In the middle of the half-year-long Montana winter, with temperatures averaging 11 below, warming up to 4 below in the full sun, and a foot or more of snow on the ground, the 33rd annual Winter Fair, one of the biggest social events of the Montana year, drew 100,000 people to this town with a population of 19,000 this past week.

Folks from 400 miles away came to see a team of towering Belgian draft horses pull a sled loaded with 10,300 pounds of sandbags a distance of seven feet in the Championship Horse Pulling Contest.

More than 1,200 sat in an arena, safe from the 20 below weather outside, watching "Vandermeide -- Europe's fastest hypnotist" convince 13 members of the audience that they couldn't take their hands from a rope until they had been tapped on the head.

Others laughed at two proofreaders from the Bozeman newspaper, the Chronicle, attempting to catch a calf by the tail and stuff the 300-pound animal into a long-sleeved sweatshirt.

"The closest I have ever come to a calf is veal parmesan," said Valeria Bickwermert. She came closer than that to the calf she was chasing but didn't succeed in dressing it in a sweatshirt.

The calf-dressing contest was among the biggest crowd-pleasers of the festival, and crowds are ultimately what this frozen fair is all about.

People who have to start their cars at 10 below zero are the type who insist on overcoming obstacles by themselves.

That's also the way they usually play, conquering the snow on skis, snowshoes and snowmobiles -- largely individualistic sports.

But the Montana Winter Fair combats cabin fever by giving folks a chance to get together, to chat over coffee, to ascertain the going price of purebred shorthorn cattle and to learn about the latest sewing machines that can stitch canvas-and-fakefur horse blankets.

Stockwoman Peg Allen is close to cattle. She owns a 300-acre cattle ranch east of Bozeman with her husband Archie. They've made the trek to the Winter Fair for the past 31 years to show and sell their Shorthorns.

Average price per head this year was $1,600, double the price of last year, Allen said.

It's not a good idea to be casually scratching your nose at a cattle auction, the stockwoman said.

"If you're not bidding on an animal you want to be quite careful about what you do or you might be taking one home with you," Mrs. Allen said.

Beef was much in evidence at the Winter Fair. It was present in one place you wouldn't expect it -- in fudge.

Each year the CowBelles, a group organized to promote beef sale, cook up batches of fudge which include roast beef. According to fudge customers, it's good.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner were available at the fairgrounds. The food was prepared and served by members of Grace Lutheran Church, who created cream pies and chili at the church and transported it over to the fairgrounds.

Cooking up prize-winning candy was 18-year-old Jeff Todd, whose almond roca took first place in the candy cookoff and men's and boys' cookoff.

Many women gathered around the sewing machines of 1979, learning of the latest innovations.

One sewing machine promoter told bystanders that her machine would sew through any thickness.

"If you can get the material under the foot, you can sew it," she said."I've made a horse blanket of canvas and fake fur on this machine."

And the kids -- well, all the kids headed for the children's zoo to pet the four-horned sheep, pygmy goats, deer and the bull elk.

Lots of them wanted to pet the emu, an ostrich-like creature which comes from Australia. One thing's for sure about the emu. It was cold.