Chasing the pig

By Daniel Dunkle | Aug 25, 2016
Photo by: Daniel Dunkle A child participates in the pig scramble at Union Fair.

When I was a cub reporter, my first beat was the SAD 40 school district towns including, of course, Union, so early on I ended up covering the Union Fair.

I had grown up in Hampden, up by the sprawling metropolis of Bangor, and had been educated at the University of Maine in Orono, so my experience with fairs previous to coming to the Midcoast was the Bangor State Fair. Back in the day, my friend Shawn from across the street and I would go to the Bangor State Fair in order to ride the rides, play the games and eat fair food. In one particularly disappointing year, I paid good money to see the world's largest bull. We went into a tent where everyone silently looked at the great black beast as it sat with flies buzzing about it, pondering what they might have done differently with their dollar.

This in no way prepared me for Union Fair.

The way I look at it now, I grew up in Diet Maine. When we used to hear the people on the car commercials talking in their Maine accents, I would shake my head and say, "We don't sound like that." Then I moved to Rockland and realized, "I guess maybe we do."

The first time I covered Union Fair I had been given a list of events by my editors. One was an arm-wrestling competition. As a fan of the ridiculous Sylvester Stallone movie from the '80s, "Over The Top," I was all for it. I burned through several rolls of film to make sure I got the perfect shot for perfectionist Sports Editor (now Hall of Famer) Ken Waltz. It was what you would expect ... a lot of wiry guys in plaid shirts straining against beefy guys in checked shirts. There were also women competing, if memory serves, and I would not have taken any of them on, lest my pencil-pushing arms be broken.

Then came the He-Man competition. The guys involved signed up for punishment including moving a whole cord of wood, carrying massive weights and lifting a boulder up and down onto the tops of barrels (I haven't kept up, so I don't know how it has changed over the years. I see there is also a She-Man competition this year).

The thing I remember from my early years covering the event is that you would get two kinds of competitors -- guys who actually worked on farms or in hard labor fields and guys who had sculpted their muscles in a gym and thought they were tough. By the end of it, the gym guys were the ones being hauled away by medics or puking.

There were horse pulls and other events that we never watched at the Bangor State Fair. It has remained fascinating to get a chance to look at all the farm animals.

But the event that has always been my favorite since that first year has to be the pig scramble.

Here they set a bunch of young pigs loose in the dirt ring (and mind you, not all of it is dirt after a day of horse pulls and animal shows, if you know what I mean) and they have small children chase them.

The goal for the child, age 7 to 9, is to catch a pig and stick it in a burlap sack.

My first year I innocently approached someone in the know and asked what seemed to me the obvious question: "What do they win if they catch the pig?"

The person I asked seemed fairly unimpressed. "The pig," was the answer.

It had never occurred to me before that moment that anyone would want a pig unless it had been properly butchered, seasoned and fried up with eggs.

When I read "Charlotte's Web" to my daughter, Samantha, in recent years, all of that seemed much clearer.

This past weekend I got to relive all of the glory watching the pig scramble with my children. Samantha actually stood in line to compete, but was not allowed, because she is too old. That probably saved me a lengthy argument about whether or not we were keeping a pig.

The event this year had a group of 15 cute spotted pigs and 18 children chasing them. Some of the kids were barely bigger than the pigs themselves.

I have to say, I respect the pigs. They are not conflicted about their objective in this situation, and they are determined not to go into those bags. They will run away and squeal and squirm all the way. Their human competitors are a bit more disorganized and indecisive. Some of the kids will chase the pigs, stop, look around and then chase some more.

It is a bit painful to watch them yanking on the pig's legs. Generally the deal is to get hold of one of the pig's legs, lift it up and drop it in the bag, then close the bag up before it can get back out. By the end a few of the pigs are limping around, but they keep going.

Not a lot has changed at the Union Fair. I did notice that some of the youngsters minding their pigs and cows and sheep were sitting in the pens in folding chairs working their thumbs over their cell phones. But there were still a great many running around, laughing with their friends, throwing darts at balloons and making themselves sick on fair food and spinning rides.

We did it up proper and on the drive home Samantha said, "I want a pet!"

Of course she does. She's a kid and this isn't Diet Maine.

Daniel Dunkle is news director for Courier Publications. He lives in Rockland with his wife, Christine, and two children. Check out his blog, Scattered Clippings, at knox.villagesoup.com and email him at ddunkle@villagesoup.com.

Comments (1)
Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Sep 01, 2016 17:10

Love to read of the pig chase at the Annual Union Fair. It made me remember my twins as they tried to catch and bag the pig, to no avail and then they got together with one bag and while one twin held open the bag the other twin pushed the pig in. Success! Our farm welcomed the Pig in Hope!

Mary "Mickey" (Brown) McKeever



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