Quiet hours: What the fair is like after the crowd is gone

MONROE — It’s 8:10 p.m. at the Evergreen State Fair.

The lights of the Ferris wheel twinkle in front of a sunset backdrop.

The day is winding down.

A sheriff’s deputy rides by on a bicycle.

The sandwich-makers stop throwing Walla Walla sweet onions on the grill.

A group of teenage fair employees talk about their cleaning strategy for the last 20 minutes of their shift.

“Our main focus is the food area,” Natalie Brown, 19, said. “And the older gentleman at the corn-on-the-cob stand always asks us, ‘How’s business?’ We always answer, ‘It’s picking up.’ He likes that.”

“We also make jokes about having to pick up the cigarette butts,” said McKenna Dahlinger, 14. “We call them Little Nasties.”

At the Courtyard Stage, a handful of older couples dance in the partial darkness to the Moonlight Swing Orchestra.

Tammi Schoenbachler, superintendent in the dairy barn, asks her son Blake, 16, to go buy her a bacon burger. She hasn’t had a minute for supper.

“Wash your hands, please,” she said.

9:30 p.m.

It’s change-over time.

The 4-H rabbits, chickens and dogs have gone home, but more animals that will compete in the open class are about to arrive. A crew of men cleans cages, putting down clean straw. They work fast.

Alyssa Stenchever, a 4-H mom and an open class participant, sets up a banner and display of rabbits of various varieties.

At Faithful Farm Rabbits near Sultan, she and her family raise rabbits for meat.

“My daughter Shay does the killing. I do the butchering. She looks at it scientifically,” Stenchever said. Sure enough, Shay’s 4-H display board nearby includes rabbit skulls and a report about the misalignment of rabbit teeth.

Few fair-goers are still hanging around in the barns out back.

Beef cattle owners take the opportunity to exercise the animals in their show arena. The calves want to play, but the older cattle want to be left alone to walk in circles.

In the quiet, cavernous horse arena, the intermediate 4-H equestrians, mostly girls, sit in the bleachers receiving instructions for the next few days. It’s a lot of work to have an animal at the fair.

10:07 p.m.

The carnival is still open, but the rest of the fair is closed.

Olivia Russell, 16, a member of the Stanwood High School FFA, makes the 11-minute walk between the horse barns — where she is showing a formerly wild mustang — and the dairy cow barn where her Jersey calf Aubree is spending a last night at the fair.

Olivia’s boots, new at the start of August, are worn. As she walks through the food court, where people are counting money and turning off lights, Olivia rubs her stomach.

“I did eat, right?” she said aloud to herself.

In the dairy barn, Aubree is munching alfalfa, and the Holstein next to her wants some. Olivia works to separate the cows, shaking her head as she picks up a pitchfork to scoop their manure.

It’s time now for the 4-H kids in the other side of the barn to end their card game and head for home or family trailers on the fairgrounds.

Andrew Bartelheimer, 12, a fifth-generation Snohomish County dairy farmer, said he is ready to sleep.

“We were up early to muck out the barn and wash the cows,” Andrew said. “We spent most of the day in competition. It’s been a crazy day.”

During the course of its annual run, the fair becomes a small city, with nearly 2,000 people spending nights at the fairgrounds, said Snohomish County parks director Tom Teigen.

Olivia heads to her grandparents’ camper, where the lights are already off.

11:05 p.m.

Carnival employee Christopher Chesser, 21, from Sacramento, Calif., is shutting down the Zipper ride. He’s worked for Butler Amusements for about three years.

Chesser kills the lights, bleeds the air compressor and sets the Zipper in a T position so nobody climbs on it in the middle of the night.

“This Zipper is 13 years old,” Chesser said. “It weighs about 35,000 pounds, can hold up to two dozen adults and rotate at about 25 mph. I love this ride.”

The carnival folks have the shut-off maneuvers down pat. The area is cleared quickly. Many head for the fairground bunk house to shower or socialize.

“We sit around and tell funny stories from the day or work out our issues,” he said. “It’s the end of a 12-hour shift.”

Sean Fullen, 24, of Warm Beach, is the only guy still in the food court. He works for his dad at DJ’s Barbecue.

His assignment is to smoke an entire hog for tomorrow’s pulled-pork sandwiches.

“I keep the coffee going all night,” Fullen said.

Midnight

Back at the dairy barn, the night herdswoman is on duty.

Marissa Levi, 20, is a veterinary technician student. She has raised cows most of her life.

When she isn’t cleaning up manure, she patrols the stalls, plays a computer game and dances to the music playing in the barn.

“I just want to stay awake,” Levi said. “And the cows do, too. On the first night of the fair, most of them stood all night. After a few nights, most of them are lying down.”

Outside, the rain is falling on an otherwise silent fairgrounds.

6 a.m.

A parking attendant shivers in the drizzle. Drivers arriving early include vendors looking for parking spaces close to the entrance.

Inside, truck delivery men unload more bags of Walla Walla sweet onions, as well as sacks of sugar and canisters of propane. The cooking begins and the farm kids buy breakfast sandwiches or scones.

Pilchuck Veterinary Hospital staff check out the open-class goats and dairy cows as they arrive in trailers pulled by pickup trucks.

The vets look for signs of ringworm, warts and other contagious health problems.

Andrew Bartelheimer and his brother Declan, 10, load in fresh straw bedding for their cows. Then they settle in on an old couch their mother has brought out for the remaining days of the fair.

7:15 a.m.

Over at the horse barn, Olivia Russell, the Stanwood FFA teen, digs out the stall of her horse, Melody.

The wild mustang was captured a year ago in Eastern Oregon by the Bureau of Land Management. In May, Olivia was one of five young equestrians in Snohomish County to take on the challenge of training a wild mustang in just 100 days. Through the Mustang Yearlings-Washington Youth organization, the Russell family opted to adopt Melody, paying just $25 for the horse.

“We fell in love with her, so it was impossible to put her up for auction, which is what happens to most of the other mustangs,” Olivia said. “Once Melody let me touch her, it was full speed ahead.”

8:10 a.m.

A celebrity arrives at the dairy barn.

This is Porcelain’s 17th and final fair.

There’s something regal about the retired milk cow as she steps from her trailer, despite being on in years and weighing 2,000 pounds.

Her owner, Jodi Johannsen McKay, 32, has been showing Porcelain at the fair since the Holstein was just a 5-month-old calf. Owner and cow have earned their share of blue ribbons at the Monroe fair, where Porcelain’s longevity is considered a marvel and an attraction. Most herd milk cows don’t live much past 8 years, said McKay’s mom, Elaine Johannsen, 59, of the Fern Bluff Holsteins farm.

“Hi, honey,” said Dr. Liana Wiegel, as the vet checked in the cow’s ears. “You are a well-aged lady.”

Calm, patient and social, Porcelain loves people, Johannsen said.

“It’s going to be a great day at the fair,” Johannsen said. “Porcelain’s fans will be arriving soon.”

Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; gfiege@heraldnet.com.

Last weekend

The Evergreen State Fair continues today until 10 p.m., with the carnival closing at 11 p.m. The final day, Labor Day, the fair is open until 7 p.m. The fairgrounds are located off U.S. 2 in Monroe. For more information, go to www.evergreenfair.org.

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