Folks in Agua Dulce--a small, rural community near Canyon Country--are glad that hordes of Angelenos are heading off to the Los Angeles County Fair in Pomona this weekend.
It means they can expect fewer tourists at their own fair, a homespun extravaganza that has been planned for months by the town's 2,000 residents.
"Don't tell too many people," one person cautioned a reporter, only half-jokingly, as he watched a parade of vintage cars and horse-drawn wagons begin the 14th annual Agua Dulce Country Fair Saturday morning.
He gestured to the open foothills and a cluster of five stores that marked the town. "We like it this way," he said.
Visitors get the distinct impression that the residents of Agua Dulce, which means "sweet water" in Spanish, consider their fair a private affair--a chance to rub elbows with neighbors, swap recipes or get down to some serious country-swing dancing. That's what gives the fair its old-fashioned flavor. One feels like an outsider peering in at a celebration from some bygone day.
First there were the animals. Agua Dulce residents are fond of them. About half the people in the area own at least one horse, according to resident Cecile Schwedes.
The horses came in all shapes and sizes. There were big, sleek ones--powerful and proud animals that snorted with disdain at gasoline-driven vehicles. And there were small, shy ponies favored by children for slow rides around a dusty track.
There were other four-legged animals as well, including a white bull named Topper with a leash-ring through its nose. There was even a llama, an exotic-looking beast that watched the Western fair benignly with South American eyes.
The parade's grand marshal, white-haired Bob Wills Jr., also was partial to animals. Wills, a musician, drove a long white Cadillac with a pair of steer horns strapped to the hood.
Wills, a large, powerful-looking man with a booming voice, had other imposing accouterments: silver-tipped leather boots, a big cowboy hat and a heavy silver belt buckle inlaid with turquoise.
For many of Agua Dulce's residents, the fair also is a showcase for traditional crafts. Sharleen Fairchild, dressed in pioneer garb, sat at a booth in the shade and worked a spinning wheel. She fed a steady stream of fleece through the wooden instrument and worked the treadle with her foot as she made yarn. Her handiwork, wool and mohair sweaters made from the yarn, was also for sale at the booth.
Fairchild, who moved to Agua Dulce seven years ago from Simi Valley, summed up the feeling of many local fair-goers Saturday when she said: "It's just peaceful and quiet here. People are friendly and the air is clear."
The fair has also drawn other merchants, including Jim Bagby from Sun Valley, who is selling antiques from Missouri. Among the items: a daisy churn for butter, a wood-burning stove made in 1897 and a 150-year-old washing machine.
Bagby's goods sat cheek-by-jowl with those of more contemporary merchants, who plied wares such as sunglasses and jogging shorts. At another booth, senior citizens hawked homemade fruit pies and sun tea.
Under a nearby awning, a posse of gunslingers hunkered down at tables over soft drinks. They could have been actors from a Western movie, but they were in fact a group of welders, attorneys and car salesmen with a fondness for the Old West. Their hobby is re-creating the past with period clothing, hats and authentic guns.
"It's a time period we can't go back to, but we try to bring it alive," said Andy Gates as he pulled an antique Remington .45 out of his holster to demonstrate an Old West gunfight scene with his brother, Randy.
Barbara McGee, a Valencia craftswoman who was in Agua Dulce on Saturday to display yarn embroidery and needlepoint, said the fair is probably one of the last rustic fairs left.
"You really think you're out in the country. What are we, 45 minutes from the Valley? This is like a whole other world."
The fair continues through next Sunday.