CUMBERLAND — Most of the time Amber Ferris of Peru is a soft-spoken 15-year-old with a gentle grin.

But put her inside a pulling arena and Amber transforms into a screeching, howling taskmaster who brandishes a stick to goad her team of 3-year-old Durham steers into dragging 2,200 pounds of concrete as far as they can in three minutes.

“It is fun to see what you can do with your steers,” said Amber, a sophomore at Dirigo High School in Dixfield.

Amber and her team are competing in several of the dozens of pulling events taking place at the 143rd edition of the Cumberland County Fair, which will continue daily at the 197 Blanchard Road fairgrounds through Sept. 27. Other pulling events at the fair this week feature oxen, horses and ponies.

The fair’s pulling events have been drawing a growing pool of competitors in recent years, said Tammy Sawyer of Falmouth, who shared announcing duties with her mother, Marlene Robinson, also of Falmouth, before an enthusiastic crowd at the pulling arena Sunday. This year’s competitors come from across New England. Many of those who compete in Cumberland will go on to the Fryeburg Fair Sept. 28 through Oct. 5, said Sawyer.

Raising pulling steers takes a special passion. Not only is feeding and housing a team of steers expensive – Amber estimated her steers eat $4,000 worth of grain a year – it takes daily workouts with the team to get to be any good.

Russell Hine of Livermore Falls was driving a team of 2-year-old Hereford Chianinas, James and Roscoe, Sunday morning.

Hine and his wife, Rachael, own 10 pulling steers. The couple walk each team a mile through the woods every day after they get home from work.

“It takes hours and hours,” said Hine.

Amber learned her steer-driving skills from her grandfather, David Gammon of Peru, who passed them down to her from a long line of farmers.

“It started out in the old days with logging. My family has done it forever, but now I am the only one left doing it,” said Amber.

Amber said her steers, Dan and Duke, are just like any other pets, only bigger.

“Dan is calm. He is the baby. Duke is the hyper one,” she said.

Amber said her hobby can be difficult to describe to her friends and sometimes she just has to bring them to one of the dozen fairs she competes in each year.

“It can take some explaining,” she said.

Amber stood out among the 11 competitors participating Sunday in the distance pull for a team of steers weighing 1,700 pounds-and-under. She was one of only two teenagers in a field of otherwise middle-aged men and the only female.

Amber said that didn’t rattle her.

“At first they question you,” she said.

But once the competition starts, she said, age differences seem to no longer matter.

At the end of the pull, Amber’s team had come in sixth at 292 feet and 6 inches. Hine, who Amber predicted earlier was the one to beat, took home the blue ribbon at 497 feet.

Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: bquimby