Fair in the Air

The smell of fried, and of animals. Rows and rows of home-canned goods and cupcakes and Pumpkins of Unusual Size. Flashing lights on spinning rides, and excited voices trying to persuade you to buy a new gadget, or upgrade your storm windows, or to plant native plants, to wear more cotton, and to find Jesus (preferably at their place.)

Yes, it’s fair season!

Pro-tip (especially if you have kids): Eat a little, ride the whirling things, then eat the fried stuff.

Pro-tip (especially if you have kids): Eat a little, ride the whirling things, then eat the fried stuff.

I have an abiding fondness for county fairs. No idea why. I didn’t grow up on a farm, never showed animals or exhibited crafts or food, but I really enjoy ag shows and fairs. I think part of it is pure nostalgia, because I’ve always had fun when I went, and because them let me imagine for a few hours that the Mayberry R.F.D. world really exists. And because you go in the gate knowing that you are going to eat things you really shouldn’t but it’s for a good cause. And only once a year.

4-H Show lambs in Vermont.

4-H Show lambs in Vermont.

Students from the Future Farmers of America show their pigs at the Northwest Junior Livestock Show at the Washington State Spring Fair in Puyallup, Washington on April 17, 2015. The hogs must weigh between 225 - 285 pounds and average 6 months old. The students are judged on the grooming of their aninmal, how well they show it and how fit the animal is. All students must own the animals they exhibit and are responsible for their care.

Students from the Future Farmers of America show their pigs at the Northwest Junior Livestock Show at the Washington State Spring Fair in Puyallup, Washington on April 17, 2015. The hogs must weigh between 225 – 285 pounds and average 6 months old. The students are judged on the grooming of their aninmal, how well they show it and how fit the animal is. All students must own the animals they exhibit and are responsible for their care.

Very nice cattle.

Very nice cattle.

I have vague memories of my parents taking by toddler brother and I to garden shows when we were kids. And because my babysitter was a judge, as was her sister-in-law, and other friends ran the church food booth, she took Sib and I to the Tri-State-Fair when we were growing up. I remember staring at rows and rows of canned produce just like Mom made, but fancier. And lots of cakes and pies, home-made clothing and needlework, and animals. Oh, lots of animals, show pigs and freshly clipped and scrubbed lambs, and horses, and goats. There were tractors on display, and stuff being sold, both useful and fair-junk. We ate food from the church booths (Our Lady of Guadalupe and the Lutherans), and also got frozen chocolate covered strawberries on a stick. The next year I had braces and no more things-on-sticks or frozen stuff or caramel apples.The orthodontist actually kept open slots during fair week for all the kids (and adults) who pulled their braces loose on caramel apples and the like.

Not for sale, at the Texas State Fair.

Not for sale, at the Texas State Fair.

One please. yes, I think I'll need a fork and some more napkins.

One please. yes, I think I’ll need a fork and some more napkins.

One year the babysitter’s husband came along and he won us a big stuffed teddy bear (that promptly began leaking stuffing, but I didn’t care). And I won a hairclip with feathers that caused some consternation at school because the administrators thought it was a roach-clip until they looked closely. (Didn’t wear it again because of the fuss.)

When I worked in Really Flat State, I went to tractor pulls and the closest county fair. Oh, I had a great time. One of the displays was John Deere tractors, 50+, in time order. I missed the steam-threshing and steam-tractors, but I did oogle things, sigh over other things, admired the show animals, and bought a metal scale model of an IH combine with three heads (wheat, corn, bean) that you could swap around and combine the shag rug with. Yes, I was in my 30s. So what? Alas, it was too big to fit into the car with all my other stuff when I moved, so it went to a good (farm) home. And I ate roasted corn on a stick, and corndogs, and funnel cake, and opted not to get the turkey leg.

I also got to attend the Manitoba Provincial Expo (provincial fair) by chance, and enjoyed watching the horse shows. Part of the show was team wagon competitions, six and ten-horse hitches. Watching a ten-horse hitch back a large freight wagon in a straight line, then in an assigned curve, was impressive. Heck, ten Percherons or Belgians hitched to anything is impressive! I also heard the greatest carney-patter man, probably from Ireland or possibly Newfoundland, selling a sort of pulley thing. Talk about a master at work, I think half his customers bought the gizmos just for the privilege of having heard his spiel.

Not cardiologist approved.

Not cardiologist approved.

So this week was the Tri-State Fair. After work I changed into suitable clothes and went to the fairgrounds. The animal judging was meat goats, and I watched for a while, then watched the open round of the cutting horse competition. Early afternoon is pretty sparse, and the midway rides are not running yet, which suited me quite well. I looked at the portable buildings, watched little kids at the petting zoo, strolled through the exhibits at the 4-H building and admired the canned goods, the quilts, the Squash of Unusual Size and some tomatoes I really wanted to take home with me, looked at the photo and art contest winners and entries, and read all the ag displays. Then I checked out the food, got a small bag of German roasted cashews (sweet-glazed with cinnamon, still warm from the roaster. Evil, evil nuts.), and funnel cake, and frozen lemonade. There weren’t as many big displays, in part because the Tri-State Farm and Ranch Show, and the Working Ranch Rodeo, are large trade expos. But I had a great time, and it was neat to see so many things remain unchanged.

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7 thoughts on “Fair in the Air

  1. Ah, fairs….
    Back in the Bay Area, I went to the Santa Clara County Fair a couple of times, several years apart. The first time (early 1990s), it was kinda fun. The second (2005-ish), well, pretty much all the fun and/or agricultural stuff was gone, and the general theme of the fair seemed to be Fear of Gang Members.
    I also went to a couple of fairs in other counties around 2005; those were still reasonably fun – though I think by now the ones in the Silicon Valley area are probably extinct, or might as well be.
    There seem to be proper, old-school county fairs around here (Sevier County, TN, and vicinity), but we haven’t managed to check them out so far (2020/21: pandemic; 2022: household constraints). Maybe next year. Going to the county fair was very much part of my plans!

  2. I used to go to the Ozark Empire Fair, in Springfield, MO.
    So many types of chickens!
    One year the fair hosted a team of the Budweiser Clydesdales. The grooms had to stand on a box to groom their backs. Magnificent animals.

    • In 2019 the Grants came up, and we cruised the fair. I had no idea that so many people raised show chickens and ducks. I’m still not convinced that some of the chickens actually had feet under the feathers.

      The 4-H welding projects were amazing. The kids did great jobs presenting them, too. I think Peter had work-table envy (the thing had a power-supply, and lights under the counter in the storage area, and weighed hundreds of pounds, but rolled easily.) If I’d had space, and need, and space . . .

  3. Ah yes, rural fairs. Went to the Eastern Idaho State Fair with my college roommate, his fiancee, and some of her family. Her family ran a medium to large farm in the local area, her mom ran one of the food booths for the local PTA. We lost her dad to the Tractor display, I think he stumped some of the reps with his pointed questions. Fiancee kept pushing roomie to win her one of those giant stuffed animals, I told him it’d be cheeper to ask If he could just buy one, She was not amused, LOL.

    Another year, I actually won a second place ribbon in the landscape photography category, fun times.

  4. Sigh… brings back good memories… The ‘little’ fairs always tended toward heavy Ag because of the local FFA/4H in farm/ranch country. But the Texas State Fair was the ‘big boy’ in the area…

  5. About a half century ago, we were visiting friends in Minneapolis, and I got to attend the state fair. Quite fun, with none of the problems reported this year.

    Flyover County has their fair at the beginning of August, and Very Northern California has a regional fair in early September. The valley straddles two large rural counties, and it’s a long ways away from the county seats, so a separate fair makes sense. Before California dropped funding for such fairs, it acquired a reputation for getting country music acts that were on the threshold of making it big. (Dierks Bentley, for one.) Now it’s cover bands and local talent. Flyover has gone the route of booking acts no longer at the top of the charts, but still quite good. (Martina McBride this year.)

    The regional fair has a quilting category, with lots of entries from the local quilting guilds. Really good work. No surprise that the best quilting supply shop in miles is nearby. ($SPOUSE quilts, though she doesn’t exhibit her work.)

    The vintage tractor show/threshing bee is run elsewhere on Labor Day weekend. That’s a world of fun by itself. (One or two steam tractors show there.)

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