TURLOCK — Today, the last rides will scream by, the last shifts will clear the booths and the last bites of deep-fried everything will be gobbled up. Another Stanislaus County Fair will wind its way from crowds and crowning achievements to Facebook photos and lifelong memories.
For 15-year-old Jacob Pappas, those memories will include moving lots of giant pawns, bishops and knights. When not tending his fair animals, Jacob grabs fellow FFA-ers and heads to the Wizard's Challenge. "All my friends I take in here to play chess," he said Saturday during a game with Jewel Toenges, also 15. Both are from Modesto.
At a table nearby, Alfredo and Janet Figueroa of Newman tried to piece together a circle out of free-formpuzzle pieces while their children played at another game in the giant tent decked out as a medieval castle.
Wizard's Challenge replaced last year's Rainforest Exhibit as the Kids Zone science destination.
Teri Crew of Hilmar said she likes it better.
"This has sure been a hit," she said, watching her granddaughters making hand shapes by pushing on plastic pins mounted in a vertical display.
"I think the kids enjoy it more. It's more hands-on. The animals were nice, but this they can touch and do more," she said.
Her husband, David Crew, had his own entertainment, watching balls race through an intricate and ever-changing wired path.
"This reminds me of the little mousetrap toy I had when I was a kid," he said with a grin.
A couple of hard-to-miss folks will be strolling the grounds, chatting up visitors and posing for pictures. Lucky Starr, a stiltwalker, stands out, gazing down from around 10 feet. Rock-It the Robot draws crowds with his melodic electronic voice.
Also new is the farmers market, with locally grown products and samples inside. Outside, Cipponeri Farms sells fresh fruit in the skin or ready to eat with whipped cream and nuts.
"We're so grateful to have this," said Verlee Gale, taking a break from her shift at the Curves booth.
"We're right across from the food, with those curly fries and oh, the smells," she said in a semi-swoon. "This is a really wonderful option to have available," she said, buying a carton from Dawson Schonhoff.
Schonhoff said he likes working the fair. "It's a fun workday when you get to enjoy everyone else having fun," he said.
For the kids helping with 4-H and FFA, however, fried foods seemed to win. Asked to name their favorites, corn dogs and funnel cakes were mentioned most often.
Walking down the midway scanning for friends to go on rides, Chloe Blom, 17, of Modesto, and Carley Azevedo, 14, of Oakdale, said curly fries and cinnamon rolls could not be beat.
"A lot of times we'll all get different foods and make a jackpot out of it," Carley said.
The girls said they'll be packing up their area by the cattle from 1 to 4 a.m. Monday. The early hour lets them avoid all the other fair traffic, they said.
Masons manning the child identification kit booth will pack up at a more civilized hour. The district's lodges share booth duties, handing out child safety tips and giving parents pictures and fingerprints to keep handy, just in case.
"Hopefully, they never need it, but it does work," said Michael Arnerich of Modesto Lodge 206.
Sheriff's Sgt. Keith Rakoncza said the fair has gone smoothly overall. "It's been a great fair, really family-friendly," he said.
Fair spokeswoman Adrenna Alkhas echoed that. "So far, it's been going great," she said, predicting that when final counts are in, the 10-day attendance numbers will be up.
TODAY AT THE FAIR
The Stanislaus County Fair in Turlock ends its 10-day run with a bonus: Everyone gets in for free until 3 p.m., so bring the whole family.
WHAT TO DO: Take your last twirl on the more than 30 attractions at the midway from favorites like the Ferris wheel to new additions that spin and drop those looking for thrills.
HIGHLIGHTS: Master showmanship day arrives for horse, beef, dairy, dairy and meat goats and sheep and swine starting at 10 a.m. Then the kiddies get their turn at 4 p.m.
VARIETY FREE STAGE: El Coyote y su Banda plus special guest Manuel Romero, 8:30 p.m.
ARENA: Mud Bog Races and Lawn Mower Races, 6:30 p.m., $10
CENTER STAGE: Los Amigos, 2-4 p.m.; David Perez Band, 5:30-10:30 p.m.
COMMUNITY STAGE: Merafuentes, 3:30-5 p.m.; Olivia Esquivez, 6-7:30 p.m.
XFINITY STAGE: JD Platt & K9 Kings, 12:30, 3 and 5 p.m.; Cowgirl Rope Tricks Show, 1 and 3 p.m. Lucky Starr, Cowgirl Stiltwalker, 5 p.m.
HOURS: Gates open at noon; exhibit buildings close at 11 p.m.; carnival closes at midnight
PARK 'N' RIDE: 11:30 a.m. to midnight; park and ride free from CSU, Stanislaus (Crowell Road off Monte Vista Avenue) or Pitman High School (Christoffersen Parkway). Shuttles run every 15 to 20 minutes.
WHERE: From Highway 99, exit at Fulkerth Road in Turlock and head east. For fairgrounds parking, turn right on Soderquist Road, or go past Soderquist for more parking; $5 per vehicle.
ADMISSION: $12 for adults, $5 for children 7 to 12 and seniors 65 and older, free for 6 and younger
INFORMATION: www.stancofair.com, (209) 668-1333