Just Like Old Home in Canaan
Damien Nestle, 6, of Orange, left, and Kyle Morse, 10, of Enfield race around the track in the lawnmower event during Canaan Old Home Days yesterday. (Medora Hebert photograph)
Colin Parker supervises the belt sander race. Ella Shinnlinger looks on as her sander waits to race. 8-3-2013 Medora Hebert
Cody Gray, of Dorchester, makes it over the finish line ahead of Christopher Codrrigan, of Warwick, R.I., in a preliminary heat of the Soap Box Derby during Canaan Old Home Days yesterday. (Medora Hebert photograph)
Bethany Smith, left, and Heidi Salvail grab belt sanders so they don’t fly off the track after crossing the finish line during the belt sander races at yesterday’s Canaan Old Home Days celebration. (Medora Hebert photograph)
Damien Nestle, age 6 of Orange, races moves around the track in a preliminary heat of the lawnmower race at Canaan Old Home Days. (Medora Hebert photograph)
Canaan — One man zip-tied a replica of a fish to his belt sander. Another fashioned a plastic red rooster on the hood.
But “Dragon,” an old belt sander wedged between four wooden planks, had no elegant decorations to boast of, no special touches. “It’s nothing fancy,” said its maker, Luke Beauregard.
What Dragon lacked in ornamentation, however, it made up for in speed.
And after a long day of racing, Beauregard’s machine outgunned the 10 other competitors and was crowned champion of the belt sanders.
“It’s just fast,” Beauregard said. “It’s something my son and I do together.”
Canaan’s Old Home Days, a weekend festival that celebrates town culture, gave thousands of residents and friends the chance to come together to watch a parade, explore local vendors, compete in the Soap Box Derby and race belt sanders.
Around noon, as the sun hovered above, a crowd of people gathered in front of Canaan Hardware. Seven black garbage cans propped up a wooden race track that was split into two lanes. Racers clutched their belt sanders, each about the size of overgrown toasters. Wires ran through patches of shade. And a power strip sat ready in between the mouth of both lanes.
Erik Kress, the announcer, told racers to have fun but to also be mindful of the judge’s decisions.
“You are racing at your own risk. Canaan Hardware is not responsible for any injuries or damages to your belt sander,” Kress said.
The 11 racers were unfazed.
“All right. Lets rock ’n’ roll,” Kress said.
Kress’ warning was due to the unpredictable nature of belt sander racing.
First, racers had to squeeze their contraptions into a lane. They made sure the wire — the belt sander’s lifeblood, which lay in a neat loop on the ground beside the track — wasn’t tangled.
Then, all they could do was step back and wait for the power switch to be flipped.
On Kress’ mark, the belt sanders fired down the roughly 50-foot long track, and would have continued to buzz past the checkered flag had there not been two volunteers wearing thick gloves to pluck them out of motion.
But not every race went smoothly. Some belt sanders toppled. Others didn’t start. And occasionally, one belt sander would die mid-race.
During the championship heat, “The Head,” which Ella Shinnlinger made with her father, stopped moving before it reached the halfway mark of the track, making an easy victory for Dragon.
“It happens,” said her father, Dave Shinnlinger, who helped organize the celebration.
Beauregard was modest in victory.
“It worked pretty well,” he said afterward. “Might as well stick with it (for future races).”
Earlier in the day, Ellen Donovan, a property owner in Canaan, danced with other residents to a cover of You Are My Sunshine by the Mad Bavarian Brass Band, which rode in the celebration’s parade.
Before leaving for the day, the band gave a final performance from the back of a flatbed truck, urging the audience to sing along. One trombone player had a German flag attached to his instrument. Another shouted “Hey!” between choruses.
As they were driven off, Donovan waved goodbye. “I try not to miss a parade,” she said. “And I’m a sucker for a marching band.”
Shortly after, a long line formed near the gazebo at the far end of the town green. The residents were waiting for “Mo Fun,” a balloon-blower and wisecracker who’s been performing for 25 years, he said.
Fun, whose real name is Lester Schwartz, is from Campton, N.H., according to his online Linkedin account. He sat in a orange lawn chair, wore a pink Nike cap and had on a pair of colorful, striped socks. Strapped around his back and balanced on his lap was a sack of thin, unused multicolored balloons.
“This balloon’s going to be perfect, …” Fun said to one child, adding, after a pause, “…ly weird.”
“Oh, I never know what it’s going to be,” Fun told another younger girl. “My hands work all by themselves.”
But soon, he came clean. Fun laughed and said: “OK, I lie a lot.”
When 7-year-old Connor Hobbs walked up, Fun questioned him while he worked.
Do you have a girlfriend?” Fun asked. Hobbs shook his head no.
“Do you have a job?” No again.
“Maybe, you don’t have a girlfriend because you don’t have a job!” Fun replied.
Jacqueline Smith, Connor Hobbs’ grandmother, chuckled.
“I think it’s wonderful,” she said. “I haven’t seen him before, but he’s funny.”
Zack Peterson can be reached at 603-727-3211 or email@example.com.