Traditions, family activities keep the crowds coming to Sandwich Fair
By Linda Girardi For Sun-Times Media September 5, 2013 7:28PM
People line up for their favorite eclairs during the 126th running of the Sandwich Fair on Thursday. | Linda Girardi~For Sun-Times Media
When: The fair runs through Sept. 8
Where: 15738 Pratt Road, Sandwich
How much: Tickets, $5-$9
Updated: October 7, 2013 1:27PM
In an era where other county fairs sometimes struggle to keep the crowds coming, the Sandwich Fair packs them in by the thousands.
The fair, formally known as the DeKalb County Fair, runs through Sunday in Sandwich.
The fair is the oldest continuous county fair in the state, and there is a reason for that, organizers said — its traditions and unique features just make the event stand out.
The drivers seated low in their sulkies made a traditional pre-race parade in front of the Grandstand packed with cheering fans at the Sandwich Fair on Thursday.
The harness racing is the oldest entertainment at the county fair, marking its 126th year of bringing a variety of attractions stretching across 182 acres of wooded grounds.
“When I get a horse breathing down my neck it sends shivers down my spine,” said Gabe Wand, of Platteville, Wis.
After twice around the half-mile track, Wand guided his horse swiftly back into the horse barn, where her hooves made a rhythmic sound against the concrete floor.
Oinkers, a 3-year-old standard bred, was given a well-deserved drink of cold water from a super-sized pail and cold shower from a garden hose.
Wand, 33, who has raced at the Sandwich Fair for the last couple of years, described harness racing as a down-to-earth sport because it is accessible to more people.
Wand managed to get second place in one of Thursday afternoon’s races despite a flat tire.
“The driver behind us got a little too close and his horse’s front foot popped my tire,” he said.
Wand said his horse will be rewarded with lots of tender loving care and a couple of days off. At top speeds around the Sandwich Fair track, once known for having a wooded center, the horses raced at speeds of about 30 mph.
“You’re a real good baby girl,” Wand said, as he removed her harness from inside her stall. He said drivers are required to pass a series of tests and have six licensed trainers sign off to vouch for them.
“The thrill of the competition is the biggest thing, the competitors will actually put their horse’s nose on the back of your neck, but that’s racing, that’s what I love about it,” he said.
Wand said it’s also gratifying to hear the fans in the stands.
“When you have two horses coming to the wire together everybody is rooting for their favorite one. A lot of times your fans are in the Grandstand,” he said.
The fans said it’s exciting to watch the beauty and strength of the racing horses.
“At one time the harness racing was the main attraction of the fair, it is quite educational to see,” said Suzanne Heegaard, of Sycamore.
Another tradition people flock to get their hands on are the Sandwich Fair souvenirs sold from the eight-sided gazebo built to resemble a structure on the grounds in 1888.
This year’s stoneware collectible soup bowl sold out by late Thursday morning.
“People love to have a collectible from their beloved fair to pass down to generations,” said Sue Hohenberger, of Leland.
Organizers said the “oldest and continuous” fair is all about family and friendships, then trying to win an esteemed ribbon in livestock, culinary and horticultural contests in the exhibit buildings.
“We call this our homecoming time of the year,” said Larry Dannewitz, president of the Sandwich Fair Association.
Dannewitz said the fair this year was missing the late Ron Wallis, of Sandwich, who died earlier this year.
“Ron was one of the greatest ambassadors of the Sandwich Fair,” Dannewitz said.
Dannewitz said an estimated 28,000 exhibitors submitted entries for this year’s blue ribbon contests.
He said the wooded grounds and the time of year that the fair is held have contributed to its longevity.
“Our predecessors who started the fair did a good job in building around the trees,” Dannewitz said. “The only problem is there isn’t a square building around. Everything is built around the trees.”