Tom Rhoades, who became the Topsham Fairgrounds’ pulling ring superintendent in 1978, holds a 1980 fair program that honored his late father, Guy. Alex Lear / The Forecaster

TOPSHAM — The placard has hung for many years in the eaves of the Topsham Fairgrounds pulling ring, commemorating the half-century of service of Guy Rhoades.

Tom Rhoades with a placard at the Topsham Fairgrounds that honors the work by him and his father, Guy Rhoades. It hangs in the fairgrounds’ pulling ring. Alex Lear / The Forecaster

This year it will be joined by another, marking more than 100 years that Guy and his son, Tom Rhoades, together managed the ring, along with other functions around the grounds.

“As a kid I used to come down with him,” Tom Rhoades, now 72, recalled about his father in an Aug. 2 interview at the ring. He was about 15 at the time, and enjoyed helping out his dad, and being around the horses and oxen involved in the pulling events.

“I liked the animals; I never had any myself,” the Topsham resident said.

The pulling ring has hummed with activity each day during this week’s 165th Topsham Fair, which concludes Sunday, Aug. 11. Pulling events are offered Friday at 8:30 a.m., and 1, 3 and 7 p.m.; Saturday at 9 a.m., and 1, 3, and 6:30 p.m. A draft horse and pony show will be held Sunday at 10 a.m., and a full schedule is available at topshamfair.net.

According to the 1980 booklet for the 126th fair – dedicated to then-74-year-old Guy Rhoades – he started at the fair in 1927, working first in the cattle barns and then, in 1932, the pulling ring.

He was elected superintendent of livestock and pulling in 1964, and passed the position along to his son in 1978.

“I liked doing it,” Tom Rhoades said. “There was nobody (else) really interested in taking over the department.”

Aside from several years when he was caring for his late first wife, he’s been at the helm of the ring ever since. His second wife, Joan, “is right with me every day,” he said. “We take care of the grounds, we do all the mowing (and) we do a lot of painting.”

Rhoades credited his “wonderful crew” as one reason he’s remained involved all these years. When he was recently injured, they came by early Aug. 4 to ensure the ring would be ready for the busy fair week.

“I do a little bit of everything around here,” said Rhoades, who along with being a groundskeeper and maintenance man also runs the fairgrounds’ April-October camping program. “Anything that they need done during the summer, I’m here.”

Rhoades receives a small stipend for his work – “I think if you worked it out it would be about 10 cents an hour, if even that,” he said – and is at the fairgrounds seven days a week during the camping months. He takes a week off each September to help out at the Cumberland Fair.

“I’ve got to slow down,” he admitted. But if he can get more help, he may stay on as superintendent a little longer, he said.

Guy Rhoades, right, in the Topsham Fairgrounds pulling ring in this photo from the fair’s 1980 program cover.

As ring superintendent, Rhoades is in charge of the whole operation. “I’m responsible to the state, to make sure everything is run right. I have to be licensed … I have to at least have two (assistants) that are licensed,” he said.

Along with being used during the fair, the pulling ring will soon afterward be used for the annual Maine Highland Games & Scottish Festival sheep show, on Saturday, Aug. 17.

His “do whatever’s asked” approach was reflected in his career with Downeast Energy, too. Rhoades delivered oil and lumber, was an oil burner technician, and even dressed up as the company’s puffin mascot for more than 25 years.

Having attended nearly 60 years’ worth of Topsham Fairs, Rhoades recalled the event being held each October and sometimes experiencing snow. It was moved to August to boost participation, he said.

Demolition derbies, truck pulls and mud runs have been added in recent years. The event has done particularly well the past decade, he noted, attributing that to “the hard work of the directors.”

But the connection to Maine’s agricultural heritage is the aspect of the fair Rhoades’ values most.

“I love to see the big horses pull, and the big cattle,” he said, pointing to a mound of 400-pound blocks, all of which he’s seen a pair of horses haul across the 100-foot ring in one pull.

That ring is the same one where his father worked 90 years ago, and although his father died two decades ago, Rhoades said he still occasionally feels him in the space.

“Sometimes I sit back and say ‘Dad, what’re you gonna do?,” he said with a laugh.


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