Cows mooing. The roar of dirt bikes. Horses whinnying. Combines revving their engines.
This combination of sounds could mean only one thing -- the return of the McHenry County Fair.
13 vie for title of McHenry County queenLinda Zielinski understands the benefits of a county fair queen competition firsthand.
In her 27th year as the pageant director, the Huntley resident has interviewed many hopeful applicants.
"I'm learning as I'm interviewing them," she said. "I learn how to conduct myself in interviews."
The McHenry County Queen Contest starts at 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 31, in the Grandstand. At no extra cost, fairgoers can watch as 13 locals compete in the 64th annual competition.
Participants are scored based on her interview, presence, speech and communication skills, a one-minute speech about a topic of interest to her, and face and physical condition.
In the bi-level elimination, hopefuls will try to win up to $2,000 in scholarships toward a college or vocational school of choice.
The winner will go on to Springfield in January to compete in the Ms. Illinois County Fair Pageant.
There are no talent components in the competition, because, Zielinski said, "It's not about their talents -- it's more about who they are as a person."
Zielinski said there are many benefits to the program, including helping young women further their careers and improve their interview and communication skills.
And she has seen this proven: as a past participant in the pageant, she improved her interview and communication skills, securing a job with an airline right out of school. She wanted to pass along these skills to other young women, and to learn from them, too.
She said she hopes the women will learn from their experience and gain self-confidence.
And as for the queen, "I hope that she will learn about agriculture and the state of Illinois and then teach it and be a role model."
With a combination of agriculture, industry, competition and fun, the annual fair opens Wednesday, July 31, and runs through Sunday, Aug. 4, at the McHenry County Fairgrounds off Route 47 in Woodstock.
Admission is $7, $3 for kids ages 8 to 12 and free for kids ages 7 and younger. Coupons are available on the fair's website and Facebook page.
Stop by the Horse Arena at 6 p.m. Thursday for the new Mustang Horse Show, with horses performing stunts at no additional cost.
Get a 4-H tour of the livestock barns Friday -- knowledgeable volunteers will give visitors a look into what goes into the care of animals, said Dan Linneman of Hebron, chairman of the publicity committee for the fair.
Linneman will be working with his family on the Sheep Show, weighing the animals and making sure they are ready for sale.
He continues to be part of the livestock exhibitions because of what showing his family's animals as a 4-H member did for him.
"I paid my way through college," he said. "It was good learning how to run finances and knowing the hard work involved with raising animals."
But a large variety of livestock shows won't be the only feature at the five-day fair.
Organizers are working within the community to continue to offer an improved lineup of events, Linneman said.
"We try to think of agriculturally based ideas," he said. But ultimately, "We just try to direct what's going to draw people by getting surveys out … we want to get the best product that people want to see."
A motocross show will headline Friday night, with riders taking highflying jumps and zipping around tight corners in an adrenaline-filled evening of stunts, Linneman said. The show starts at 4:30 p.m. in the Grandstand for an additional $5.
A combine demolition derby set for 8 p.m. Saturday will feature powerful machines trying to smash and crash their way into first place.
A truck and tractor pull competition will precede the Combine Demolition Derby for $10. Starting at 5 p.m., fairgoers can watch these modified machines rev and show their power.
At 6:30 p.m. Thursday, a 21-tractor salute will honor veterans as the fair takes a day to pay tribute to local veterans and all they have done for the community, said Linneman.
The Grandstand and Entertainment Pavilion will host bands and a variety of shows. Linneman said he is most looking forward to the Modern Day Romeros headlining at 9 p.m. Friday at the Entertainment Pavilion.
Talent shows, a carnival, pygmy goat games, karaoke, wine tastings, a beer garden, dog demonstrations and other events will round out the offerings.
For details, visit www.mchenrycountyfair.com/.