by: Renatta Signorini and Joe Napsha Updated:
WESTMORELAND COUNTY, Pa. - A sunny forecast brings a smile to the face of Westmoreland Fair Board President Craig Lash.
No matter how good a show organizers put together, rain dampens the fun and the turnout, he said.
"The weather makes all the difference," Lash said. "If it's nice, we get a lot of people."
The 59th annual Westmoreland Fair opened to the public Friday in a revved-up version that will feature hot-air balloon rides and more tractor pulls. Activities this weekend include monster truck races, animal judging and a lawn mower tractor demolition derby.
The fair runs through Aug. 24.
The forecast shows most days will be sunny with temperatures in the 80s; a chance of showers is predicted Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service.
The highlight of opening day was the crowning of Hattie Henderson, 18, of New Florence as the 2013 Westmoreland Fair queen.
For Henderson, whose family has a 30-acre farm where they raise goats, sheep, chickens and horses, the third time in the queen contest was the charm because she had been named the princess in 2011 and was first runner-up in 2012.
"I've been looking up to the fair queen ever since I was a little girl," said Henderson, a student at Penn State Fayette, The Eberly Campus, where she is studying animal science and agriculture business management.
Henderson, the daughter of Randy and Carol Henderson, graduated from Achievement House Cyber School.
Henderson's court consists of Hannah Dillon of United, the princess; Tessa Ives of Level Green, first runner-up; and Lydia Kepple of Salem Township, second runner-up.
The 2012 fair queen, Rachel Sheffler of New Alexandria, told the crowd in her final speech as queen that "the hardest part of being fair queen this year was not walking around in heels all week at the fair ... it was writing the speech tonight."
She recalled the many speeches and appearances she made as fair queen this year, including talking to youngsters at Greensburg Salem's Amos K. Hutchinson Elementary School in Southwest Greensburg, about a dairy farm. Sheffler said some of the students did not even know where milk came from.
Entrants led their animals to the fair by rope leash on Friday, preparing for a week of competition. Inside the horse barn, participants had been hard at work Thursday night decorating their stalls - a tradition at the fair.
Homemade curtains and glittery signs decorated the otherwise dingy horse stalls Friday afternoon. Some 4-H competitors tidied up the floor around their horses' stalls while others waited in lawn chairs for the day's activities to start.
Joy Palmer said it took nearly three hours on Thursday to set up her medieval-themed decor around stables housing six horses. Burgundy-colored fabric lined the top of the stalls and three stuffed owls perched atop posts for good luck.
"We have morphed from a harvest theme into a Renaissance theme," said Palmer, owner of Canterbrook Stables Equestrian Center in Unity. "If you walk through here when the decorations aren't up, it's really dark."
Sandy Wise of Kecksburg strung up red and blue handkerchiefs and mini cowboy hats around the stall where her 15-year-old horse, Legend, patiently waited to compete.
Wise has taken Legend to the fair for 13 years, and her decor has changed throughout the years.
"Every couple years we try to change it around," said Wise, who runs Broken Spoke Farm. "We wanted to do a country Christmas."
The decorations grab the interest of fair-goers who pass through the barns to look over the animals.
"They go to whoever looks pretty," said 17-year-old Cristy Marsh of Latrobe, who sat near her horse, Stormy.
Stalls housing Stormy and Ferrari, her sister Chelsea's horse, were decorated with red plaid fabric set off by swatches of white fabric with gold stars created by the girls' mother. Both girls plan to participate in 4-H competitions and a rodeo.
Other activities throughout the week include a bull ride on Monday, tractor pulls on Tuesday and band performances.
This article was written by Channel 11's news exchange partners at TribLIVE.