Remembering some hot times at the fair

Published 9:36am Sunday, July 22, 2012

Here we are with the first day of the fair breathing down our necks like the hot weather that has maintained its hold on us the last few weeks.

Looking back on my years as a youth I have always remembered the summer days around fair time as being hot.

I recall the times when Pat Smith, a childhood friend of mine, and I would go to the fairgrounds a few days before the fair was scheduled to start. It seemed to be our annual ritual.

There were days when we would walk to the fairgrounds from my house which really didn’t seem all that far to a kid growing up in the country.

On one particular day we had cut across Vern Torgeson’s hay field which had just been bailed and it seemed like there were frogs and grasshoppers almost everywhere you looked.

The hot sun that was beating down on us didn’t seem to bother us kids and air conditioning wasn’t even a thought. That was something that we could never dream of experiencing.

We had air conditioning in the car if you rolled the windows down. When we experienced some of those hot summer nights I would get to sleep on a sheet on the floor in the living room with all the windows open. Now that was air conditioning at its finest.

There are times when I am driving on Bridge Avenue that I will think about that field and the many times that we walked across it on the way to the fairgrounds.

There were some summers when the water in the crick would slow to a trickle and be reduced to a small stream, but there was always some water in it.

As summer wore on, however, the hot weather would start to take its toll on the water quality. The fish and minnows that were abundant in the spring and early summer were scarce being replaced for the most part by turtles and frogs. As the duck weed flourished, the excitement of sighting a northern or some other game fish was replaced by the sighting of a turtle popping its head up through that colorful green blanket.

There are other things to remember about summertime in the neighborhood like the old pond that we used to frequent, mostly in the winter time. The pond was where Sunshine Day School once was, but has since become somebody’s home.

We’d go there and skate or play our version of boot hockey and occasionally we’d be joined by some town kids to hang out with.

When my cousin Tom went into the Army he gave me his hockey stick and a puck. I guess I was the only one of our gang that had a store-bought stick. Sometimes at that old pond we’d have a small bonfire which I sometimes think we enjoyed more than the games.

We didn’t go there too often but when we did it was always a lot of fun.

Getting back to the fair days.

I think my favorite part of the fair was the stock car races. There was also harness racing that was pretty fun to watch, but I didn’t enjoy that as much as the stock car races.

My dad was the one that liked to watch the harness races. He would go to the fair and spend hours and never leave the horse barns.

He loved horses, loved to ride and probably liked to talk horses about as much as anyone.

The stock car races eventually went away and I’d venture to guess it was for a couple of different reasons. One because as more people started building around the fairgrounds I’m sure that the noise probably got to be too much for the folks to tolerate.

The other thing was the danger aspect. I can recall one of the last races on the half-mile oval where a car went off the bank and through the fence on the northeast turn and ended up on Richway Drive.

There was also the midget car race where a driver was seriously injured when he flipped his car and cart-wheeled end over end on the backstretch.

Eventually harness racing also made its exit from the fair.

It was once a popular event at the fair and there were some local folks that owned race horses and stabled them at the fairgrounds year-round.

There were a couple of years that my dad kept his horses there and I would tag along when he went to do the chores.

It was hard enough to get him to leave when we were the only ones there, but if there was someone around to talk horses with we’d be there way too long for me.

I have to admit I learned a lot about horses in those days whether I wanted to or not.

Yes, the anticipation of the fair was probably second only to Christmas and as that magic time grew closer visions of candy apples and pineapple and strawberry swirl ice cream cones danced in my head.

I counted my lawn mowing and paper route money many times over with plans of enjoying the fair to the fullest.

One fateful year I got sucked in by a carnie who first asked us to help him and then gave us free games to hook us and eventually managed to get most of my precious fair money from me on the first day.

I can still remember laying at home in my bedroom listening to the fair going on in the distance and knowing that I had no money to go and enjoy it.

We didn’t have a lot of extra money those days so if I went to the fair I had to use my own money.

I guess that was a life lesson because to this day I’m not big on games of chance or gambling in general.

For years there was a drawing for a new car that was held on the last night of the fair.

For the kids there was a drawing for a pony on Kids Day. It’s kind of a funny when I think about it because I always went to see who would win but secretly I hoped my ticket wouldn’t get drawn. I guess I just wasn’t destined to be another Roy, Gene or Hoppy.

The fair still has a certain smell to it like no other.

Walking through the livestock barns still smells like it did years ago and of course the food always smells good. I don’t venture out to the fair much anymore except to watch the grandkids show their 4-H projects but when I do go I rekindle some fond memories of my fair dwelling days as a youth.

Until next time, take a little time to relax and maybe even enjoy a night at the fair. Whatever you do just enjoy the outdoors experience.

Please remember to keep our troops in your thoughts and prayers because they are the reason we are able to enjoy all the freedoms that we have today.

Dick Herfindahl’s column appears in the Tribune each Sunday.