IF YOU GO
What: Hamilton County Fair at Chester Frost Park
When: 9 a.m.-6 p.m.
Cost: $6 per adult, $4 per child age 3-12, children under 3 free
Get there: Grab a shuttle at the Northgate Mall or Middle Valley Recreation Center
For more information: www.hamiltontn.gov/fair
Maria Hammond spent all day Saturday leading ponies around a dusty track at the Hamilton County Fair.
The slender, dark-haired 13-year-old helped kids climb onto their four-legged rides and get settled in the saddle.
Then she walked a lap, helped the rider hop down, and started again — over and over for nine hours. A few yards away, bright-yellow shuttle buses rumbled back and forth at the arrival and departure center, dropping off excited fairgoers and picking up tired ones.
"The line never seems to get smaller," she said with a grin. "But I like to do this. I have a passion for horses."
Maria was working with Diane Adams-Koehler of Mahada Farms, who's been giving pony rides for 21 of the fair's 24 years. Saturday, her six ponies gave nearly 800 rides.
"And that one," she said, pointing to a stout little brown pony with a scruffy mane, "has been with us for all 21 years."
When Fay Taylor first adopted her 22-pound Shetland sheepdog, he was afraid of his own name.
"So the first thing I had to do was give him a new name," she said. "And it's Obi."
Helping Obi overcome his past abuse required a lot of work and patience, Taylor said. But he's come a long way, and on Saturday he performed with Taylor in the obedience category in the Dog Exhibition, sitting, staying and heeling. Next door, brown cows mooed in the livestock shelter and wide-eyed kids stroked goats and sheep in the petting zoo.
Obi's a certified therapy dog, and his soft, fluffy black-and-white fur makes him popular with kids.
"He can find a sick or stressed child in a group of 85 kids and obsess over that one little kid," she said proudly.
Taylor works with the Obedience Club of Chattanooga and keeps a handful of dogs at her Signal Mountain home.
"I'm a sucker for rescue dogs," she admitted with a shrug. "But I don't rescue them and stick them in a box. I get them out and train them, and we have a good time."
In the long line of brightly colored tents and booths selling funnel cakes, kettle corn, French fries and barbecue chicken, Evelyn's Ice Cream is one of the loudest. A small, bright-green generator grumbles and growls as it turns a wheel that spins a 5-gallon tub full of ice cream ingredients.
From start to eat, the process takes about 40 minutes, owner Scott said. He doesn't want his last name published so his boss at his day job won't figure out what he does on weekends.
Serving homemade ice cream at eight or 10 fairs a year is a fun way to make some extra money, Scott said.
"Sometimes if people are here waiting for the next batch, we'll just scoop it right out of [the tub] and give it to them," he said.
He took over the ice cream business two years ago from his parents, who ran the operation for about 15 years in South Carolina.
Ivory Roberts was getting a little nervous as he watched the other talent show performers take the Community Stage — four girls, dressed all in black, dancing hip-hop; a 13-year-old country soloist in a dark blue dress; a small choir singing gospel music.
"It's tense," he said. "Everyone is good."
The 15-year-old has been singing all his life — just not in front of big crowds on big stages. Waiting for his turn, the most people he'd ever performed in front of was the congregation at Stoney Point Baptist Church in Soddy-Daisy — about 20 people.
But, he said, singing is all he wants to do with his life.
"My grandmama and my aunts used to take me on their laps and just sing with me all the time," he said. "And I have this picture where you can see my mouth wide open, trying to sing."
So he waited, a little nervous, then took the stage second-to-last.
He announced himself to the crowd, breaking into "Banjo" by Rascal Flatts. A few seconds in, the crowd started to clap along.
"He worked the stage, he worked the audience, he kept eye contact," his vocal coach Karen Alayne said. "He just took the house."
He finished, thanked the crowd and stepped off the wooden stage.
"How do you feel?" Alayne asked him.
"Phew ... wow," he said, "That kinda felt really good."
Shelly Bradbury covers police and crime in Chattanooga and Hamilton County for the Times Free Press. She's been with the paper since 2012, working first as an intern and then as a business reporter. She is from Houghton, New York, and graduated from Huntington University in Huntington, Indiana, with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and minor in management. Before moving to Tennessee, Shelly previously interned with The Goshen News, The Sandusky Register and The Mint ...