To 2015 Harford Fair Queen Rachael Johnson, 19, of Factoryville, the fair is more than just a fun week during the summer.
The Lackawanna Trail High School graduate will represent the Harford Fair and compete for the state title at the State Fair Convention next month, Jan. 20-23, in Hershey.
Not only do her duties extend beyond the summer, but the fair is part of Johnson’s family history — from stories of her grandfather travelling to the fair by horse and buggy, to her parents going to the fair on their first-ever date together, to her own childhood victory in the kiddie tractor pull. When she was 6, she was the only girl that year to participate in the mutton busting competition.
Explaining mutton busting, she said, “They get a bunch of 5- and 6-year-old kids and you ride a sheep for eight seconds. So it’s like the equivalent of riding a bull for a little kid.”
When she got older, she started showing Black Angus steers at the fair. Although her steer did not place this year, she received reserve grand championship the two consecutive years prior.
This year’s Harford Fair Alternate Queen Samantha Sebring, 16, of Dalton, who will take Johnson’s place at the convention, should unforeseen circumstances prevent the queen from attending, has a similar story.
“My mom entered my twin sister and I into the baby contest,” she said. “We have been coming since then, and I love it.”
Her twin, Taylor Sebring, is the current Susquehanna County Dairy Princess.
Samantha is also involved in the Susquehanna County Junior Holstein Association and the Susquehanna County Livestock Judging Team. She enjoys showing pigs and hanging out with her cousins on the family farm, where she resides. She and Johnson, although both agree they would have become friends at the fair anyway, were already good friends through their mutual involvement in 4-H. The pair was ecstatic about competing and winning together.
But until this year, when the fair revised a rule that previously excluded from the competition residents of counties other than Susquehanna, neither thought they would ever be crowned the Harford Fair Queen or Alternate Queen.
Pennsylvania has 109 fairs, 56 of which hold queen competitions that also participate at a state level, according to Cindy Reynolds, Harford Fair spokesperson. A total of six contestants competed this year for the title at the Harford Fair.
The process of competing for fair queen begins with an application and essay about “why you should come to my fair.” Next, contestants must memorize a speech, similar in theme, which they will present twice on the day of the competition. Johnson said for her, this was the most difficult part.
“I found out three days before the competition that I needed to have my speech memorized,” she said.
But, it was worth the effort.
“Even though it (competing) was a lot of anxiety, it was a good anxiety,” she said.
Sebring said she struggled through the speech, messing up a little the first time, but learned from her mistakes.
“I loved it,” she said of the competition. “It was a ton of fun —a lot of hard work, but I would do it again, I think.”
In addition to giving their speeches, each contestant is interviewed by a panel of three judges. The girls also get their hair styled and dress up for the occasion.
“The dresses were the best part,” Sebring said. “Everyone had these extravagant dresses on, and you just felt great.”
She added she had her dress picked out in March, and her grandmother, Patricia Kopp, a Factoryville native currently residing in Windsor, New York, hemmed it for her.
For as much work as the girls put into the competition, just as much or more effort goes in to the duties of the queen and alternate queen after their crowning.
“It was an exhausting week, between everything you do,” Sebring said. “I was beat by Saturday night.”
Both girls said one of their favorite duties was reading to little children in front of the schoolhouse and seeing how much the youngsters looked up to them as role models.
“There’s so many kids that go through there that entire week,” Sebring said. “With over 65,000 visitors every year, there’s just so many people who see you, who hear you on the stage, and they’re always looking at you. I think that was a big eye-opener.”