Twenty-six years ago, Tom Wiatrowski was smitten by the Centre County Grange Encampment and Fair.
Wiatrowski, then a Penn State student from Bucks County, visited the fair for the first time with his girlfriend whose family had roots in the area.
The tents, the people, the ambiance — it all made him take a leap.
“I said, ‘Well, that’s kind of cool,’ and stopped in headquarters and put my name on the list,” said Wiatrowski, who, on Wednesday, was hauling in his fair furniture to set up his tent along south row No. 11. “I think I was 400-something when I put my name in.”
A decade later, in 1997, Wiatrowski got a call that a tent spot opened up, and he’s been coming back each August.
Wiatrowski, his son, Chad, and his son’s friend Joe Ireland were among the hundreds of fair-goers on the grounds Wednesday who were busy arranging, decorating and putting the finishing touches on their tents one day before the 139th version of the Grange Fair officially begins.
Back in 1997, Wiatrowski was only given three days’ notice to move into a tent. That meant a lot of scrambling to get things packed and make the trip here.
Now, it’s second nature.
He had plenty of seating for his family and even extended family — which might number a crowd of 30 on Saturday when they all get together. He just replaced a futon for this year, too.
Bug spray came in handy, too.
He sprayed a wasps’ nest that taken shape on the inside of the tent. He also took out a wasp that must’ve been trying to find it.
“You do this enough you’re prepared for anything,” he said. “I’ve got this down to a science.”
In previous years, Wiatrowski and his wife, Michelle, had their five children and friends in this tent. Now, as the older children have moved out and farther away, they’re down to two kids and one friend of the son’s, who’s never been to the Grange Fair before.
“I told him last night — you may like it, you may not like it,” he said, adding, “but I promise you, it’ll be unlike anything you’ve seen at a fair.”