SKOWHEGAN — The Ferris wheel is back. So is the beano tent.

That’s the word this year from the 193rd annual Skowhegan State Fair, which begins Thursday and runs through Aug. 20.

Farming and livestock displays; tractor, horse, oxen and truck pulling events; harness racing; demolition derbies; three new midway rides; live music; and new shows featuring Franzen tigers and elephants all will highlight the longest continuously operating agricultural fair in the country, says fair vice-president Melvin Blaisdell.

Opening the fair on Thursday will be a special Tribute to the Troops concert on the grandstand stage. Activities are set to begin at 5 p.m., with live music by Mark Knight, Bad Penny and Emerald Sky at 7 p.m. There will be a parade with motorcycles, an honor guard and bagpipes.

A fireworks display from the area of the Russell Road gate will round off the tribute, according to Blaisdell.

On the midway, presented again this year by Fiesta Shows of Seabrook, N.H., there are new rides including the formidable Vertigo, Blaisdell said.

“It’s 92 feet high and then it swings after you get up there — it hauls you up 92 feet then swings around, twirls around,” he said. “It’s a brand new one he just bought.”

Gene Dean, chief executive officer and president of Fiesta Shows, said Vertigo is a thrill a minute.

“It’s very exciting; it’s the newest thing on the market,” Dean said. “It’s been well-received and doing a tremendous business.”

The Ferris wheel, which wasn’t at last year’s fair to the dismay of many fair-goers, will also return to the midway, he said.

Blaisdell said the beano tent, which also was absent last year due to a scheduling glitch, also will return.

A new children’s park with a landscaped water fountain, a wooden gazebo, adult- and child-size picnic tables, a stage and kiddie rides also will greet families this year, Blaisdell said. The park will feature shows including the Magic of Conjuring Carroll, three bicycle giveaways, face painting and balloon twisting with Wingnut the Clown, fair officer manager Becky Turner said.

Turner said the Franzen tiger show and the Franzen elephant show will be separate shows each day at the fair. There also will be elephant rides.

Blaisdell said the handlers of a giraffe show two years ago were forced to discontinue displaying the animals. An animal welfare group challenged the feeding of the long-neck creatures, saying it hurt the animals if people fed them from the ground, he said.

There also will be a Battle of the Bands at 8 p.m. Sunday, featuring four rock bands. The event is sponsored by MaineXtreme Radio.com. an online radio station featuring Chris Rush.

“There are three demolition derbies and two truck pulls and harness racing four days and three nights,” Blaisdell said.

There also will be pari-mutuel wagering for the harness racing, a pig scramble, Longaberger Basket displays and demonstrations, a whoopie pie contest, a women’s fry pan toss, 4-H competitions, arts and crafts exhibits, an antique power show, midway games of skill and chance and something new called the AG Olympics in the barn show ring on Aug. 16, with an obstacle course, hay-bale toss, egg relay and other events.

Blaisdell said the children’s petting zoo has been expanded this year to include exotic animals.

Food concessions throughout the fairgrounds will include blooming onions, Italian sausages, barbecued chicken and ribs and Stan’s French Fries, the official fries of the Skowhegan fair.

All events and stage shows are free with paid gate admission. Gates open at 7 a.m. daily. Gate admission is $4 with a $10 all-day ride bracelet on all fair days except Friday, Saturday and Sunday, when admission is $8 with a $14 all-day ride bracelet. Parking is an extra $4. Children under 5 get in free.

For more information on show times go to www.skowheganstatefair.com or call the fair office at 474-2947.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

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