Sunday, September 2, 2007

A day at the Pig Races

Everyone loves a Pig Race!


Yesterday the Three-County fair came to Northampton, as it’s done every labor day weekend for the past 82 years. As always, for me and countless other race fans, the running of the pigs is the highlight of the event. They used to race horses, too, but now, the pigs are all we have left.

I made it to the track in time for the 5:30 triple, and with some pushing and shoving, I obtained a seat right by the rail, down low in front.

This was supposed to be a family event, with moms and children all around me. However, not everyone watching the races was as innocent as the squalling ten year old next to me. To the rear, I got glimpses of grizzled farm hands from Hatfield and Whatley. They were unshaven, with scruffy overalls, and pints of cheap whiskey peeking from their pockets. Their rough, dirty hands clutched fistfuls of cash. Like lasers, their beady eyes focused on each pig, one at a time, as they emerged from the pen. Money changed hands as the starting cage shut with a clank.

The pigs were in and the bets were down. It was time to go. At the count of Five! Four! Three! Two! One! And they’re off! The pigs thundered around the track. It wasn’t as exciting as the horse races used to be, but it was close. One toddler stuck his finger through the rail, and a passing pig nipped the end off, clean as a whistle, with hardly a break in his stride.
People - especially kids - forget that pigs are omnivores, and being smart, they grab any opportunity to swap places with us on the food chain. Don't ever go to sleep in a pigpen.
In this shot, the defending champion - who was favored by two in the point spread - thunders into the turn in hot pursuit of the Snickers Bar.


While the toddler yelled, the pigs lined up for the next run and the farm boys laid their bets on the porkers. The bar dropped, and those piglets ran for the money, right beneath the eyes of the local law. After the races, the ones who still had money slunk off to bet the upcoming demolition derby, the losers fought each other, sullen and drunk, and the moms and kids dispersed to the midway, where sharp carnies waited to fleece the unwary with rigged games of chance. I wanted to follow them, but I was distracted by the tractors, and when I turned back, they had blended into the crowd.
Here's one of the old Farmalls, waiting for the Tractor Pull to start:


In this shot, you can see the Racing Pigs thundering around the track with fans screaming in the background:

25 comments:

mcewen said...

I've never even heard of racing pigs! Glad you had a great day.
Cheers

John Elder Robison said...

I can't believe you attained your present age and you've never heard of a pig race . . . are you by chance a city dweller?

cj said...

Dang, I live in Iowa and haven't!

John Elder Robison said...

I don't know, CJ, isn't that corn and wheat country? Do they raise pigs out where you are?

We had lots of pigs down in Georgia when I was a kid.

Horse racing . . . pig racing . . turtle racing . . the only things we never raced were cats, cows and snakes.

The Muse said...

I hate to tell you, John; but rumor has it around town that there was some “fixing” of the pig races. Didn’t you see the MB S600 Benz parked off in the distance behind the poultry barn? (Oh yeah, that’s right; you don’t like chickens…) Yes, I heard that some of those so-called farmers were actually from the Polish Mob feeding some of the pigs gummi bears and corn liquor BEFORE the race to slant the odds in their favor. That squalling 10–year-old standing next to you with the camera was actually part of the undercover investigation. Allegations have been made by city officials; and there is going to be a formal investigation before any charges are brought against the race organizers…

mom to max said...

i dare say that i have never had the pleasure of seeing a pig run. fairs are so much fun. thanks for sharing your day with us.

Chumplet said...

I went to the pig races at Puck's Farm when the kids were little. Kooky stuff!

But all I can think of right now is that poor toddler's finger.

John Elder Robison said...

Chumplet, I just made that up. But they do bite.

The Anti-Wife said...

I love the pig races. We have them at the state fairs here and I always go. They are so much fun to watch. Loved your descriptions. I'll be looking for all those shady characters in the background from now on.

Autism Diva said...

Hi, Mr. Robinson,

We have dachshund races in Davis on Picnic Day. Autism Diva hasn't been to one, but she hears they are pretty heart stopping.
the hamster ball race seems really.... tame... compared to the pig race.

Stephen Parrish said...

I choose not to exploit animals for human amusement, nor to patronize such exploitation.

John Elder Robison said...

Stephen, I don't know if you aware of it but I've done a lot of circus photography.

I have photographed animals in the circus, in the wild, in pastures, and in zoos.

It is my honest opinion that the pigs I photograph are having fun. When you're around animals a lot you get a sense of that and I've been around pigs most all my life.

That's not to say animals aren't exploited but the ones in my photos are - as best I can tell - generally having fun.

Drama Mama said...

Yeah. The pigs are definitely having fun. You can tell.

Beats the hell out of my slick San Francisco Labor Day - cappuccino in hand, mincing about a wine fair.

Gimme the pigs any day.

kyra said...

hey! i saw the very same pigs at the very same fair! the pigs were divine but the emcee had some learnin' to do... wow, was he painful to listen to, but those pigs!!

by the way, i heard that baby pigs don't have any teeth. in fact, that only the males have teeth. was someone pulling my leg? er, teeth?

sex scenes at starbucks said...

Ain't no fun like redneck farm fun, I say. Pigs are just damn cute too.

Polly Kahl said...

Kyra, I think all animals that breastfeed are not bron with teeth. I grew up with horses, tgoats, cows, and pigs, on our property and surrounding farms, and none of them were born with teeth. Their getting teeth is an indication it's time to move on to solid food, just like with humans.

John what, no log rolling, frog jumpin', or cow pie tossing? You guys around there just don't know how to live.

Polly Kahl said...

Oopsy, I mean BORN with teeth. (I don't know what bron is, but it probably has nothing to do with teeth)

Trish Ryan said...

The pig race looks fun :) The closest I've ever been to that was a county fair where kids could see a pen full of cute, wiggly piglets...above which, some thoughtful farmer hung a poster showing which part of these piglets will become breakfast bacon, and which parts will be dinner pork chops. Sort of took the sweetness right out of the moment...

The Writers' Group said...

Okay, no one else asked: John did a child really have his fingertip bitten off? I love pigs, my puppy is half pig, but this is why swine freak me out a little.

Amy

tena said...

I side with Stephen about the exploitation of animals. I don't march with PETA or anything like that, but I advocate kindness to all animals. I once saw a greased pig contest (catch it if you can) and was horrified. The poor little thing was squealing and running for its life. It was definitely not having "fun."

I understand that pigs are very intelligent; more so than horses. Unfortunately, they aren't clever enough to avoid being exploited.

Please don't send me hate mail, people.

PLANET3RRY said...

Sounds like fun... great pictures too... I didn't see any results.

I was also secretly waiting to see the pigs with actual numbers painted on them...

Kanani said...

Hey carguy....
Look Me In The Blog! I've written a review of your book.

Much love,
Your deviant animal naming friend,
Kanani

The Muse said...

COME ON Y'ALL! RELAX. Cute, little, happy piglets having fun & getting exercise. It’s probably their favorite game…

I haven't eaten pork or red meat since I was 14. (A long, long time ago...) I, too, am an animal lover. My grandparents were farmers. I don't believe in exploiting or frightening animals either. (The event that you attended, Tena, sounds horrific.) Believe me though, these animals were well fed, playful, and having a blast. Good Redneck Fun!

Stephen Parrish said...

It's possible the pig race in question was entirely humane. The pigs may have been pampered, transported comfortably, and merely allowed to enjoy some healthy exercise on the race track.

But in general pig racing is inhumane because the pigs are treated as circus acts, transported in cramped cages, and trained with cattle prods. Some trainers scream at their pigs to accustom them to boisterous crowds.

When you say pig races are fun, you mean they're fun for you. The pig, given his choice, wouldn't run around a track with a number painted on his side, chasing a candy bar. I know, because they've never been seen doing any such thing on a farm.

debra said...

Our Fair has rooster crowing contests and duck races, but no pig races! Sounds like fun