Heath Fairs pulls out all the stops
A participant in the Heath Fair parade laughs in reaction to a spectator on Sunday at the town fairgrounds. Recorder/Micky Bedell Purchase photo reprints »
A tractor pull contestant pops a wheelie at the Heath Fair, held at the Heath Fairgrounds Saturday. Recorder/Tom Relihan Purchase photo reprints »
Ben Eastman of Colrain looks on as his son Travis particpates in a tractor pull event at the Heath Fair on Saturday, held at the Heath Fairgrounds. Recorder/Tom Relihan Purchase photo reprints »
Shirley Dutenu, Roger and Janice Homes enjoy lunch during the Heath Fair on Sunday at the town fairgrounds. Recorder/Micky Bedell Purchase photo reprints »
The Gaslight Tinkers perform in the music tent at the Heath Fair on Sunday, drawing in a full crowd of spectators. Recorder/Micky Bedell Purchase photo reprints »
HEATH — As the green flag came down with a swish of air, 8-year-old Travis Eastman, of Colrain, gunned the engine of his green Cub Cadet tractor and the concrete-block covered sled hitched to the back of it lurched forward.
As his tractor crossed a line of green chalk drawn in the dirt, the crowd, which included many of his relatives who had lined up to cheer him on, erupted with applause.
“That’s a full pull!” boomed the announcer’s voice.
Travis had just completed another round in Saturday’s Kids Garden Tractor Pull event at the 97th annual Heath Fair during the weekend at the Heath Fairgrounds. The event drew a crowd from all over western Massachusetts and offered food, games, vendors selling various arts and crafts and plenty of friendly competition.
Further down the track,Travis’ father, Ben Eastman, watched as his daughter, Emily, pulled her 1969 Massy-Ferguson tractor up to the slab-covered sled and pushed it to the limit. Another full pull.
Eastman said the sport’s goal is to tweak the engine of a regular garden tractor enough to give it the strength to pull the cinder blocks 25 feet. Each block weighs about 35 pounds, and between five and 10 blocks are added each round. If the tractor stops at any point, whether it loses traction or the weight is too much, the pull is over.
“It’s a balancing act between power and traction,” said Eastman. “If the tires are too aggressive, they might just spin. You want them kind of soft, so they lay out across the track.”
Eastman, who has lived in Colrain for his entire life, said his children first became interested in the sport of tractor pulling after they saw a Southern Vermont Children’s Tractor Pulling event two years ago.
“I saw many pulls up here when I was a kid, but things didn’t work out for me to be able to get into it,” said Eastman, who became partially paralyzed after being involved in a serious motorcycle accident eight years ago and uses a wheelchair to get around. “My kids wanted to get involved, so we just took the opportunity.”
He noted that Travis and Emily usually finish in the top four of their division.
Besides the tractor pulls and shows, two aspects of the annual festival are always a crowd pleaser: food and music.
Those two attractions were combined under a large, green and white tent just after noon, when festival-goers grabbed their fried dough, Italian sausages or fresh blueberry pie and snacked away while they enjoyed a performance from The Boxcar Lilies, a local folk, country and bluegrass band who recently played at the Green River Festival in Greenfield.
Nearby, Sarah Hettlinger, owner of the Heath-based company Bald Mountain Pottery, laid out a collection of multicolored bowls and other pieces of handmade pottery under a small tent. She said these types of fairs are a great place to be a vendor, and being a local resident with a reputation has helped drum up her sales.
“For me, it’s excellent. People here know me and are happy to see me have an outlet here,” said Hettlinger, noting that she’s been working out of her house since Tropical Storm Irene flooded her Shelburne Falls store in 2011. “I bet about 80 percent of Franklin County eats cereal out of my bowls!”
And, as with any fair where farming is a major theme, animals were a big hit, too.
“My family goes to this every year,” said Pippin Paulson, 11, as she stroked the snout of a small cow at a petting area near the fair’s entrance. “The cows are my favorite part.”
Further down the field, visitors either sat in wooden bleachers or hung along a chain link fence as they watched massive horses in teams of two pull thousands of pounds of concrete bricks, prodded on by their trainers in the Horse Draw event.
Gabriel Lapollo of Northfield said he came to the fair specifically for that event. He said he’d been coming since he was a child growing up in nearby Colrain.
“We come here so we can watch the horse pulls,” he said, pointing out teams that had done particularly well. “It’s impressive how as soon as they drop the hitch on that pin, the horses just take off. There’s no delay.”
Another horse draw spectator, Claude Sirois of Quebec, Canada, was at the fair as part of a visit with his family, and noted that he would have liked to have seen even more animals. He said he has attended the fair every year for the past two decades.
“I spend all my money here!” he said.
And there were even a few carnival-style thrill rides for visitors who felt like going for a spin.
Kirsten Richardson of Greenfield and her 21/2-year-old son Jake, stepped off of one of the rides, clearly a bit dizzy, as her husband Rob looked on from the side.
“I’m a little dizzy, a bit sick to my stomach,” she noted. “But we’re just up here taking our son to see the animals. We’ve never been before, and we wanted to come to small-town country fair like this.”
“It’s our first time, but so far it’s great,” said Rob. “Lots of good food choices and games.”