SANDWICH – Anne Hilliard had never heard of a fair when she moved from Chicago to Sandwich as a teenager.
Decades later, the Sandwich Fair – one of Illinois' largest – has helped to shape her life.
"I didn't even know what a fair was, but our church had a booth [at the fair] and I volunteered for all the available hours," Hilliard, now in her 50s, said. "A few years ago I was thinking about what do I want to do when I retire. The first thing that popped in my head was that I would go to the fair every day."
Decades after she first volunteered in the church booth, Hilliard still gets excited about the fair. She spent 25 years as a lock-and-key collection exhibitor and nine years running as the collections exhibits superintendent.
She's one of hundred of thousands of fairgoers who are expected to take part in the 126th Sandwich Fair that runs Wednesday to Sunday at the historic, 181-acre Sandwich Fairgrounds where about 400 vendors, roughly 28,000 exhibitors, as well as dozens of musicians, entertainers and tractor-pullers will be on hand.
"I always like to say that there's something to do out here for almost everyone," fair Secretary Nancy Rex said. "We have the largest number of competitive entries for any county fair in the state of Illinois, from dairy cows to rabbits to swine to photographs to apple pies to artwork and collections."
Rex said that although the format of the fair never really changes, the experience is never the same. She said organizers expect between 170,000 and 180,000 people to attend the fair during its five-day run if the weather is good.
"The Sandwich Fair is always new every year," she said. "We have many traditional things that come back year after year, and we try to add new vendors and new musical entertainment. ... A lot of the folks from the Chicago suburban areas enjoy a day in the country at an old-fashioned country fair."
General admission for the fair costs $9, but it's $5 for children between 5 and 12. Children younger than 5 are free.
At 7 p.m. Wednesday, fairgoers can enjoy a free concert by the Neverly Brothers at the grandstand.
Harness racing kicks off in the grandstand area at 11 a.m. Wednesday, and truck pulls start Thursday at 6:30 p.m. Country singer Chris Cagle takes the stage at 7 p.m. Friday, and tractor pulls take the stage Saturday evening. Those grandstand events cost extra.
The Sandwich Auto Show and a pair of demolition derbies are scheduled for Sunday before the fair wraps up at 6 p.m.
During the week there are myriad activities and performances planned.
The annual fiddle contest is set for 4 p.m. Wednesday on the Ag Land stage. The longrunning event provides fiddlers with a free, public outlet for the work that they've put in.
"We seem really fortunate," said Jan Lewis, longtime superintendent of the fiddle contest. "I heard that the state fair only had a few entries this year, and we always have many participants, and the audience participation is great."
Hilliard will be at the collections building showing off the collections exhibits, which range from antique and brand collections to the latest fad: nature collections.
"People are finding ways to collect spider webs," Hilliard said. "It's pretty stunning when you see a spider web on a blackboard."
The western horse show runs all day Wednesday in the livestock area, and of course carnival rides will be open all four days with wrist bands available for purchase.
Sandwich Mayor Rick Olson says his community has been preparing for this week for months.
"It's really an exciting time for Sandwich, because it puts us on the map," he said. "You talk to people in other states and they say, 'Oh, you guys have the fair.' "
Wednesday: Harness Racing, 11 a.m.; Fiddle Contest, 6 p.m.; Neverly Brothers, 7 p.m.
Thursday: Harness Racing, 11 a.m.; Truck Pulls, 6:30 p.m.
Friday: Chocolate Lover's Culinary Competition, 11 a.m.; Country singer Chris Cagle, 7 p.m.
Saturday: Tractor pulls, 12:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.; Outlaw showdown, 2 p.m.
Sunday: Sandwich Auto Show, 10 a.m.; Demolition Derby, 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.