TOWNSHEND -- After more than 60 years, Grace Cottage Fair Day runs like a well-oiled machine.
And that includes an army of volunteers, which makes Grace Cottage Hospital's "biggest day of the year" go off without a hitch. They handle a variety of duties including driving trucks, setting up booths and making ice cream.
And they don't require much prompting.
"It's uncanny," said Barb Barber, vice president of Grace Cottage Auxiliary, which puts on the fair. "We don't even call people. They just know the routine, and they show up."
This year's Fair Day kicks off at 9 a.m. Saturday on the Townshend Common and features an auction starting at 9:30 a.m., a "birthday" parade at 10 a.m., a chicken barbecue at 5 p.m. and a performance by the Grafton Band at 5:30 p.m.
Food booths include a new addition called "Munchies" featuring homemade treats. There are free pony rides for kids, and this year's "celebrity dunk" booth features four willing victims: Sgt. George Badgley of Windham County Sheriff's Department; Mick Brant, Grace Cottage Hospital chief executive officer; Jim Heal, director of pharmacy at Messenger Valley Pharmacy; and Dr. Robert Backus.
It's all to raise cash for Grace Cottage, situated a stone's throw away on Grafton Road. Jim Crozier, the hospital's facility manager, said Fair Day sends about $60,000 to Grace Cottage annually for projects large and small.
That's why volunteers like Don Hazelton show up
"That hospital is super," the Dummerston resident said. "So you want to give them anything you can."
Across the Common, the sound of a hard-working engine meant that a trio of volunteers -- Ray Sorrentino of Townshend, Dominic Tagariello of Williamsville and Charlie Dion of Townshend -- were making ice cream.
They do it the old-fashioned way, churning ingredients in a barrel with power from a two-horsepower engine that dates to 1916 and was used for years at Brattleboro Retreat.
They sell about 100 gallons of vanilla and chocolate ice cream at Fair Day, and the engine is part of the experience.
"It's been here forever," Tagariello said. "The noise of it, that's what brings people over here."
The ice cream engine is just one piece of Fair Day infrastructure that must be assembled on the Common. It doesn't happen overnight.
"It takes seven days to set up," Crozier said. "We start Friday night the week before."
As Crozier spoke Thursday morning, students from Kindle Farm School had just departed after erecting tents. Today will bring another flurry of activity as merchandise arrives for the fair's auction.
Barber puts it this way: "You name it, we get it." Auction inventory -- consisting of items donated year-round -- often includes furniture, art, tools, bicycles and machinery among other offerings.
"Usually, if we're lucky, we'll have a car," Crozier said. "This year, we'll have a Zodiac boat."
The auction and a long list of other activities draw several thousand people to the fair. Crozier said it's become a tradition that brings families and old friends together.
"If families are going to have a reunion in the valley, they do it around fair day," he said.
And when all those people depart, there's still more volunteer work to do. Taking the fair apart, though, doesn't take as long as setup: Crozier said the record is five hours.
"It's an amazing thing to watch," he said. "I've always wanted to get a time-lapse camera to capture it."
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.