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Ray Duckler

Ray Duckler: Saunderson, a jack of all trades, still fairing well

  • George Saunderson, left, jokes with a friend while making the rounds at the Hopkinton State Fair on Thursday afternoon, August 29, 2013. Saunderson began working at the fair as a show farrier in the mid-1970s for about 22 years. These days, he sits on the board holding various positions and is currently the acting treasurer for the fair. Thursday was opening day for the fair, which will run through to Monday, September 2.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    George Saunderson, left, jokes with a friend while making the rounds at the Hopkinton State Fair on Thursday afternoon, August 29, 2013. Saunderson began working at the fair as a show farrier in the mid-1970s for about 22 years. These days, he sits on the board holding various positions and is currently the acting treasurer for the fair. Thursday was opening day for the fair, which will run through to Monday, September 2.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • George Saunderson hops back on a golfcart after checking one of several ATMs at the Hopkinton State Fair on Thursday afternoon, August 29, 2013. Saunderson began working at the fair as a show farrier in the mid-1970s for about 22 years. These days, he sits on the board holding various positions and is currently the acting treasurer for the fair. Thursday was opening day for the fair, which will run through to Monday, September 2.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    George Saunderson hops back on a golfcart after checking one of several ATMs at the Hopkinton State Fair on Thursday afternoon, August 29, 2013. Saunderson began working at the fair as a show farrier in the mid-1970s for about 22 years. These days, he sits on the board holding various positions and is currently the acting treasurer for the fair. Thursday was opening day for the fair, which will run through to Monday, September 2.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • George Saunderson began working at the Hopkinton State Fair as a show farrier in the mid-1970s for about 22 years. These days, he sits on the board holding various positions and is currently the acting treasurer for the fair. Thursday, August 29, 2013 was opening day for the fair, which will run through to Monday, September 2.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    George Saunderson began working at the Hopkinton State Fair as a show farrier in the mid-1970s for about 22 years. These days, he sits on the board holding various positions and is currently the acting treasurer for the fair. Thursday, August 29, 2013 was opening day for the fair, which will run through to Monday, September 2.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • George Saunderson, left, jokes with a friend while making the rounds at the Hopkinton State Fair on Thursday afternoon, August 29, 2013. Saunderson began working at the fair as a show farrier in the mid-1970s for about 22 years. These days, he sits on the board holding various positions and is currently the acting treasurer for the fair. Thursday was opening day for the fair, which will run through to Monday, September 2.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
  • George Saunderson hops back on a golfcart after checking one of several ATMs at the Hopkinton State Fair on Thursday afternoon, August 29, 2013. Saunderson began working at the fair as a show farrier in the mid-1970s for about 22 years. These days, he sits on the board holding various positions and is currently the acting treasurer for the fair. Thursday was opening day for the fair, which will run through to Monday, September 2.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
  • George Saunderson began working at the Hopkinton State Fair as a show farrier in the mid-1970s for about 22 years. These days, he sits on the board holding various positions and is currently the acting treasurer for the fair. Thursday, August 29, 2013 was opening day for the fair, which will run through to Monday, September 2.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

George Saunderson of Loudon is an annual part of the Hopkinton State Fair, like fried dough and sweet sausage.

He’s worn many hats, moving from blacksmith to farrier to board member to treasurer to vice president to secretary and back again to treasurer.

That’s his current spot, which he inherited from the late Asa Maynard, who died this summer at the age of 72 and was honored yesterday with the unveiling of a bench in his name.

Saunderson, 70, began his run through this classic American painting nearly 40 years ago, when he re-shoed horses to keep the shows running.

When I showed up yesterday looking for a column, Saunderson served a few more roles. He became my escort, walking to the grassy parking lot to help me get past the attendant, who wouldn’t let me through because I had failed to call in advance.

He was a research tool, explaining about the vendors and the animal competitions and the long history of a fair that dates back to 1915.

And he served as public relations ambassador, pointing out the man named for the horse arena, Sunny Nelson, and the fair’s president, Deb Curtis (Nelson’s daughter), and the state’s ride inspector, Briggs Lockwood.

“Briggs’s wife was my farrier apprentice,” Saunderson says. “And I was the bus driver for Briggs when he was a student at Shaker Regional.”

You learn later that Saunderson shoed Curtis’s horse when she was a student at Concord High.

“That’s how I met many of these people,” he says.

That’s also how he put his two sons through college. Both in their 40s now, Saunderson brought his kids to the fair back in the late 1970s, when he worked as the official blacksmith. They rode the rides and ate the cotton candy and watched their father make sure horseshoes were repaired and reattached if they had slipped off during competition.

He says his title was changed to farrier because “that was a more specialized craft and it allowed us to charge more money for tickets.”

As the fair’s farrier, Saunderson waited outside the ring, ready to spring into action if a shoe came undone. Then, with a hammer in one hand and nails in his mouth to keep his other hand free, he’d hop the fence, lay the hoof across his lap and pound away.

He had just five minutes to complete the task, with the clock beginning to tick as soon as Saunderson touched the shoe. Finish the job beyond the allotted time, and horse and owner would be disqualified.

To buy time, an official sometimes showed Saunderson the shoe before handing it to him, allowing him to race to his truck if needed for some extra pounding on an anvil.

“That would happen if it was bent like a pretzel,” Saunderson said. “You’d have to be quick, but I never missed the time limit. You’re not really thinking about. You’re feeling it, instinctively, like throwing a dart.”

Those days are done. Saunderson now owns a tree farm in Loudon. He’s a wood turner, shaping salad bowls from scratch. He cuts the trees and carves the bowls.

But he remains comfortable around horses. He drew pictures of hooves and shoes on a legal pad, trying to show how he once nailed the shoes into place without hurting the horse, and what part of the hoof feels no pain, and how a hoof grows and needs a new fitting every five weeks or so.

Then, he chose to bring his lesson into the classroom, to a barn with dim light and thick sawdust on the floor. None of the owners were around, though, so the legal pad sketches would have to suffice.

The horse shows begin today and run through Labor Day. Saunderson will be there, in a different capacity than he had served in previous decades. His job now is to check the ATMs to make sure each has enough cash for the thousands of people expected this weekend.

As for the future, Saunderson said he’s not sure how much longer he’ll be connected to the fair. He has grandchildren, his wife recently retired as an art teacher at Sant Bani School in Sanbornton and he’d like to spend some of his senior years traveling.

He’s also going to run for state representative next year, for the second time.

He was asked if he’d return as treasurer for the next fair, Labor Day Weekend 2014.

“I’ll see who they talk into it for next year,” Saunderson said, “but if they need me, I’ll be back.”

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or
rduckler@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @rayduckler.)

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