p.m.

Tickets are $10, $7 for seniors and free for children 12 and younger. Parking is available for $5 at five lots, with entrances off McKinley Parkway, South Park Avenue, Quinby Drive and Clark Street.

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