WEEDSPORT — Moms toting toddlers, guys running rides, and just about everyone else gave the same answer when asked what the best thing was about the Weedsport Firemen’s Field Days.
The faces of happy, smiling children.
“I was nervous, I’m a bit overprotective, but I’m happy,” said Sabrena Hawker, whose 4-year-old daughter, Rosabelle, had just disembarked from a ride called the “Clatterpillar,” a brightly-colored, child-sized rollercoaster of sorts.
Rosabelle had sat next to 7-year-old Willow Piston, whose mother, Heather, said she was happy as well.
“I love it,” Heather said. “I love that she’s having fun.”
Weedsport Fire Department members and officials who were queried had differing thoughts on when the fair started, with some guessing around 1934 and others suggesting the mid-1950s. The Field Days event, held at the Cayuga County Fairgrounds beside NY 31 at Towpath Road, has been a fund-raising mainstay for the Fire Department, but also has helped as a tool for recruiting sorely needed volunteers.
“Some people have come for the field days and ended up thinking that volunteering would be good to do,” said 2nd Assistant Chief Tommy Young, acknowledging that his department, like others across the country, have seen their memberships wane.
For fire department members who manned some of the booths Saturday, helping out was at least as much fun as attending.
Attendance for this year had not been tabulated as of Saturday afternoon, but Young said the crowds usually run between two and three thousand for the entire three-day event.
“I like the camaraderie, it’s very community oriented,” said firefighter Cassandra Weeks from behind the counter of the “Pull Tab Booth” – what used to be called the “gambling booth,” where tickets similar to scratch-offs can be purchased for $1 each, their pulled tabs revealing how much of a prize was won.
A couple with a fistful of tabs came to cash out. Their $80 investment returned a winning of $1, but they didn’t seem to mind, noting that the game’s proceeds go to the fire department.
Back at the Clatterpillar ride, operator Paul Frederick, recently relocated to Weedsport, led children into their seats for the next ride, and said that so far he was greatly enjoying the work.
“I love it,” he said. “Kids’ emotions are just so genuine and so raw, they just keep smiling every single day.”
Over near the fried dough booth, Angela Mosson, of Syracuse, clutched a menagerie of stuffed swag earned at the fishing pole contest.
“We got these because we were so good at our skills,” she said, referring to the two blue unicorns, blue owl, pink frog and other favors. Mosson, her friend David Kinney, of Weedsport, and 5-year-old Pharah.
At the hoop shooting concession Tommy Lee Stevens, 12, tried a few shots as did his brother, 9-year-old Matthew, but without positive results. Their father, Tom Stevens, took a crack at getting the ball into a basketball hoop but didn’t do better, even after shifting spots to allow for a gusty west wind that he thought might be harming his chances.
“We did win some things,” Matthew said, displaying a small stuffed tiger. Tommy Lee showed off a stuffed shark of similar size, and then the trio headed for a food concession.
Derek Burrow, the hoop attendant, said he had awarded two of the giant-sized prizes – pandas and other animals – on Friday.
“Yes, people win,” he said. “That’s good because then they are happy and get to go home with something nice.”
The company Burrow works for, Wheelock rides, hauls its rides and attractions to fair sites within a 200 mile radius of Syracuse, and has provided the entertainment for the Weedsport field days for more years than anyone remembers.
Allison Wheelock, the youngest of three Wheelock generations keeping things running smoothly, said she sees the same people year after year at Weedsport, and loves how she has witnessed them growing from being young children to teens and then adults.
“It’s what I love best about all this,” she said. “Seeing their faces.”