Hudspeth in Wilton: Olde Home Day is a very big deal

Columnist Stephen Hudspeth writes this column that is titled: "A View from Glen Hill," about the Olde Home Day annual summer celebration, and the day of festivities in he, and his family's summer hometown of Andover, Maine.

Columnist Stephen Hudspeth writes this column that is titled: “A View from Glen Hill,” about the Olde Home Day annual summer celebration, and the day of festivities in he, and his family's summer hometown of Andover, Maine.

Contributed photo

Here in our summer hometown of Andover, Maine, Olde Home Day is a very big deal.

It’s an annual celebration of the founding of the town over two centuries ago and is held on the first Saturday in August each year. Last year was obviously a notable exception, sadly missed by all in this town of 800. But it was back in force this year with several thousand in attendance from the opening parade in the morning to the chicken dinner fundraiser by the town’s volunteer fire department that closes out the day.

I’ve written about the parade that opens the day’s festivities in this column in past years, and it’s vintage Americana: main street lined with folks cheering the marchers and the floats, as you might expect, and the town’s ambulance and fire trucks bringing up the rear. What is more unusual is the barrel train that I’ve written about before -- with a dozen 50-gallon drums turned on their sides and with a wheeled axle added to each; a large hole is cut out on the curved sides of the now-recumbent barrel to accommodate a small seat and a large steering wheel. Each barrel is painted in a different color and bears the logo of local businesses and civic groups beautifully calligraphed on its curved sides and barrelheads.

Young children love riding it, and their parents and grandparents (Becky and I among them) get a huge kick out of seeing them having such a good time! However, most probably don’t realize the amount of work that goes into preparing it for action each year: It winters in our barn with each barrel standing up on end in its usual barrel position and the totality of them occupying an entire bay.

Master homebuilder Jim Coolidge and his son Gabe pump up the tires and replace ones beyond redemption, hook the barrels together to form the train, and then tow the assembled train slowly to the house where they and their team wash and wax each barrel to be sure it’s ready for the big day. That kind of effort is typical of what goes on all around this small town as everything that needs to come together for a wide variety of events does.

Those events include garden tractor races, with “garden tractor” loosely defined to encompass vehicles that look like small race cars and perform about as well; they race on an outdoor course lined all around with fans who also fill the not-very-small grandstand. For the more sedately inclined, there’s the photography show with several hundred really excellent entries. And for the kids, there are all kinds of games to be played. For the adults, the featured game event is the women-only skillet-toss contest.

If you’ve never attended a skillet-toss competition, you have something definitely to add to your bucket list, and if you’re female, you might even want to be a competitor. The event is open to all (and all women in our family compete), with age classes up to senior “masters.” Some contestants are obviously in serious training for this event since the longest throws, with a hefty straight-handled iron skillet, go 60 feet. Guys, give it a try some time and see how far your own throw goes…. And don’t worry: there’s no cardboard silhouette of a man downfield to spark competitive zeal among the contestants; it’s just a lighthearted and fun event that draws quite a crowd of spectators.

Returning to the parade, when the barrel train has passed followed by the floats illustrating the year’s theme and the horseback riders and before the firetrucks signal the end, there’s a stream of antique autos and farm tractors and something that may be truly unique for a town of this size: a parade of a dozen military vehicles owned by a wealthy resident who does business with the Army. He has tanks from the World War II and Vietnam era along with a full-sized amphibious Duck (and Jeep-sized one) and a half-track. When they’re not on parade, he’s known to run them over the dirt roads crossing the many acres he owns here in town.

He’s a very generous person and does a lot for the town, and he’s also emblematic of a town that accepts a lot of different approaches to life and where the overriding attitude is that whatever our passions may be, you give your all to the common good. Not a bad objective for a town -- or a nation.