By Mark Simonson Contributing Writer
---- — At the bottom of every promotional poster for this past weekend’s Hartwick Field Days was a slogan, “Hartwick, A Great Place to Live.” The size of the font wasn’t big, but the event itself seemed to draw a pretty good sized crowd.
Robert O’Brien, chief of the Hartwick Volunteer Fire Department, said activities were well attended and supported by local residents.
“Everything went as planned this year without issues,” said a tired but pleased O’Brien Sunday night after nearly 40 dedicated Hartwick firefighters and friends put on a celebration of three days with nearly perfect weather.
The weather looked daunting on Friday afternoon, but only about two hours after the grounds opened at 4 p.m., skies began clearing. It was only the second year that events began Friday evening, and it appears the trend will continue next year.
Almost new to the Field Days this year were hot air balloon rides as part of the kickoff. An attempt was made in 2012, but gusty winds forced a cancellation. Conditions were much kinder this year, as many took advantage of tethered rides of more than 50 feet off the ground.
David Markowitz and partner Beatrice brought their balloon to Hartwick from nearby Maryland as the duo fly the balloon as a hobby, not a business, to help raise money for local organizations. Beatrice is a paramedic, and both she and David put several Hartwick firefighters through a hands-on schooling of putting the hot air balloon together.
Hartwick Field Days is the HVFD’s largest fundraiser of the year, according to O’Brien. While the income and expense report is still being prepared from the long weekend, O’Brien said the income side of the ledger is looking extremely good for the department.
“We use the money to offset the burden on the taxpayers. We’re able to purchase equipment for the jobs we do as firefighters,” the chief said.
Recent funds have helped purchase a six-wheel vehicle for off-road rescue and brush fires.
O’Brien said an impressive crowd showed for the live music entertainment. The Jason Wicks Band opened on Friday, followed by the Ben Whisler Band on Saturday night.
With perfect weather on Saturday and Sunday, crowds enjoyed the Gillette Midway rides and amusements, a new partnership that has proven most successful for the event.
On the food front of the weekend, a pig roast was new on Saturday. Other new events included a garden tractor pull on Sunday, following Saturday’s regular tractor pull.
A Saturday evening parade featured between 25-30 local fire department units.
Hartwick seems to have had some form a fire department celebration for more than 100 years. In the modern era, this Field Days weekend marked the 31st year. According to the book “Hartwick: The Heart of Otsego County,” published in 2002, a field day under different names began around 1976 with the U.S. Bicentennial celebration. It was so well received that a celebration continued thanks to the Hartwick Historical Society. The book also pointed to the fact that a firemen’s field day was common beginning in 1898 when the Hartwick Hose Co. raised $78.
O’Brien has been fire chief in Hartwick for three years, with several more years of helping coordinate Hartwick Field Days before that. O’Brien said he can’t say enough good things about the volunteers who make the weekend possible.
“It’s more of a family here than a job,” O’Brien said late Sunday night. “About 25 to 30 of us start planning the event each month beginning in January. Then we start meeting weekly in June. We’ll meet again soon to figure out the successes and areas we can improve on next year.”
As the area continues to support Hartwick Field Days, O’Brien said the event will keep getting bigger and better. When asked about any big plans for 2014, O’Brien hinted there is something potentially big in the works, but for now it will remain a mystery.
As for the slogan of Hartwick being a great place to live, O’Brien said, “We so believe that.”