Eddie Harrison Jr. was just 5 years old the first time he led a hog into the show ring at the Maryland State Fair.
The memory is a fleeting one -- the hog lumbering about in front of him, the organized chaos of the other competitors and their animals, the solemn face of the show judge.
But one instant is frozen in time. And every time he competes at the state fair, Harrison can hear the voice of his late grandfather shouting encouragement from ringside.
Harrison, of Woodbine, is the third generation of his family to compete in the annual livestock shows at the fair in Timonium. Now 17, he and his sister, Jill, 13, learned their skills from their late grandfather, Ken Bauer Sr. And nowhere do they feel "Pop's" presence stronger than the state fair show rings where he competed as a young man, during the hog show that he became such an integral part of for the remainder of his life.
Family affairs for many participants, the annual competitions for the best hogs, steers, dairy cattle, goats, sheep and horses in the state begin Saturday with the 4-H shows. The open class shows -- for competitors of any age -- continue throughout the next 10 days.
Livestock remain a popular attraction for the 116-year-old fair, according to Max Mosner, vice president and general manager of the Maryland State Fair and Agriculture Society Inc.
"Our livestock and agricultural events are amazingly strong for being located in a very urban area in Baltimore County," Mosner said. "The numbers [of competitors] are holding pretty steady and [the entries in] some of the smaller animal categories are growing."
The Harrisons, who also compete at the county level, will exhibit hogs, sheep and steers at the state fair. And though they never expect to be there, if past experience is any indicator, the sibling duo will be formidable contenders who find themselves in the winner's circle when each day is through.
Eddie Harrison won the statewide 4-H fitting and showing competition at the fair at the tender age of 11 -- beating his mother, Jane. He never lets her forget since Jane Bauer Harrison was 12 when she took the same state title in 1972. In fitting and showing, the judge evaluates each exhibitor's skill in showing his animal, rather than the animal itself. Jill Harrison was just 9 when she won the intermediate 4-H showman contest at the state fair in 1993.
The victories were all the sweeter because of the increased level of competition that is the hallmark of the state fair, the Harrisons said. But trophies aside, the fair offers much more than friendly competition for Maryland's farmers. To many, it's a brief respite from the worries of weather and prices, an opportunity to catch up with friends they see only once a year.
For farm kids, the fair is the culmination of a year's worth of work -- iced with an extra layer of fun in the form of the fair midway and its crowded schedule of live entertainment.
"It's everybody's fair," said Amy Iager, 17, of Fulton. Iager -- Maryland's 1997 South Central Dairy Princess, representing Howard, Montgomery, Anne Arundel, Prince George's, Charles, St. Mary's and Calvert counties -- will spend the state fair changing from her "dairy whites" -- white pants and shirt required for the dairy shows -- to dress clothes more befitting royalty as she passes out ribbons and trophies to competitors and free cheese and milk to passers-by.
Though the dairy industry is losing its foothold in Maryland, the dairy cattle shows at the state fair continue to attract the most competitors of all the fair's livestock competitions. Fair officials expect 500 head of dairy cattle for the 4-H show. Some of those will remain for the open class breed shows which begin Aug. 27 and continue through Labor Day. Mosner said additional cattle will be brought in until the Cow Palace resounds with the mooing of nearly 800 cows and calves.
From the Jerseys with their doe eyes and soft, fawn-colored coats to the more familiar black-and-white Holsteins, the cows -- attract fairgoers in droves. Pushing strollers and carrying squealing toddlers, visitors wander the aisles of the Cow Palace every year, watching their favorite farm storybook come to life.
BTC Amy Iager's mother, Kathy, said it always amazes her how many people at the state fair say they have never seen a cow. And it's not just city dwellers who approach the bovines with excited trepidation, eager to touch an animal's coat, but still a little awed by the average cow's 1,000-pound girth.
"They could be my next-door neighbor" living in suburban Howard County, Kathy Iager said.
She comes from a strong line of dairy cattle exhibitors at the state fair. Her mother, the former Barbara Riggs, grew up in the Montgomery County community of Gaithersburg, when it was nothing but farms, and went to the state fair each year to exhibit her Holsteins. Iager's father, Sam Stiles, came from a line of Jersey breeders and he, too, found success in the 4-H and open class competitions at the state fair.