SANDWICH – For John Hallaron, the Sandwich Fair never really ends.
Hallaron, the fair’s superintendent of concessions and displays, even skipped his 50th high school reunion last year so he could focus on helping to put together one of Illinois’ largest county fairs.
“I told them it takes me all year to do this,” he said. “I wrote them a letter saying, ‘I’d like to be there, and any other time of the year I would.’ ”
Hallaron was in his office at the fairgrounds Wednesday, taking in the sights, smells and sounds of the fair. For him, the reward is the experience the fair will create for an expected 160,000 to 180,000 visitors this week.
The 126th Sandwich Fair runs through Sunday at the Sandwich Fairgrounds off Suydam Road on the western edge of Sandwich. Organizers expect good weather to bring in a massive crowd to see the 28,000 exhibits, about 300 food vendors, carnival rides, music and competitions.
“I always like to say that the Sandwich Fair has something for almost everyone to enjoy,” fair secretary Nancy Rex said. “We usually have the most competitive exhibits of any county fair. ... Attendance-wise, we’re usually one of the top three or four in the state.”
Scott Milnes of Morrison was feeding and cleaning his family’s six dairy cows to prepare them for showing. The Milneses took the top trophy among all dairy cows Aug. 14 at the Whiteside County Fair. They’ve been coming to the Sandwich Fair since 2007.
“We heard a lot of great things about [the Sandwich Fair],” Milnes said. “It’s a great show, they pay very well, and you come here to see the sights.”
Rose Spears and her daughter, Cherese, both of Yorkville, have been to every fair since Cherese was a baby. They used to compete among the collections and antiques exhibitors, but now they just come for the ambience, the fair food and the horse shows.
“Usually, we’ll come about three times [a year], but it just depends – usually the first day and then again on the weekend,” Cherese Spears said. “... It’s a tradition.”
Admission to the fair costs $9 for adults. Children between ages 5 and 12 are $5, and children younger than 5 are free. Parking and most entertainment is free, but grandstand events cost extra.
The grandstand will be home to harness racing and truck pulls today, country singers Chris Cagle and Dustin Lynch on Friday night and tractor pulls most of the day Saturday. On Sunday afternoon, a pair of demolition derbies take over the infield before the fair ends at 6 p.m. That’s when Halloran starts all over again.
“We’re on a downhill slide right now, and Sunday we’re at the bottom of the hill,” he said. “I’ll probably wait two weeks and then start climbing the hill again.”
Livestock shows, carnival rides, demonstrations, competitions and other free performances will continue through Sunday.
Sandwich native Mark Johnson has been judging sheep competitions at various fairs for 25 years and will be judging the junior sheep this week. He said judges are not only looking for healthy animals, but also comparing them to breed standards.
“If you have a Dalmatian, it better be white with black spots or it’s not a very good Dalmatian, and sheep are the same way,” he said. “Sheep are supposed to have certain identifying characteristics.”
Rex said fair organizers are depending on good weather over the fair’s five days to bring visitors from the Chicago suburbs and the northern Illinois area.
“It’s an agricultural fair, and we’re kind of like the farmers,” Rex said. “We’re very dependent on the weather, and even the threat of unpleasant weather keeps people away.”
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.