Union Democrat staff

The Mother Lode Fair is a day shorter this year, but that doesn't mean it will be any less fun.

"Harvesting the Good Times" is the fair's theme this year and and it looks like organizers have lined up a bumper crop.

The Fairgrounds' gates will swing open Friday, and those who like their fun in the sun can get in for the bargain price of $10 between noon and 4 p.m. This - as with all fair tickets - includes admission to all exhibit halls, concerts, all grandstand shows and unlimited carnival rides.

The next best deal is the four-admissions-for-$45 presale tickets, which must be purchased by Thursday. But even fairgoers who show up on a whim will find that adult tickets are $2 less than last year.

What makes the price a bargain, however, is what you get for the money. The Mother Lode Fair - as always - is an unparalleled community showcase that presents the best Sonora and Tuolumne County have to offer.

The carnival rides draw the kids, and Helm and Sons Amusements' 2009 menu includes Orbiter, Kamikaze, Zipper, Pirate and Jason's Dragon, as well as a selection of milder diversions.

Yes, teens by the score will be prowling the Midway each night for friends new and old.

And bluesman Shane Dwight's Sunday-night concert and the fair-ending Destruction Derby, as usual, will draw huge crowds.

But the fair offers much more. The schedule is non-stop from Friday through Sunday.

The Extreme Canines Stunt Show, starring dogs rescued from shelters then trained to do "hair-raising, spine tingling tricks," will run three times daily.

The Emerald Star Farms petting zoo, presented by 4-Her Cody Helmbold, will feature baby goats, sheep, pigs, chickens, turkeys and more.

Don't like feathers or fur? Go to the John Muir Building and check out the reptile show, featuring a 20-foot albino python. Twirlers, martial artist and roller derby girls will also perform.

Hungry? There's nothing like carnival food, whose practitioners have turned deep-frying into a culinary art.

Wondering what your neighbors are up to? Step into any of the fair's exhibit halls.

Jan Haydn-Myer, fair manager for the past 11 years, says 888 exhibitors have produced 2,298 entries in scores of competition categories ranging from floral design, to wine, to swine. Blue ribbons are up for grabs in photography, baked goods, preserves, table setting, cut flowers, cacti and succulents, potted plants, quilts, oil painting, woodworking, and dozens more categories.

Over at the livestock barns - outfitted with new lights and fans, thanks to a Sonora Area Foundation grant - young exhibitors will show off hundreds of animals, ranging from banty hens to full-grown hogs. The payoff for these young ranchers will come at 5 p.m. Saturday, when local businesses and individuals will match bids at the Mother Lode Fair's popular junior livestock auction. In past years generous bidders have run auction totals to $150,000 or more,

If your tastes are more musical than agrarian, check out the fairgrounds' Walnut Creek Stage, where the Mother Lode Has Talent contest will star musicians and singers of all ages.

Prefer the sound of belching engines and heavy metal crashes? You won't be alone at the Fairgrounds Arena, where 5,000 or so fans will take in Sunday night's Destruction Derby. Motocross racing and a 4-by-4 truck pull will keep the motorheads in gear Friday and Saturday nights.

And vintage tractors and steam engines - on display throughout the fair - will mark the 2009 fair's "Salute to the Tractor."

Bottom line? More than 15,000 of us will likely pass through the Mother Lode Fair's three-day run, and for good reason: It combines tradition with novelty, while remaining the Tuolumne County showcase and meeting place it has been throughout its long history.