The bidding starts at $1,000. Hands fly into the air and the crowd grows louder, urged on by a group of kids clapping and hollering from the side of the pavilion. The stakes are raised: $1,100, $1,200, $1,300, and it isn't long before the auctioneer is calling for a figure approaching $3,000.
"Don't be afraid to get right in there," auctioneer Nevin Tasto shouts. "It's for a real good cause."
He's talking about the Carroll County 4-H and Future Farmers of America Fair. But the money isn't being thrown down for champion steers or blue-ribbon hogs. It's going toward cakes, pies and cookies - all baked by kids, none costing much more than a few dollars to make.
Before the night is done, more than $47,000 has been pledged - a record haul.
"It amazes me every year that the money just gets higher and higher," said Bonnie Nelson, assistant superintendent of the auction.
The piece de resistance of this high-end bake sale was 16-year-old Tim Owings' Grand Champion chiffon cake. He made it from scratch following a recipe in his mother's Betty Crocker cookbook. For the eggs, he looked no farther than the chicken coop on his family's New Windsor farm.
Total cost: About $5. Winning bid: $2,900.
"I never expected it to get that high," the teen-ager said after Wednesday night's auction. His mother, Nancy Owings, added, "I was totally stunned, needless to say."
The cake auction is a tradition at the Carroll county fair that dates to the 1960s. Sales from the auction go toward the fair so that admission remains free.
It also pays for fairground improvements and for award ribbons.
Tasto, who's been an auctioneer for the fair's cake and livestock sales for more than three decades, remembered when cakes sold for $10, maybe $30.
"We got $50 and we thought it was good," he said.
In 1971, the auction raised the modest sum of $255. A year later, the champion cake sold for $9.75.
But within a few years, Tasto said, George W. Crouse, owner of Crouse Ford in Taneytown, attended the cake auction and raised the bidding to new heights.
"Everybody else picked up after that - other businesses - and it just went from there," Tasto said.
"It's good advertising for these businesses. They know it'll come out in the paper and they like to support 4-H. There's not many country people left, or farms."
Sales totals steadily rose through the years, and in 1987 they went through the roof. The bidding frenzy doubled from the previous year to $15,500. In 1994, the total hit $23,800.
Last year ,the auction brought in nearly $35,000. That year's grand champion, a tea ring baked by Katie Tracey, then 11, fetched a winning bid of $1,500.
The competition is divided into three age groups. The rules require that everything be made from scratch and without help from parents.
Some bake their pastries a few days in advance and freeze them because they know they'll be busy with their animals at the fair.
Everything that's awarded a blue ribbon at the baked goods competition goes to the auction.
Out of 500 cake entries, 209 made it to the big show Wednesday night. The winning cakes included a long list of varieties - chocolate, coffee, white, yellow, pound, sponge, spice, applesauce, angel food - and almost as many shapes.
One was shaped like a basketball, another like a football. One looked like a teddy bear, others were designed to evoke ocean getaways, ski slopes and even a plate of spaghetti and meatballs.
At the auction, the air was filled not with the sweet smell of a bakery, but with the earthier aroma from the nearby livestock stalls. Tasto, one of six auctioneers, used a machine-gun delivery to urge on buyers. Only a handful of items sold for less than $100.
Tim Owings' orange-infused white cake - a very unassuming sweet treat with no icing or decoration - won the "best of show" because of its "lightness, airiness and perfection," said Nona Schwartzbeck, one of the judges.
As the bids for his cake climbed, he paraded his creation through the Dairy Pavilion, stirring up sawdust that had been trampled by livestock.
The bid that took his cake made by Norman Condon Jr. and his son Mike, excavators and farmers from New Windsor. The younger Condon joked that his father would probably eat most of the cake, but he still felt as if his money was well-spent.
"We've been here all our lives," he said. "We wanted to give back to the community."