A look into the past at the dog days of August, the fair and school

Published 2:10 pm Saturday, July 20, 2013

Column: Woods and water, by Dick Herfindahl

The Freeborn County Fair is just around the corner, and I find myself wondering how it snuck up on us this fast. It seems like only yesterday we were waiting for the ice to melt off the lakes, and now summer is on its downhill run.

Looking back to my days as a kid, anticipating the arrival of the fair was almost Christmas-like in my mind. I would work all summer mowing lawns and saving my paper route money for that big event. I mowed lawns for my uncle, Orville Winjum, to earn spending money for the summer. He mowed the rural pumping station lawns for Interstate Power. Each week we would load his two mowers on a trailer and take off for different towns around the area. We mowed the pumping stations in rural Albert Lea, Emmons, Wells, south of Twin Lakes and New Richland. I included New Richland last, because it was my favorite. The pumping station was right next to the drive-in and he always had it figured so that when we finished mowing it would be lunch time, and he would treat me to a burger or pronto pup basket along with a big frosty mug of root beer, which is still my favorite beverage today. Our family never ate out much, so this was a real treat to a kid from rural Albert Lea.

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Saving money for the fair was my goal each summer, and by the time it would arrive, that money would be burning a hole in my pocket.

My friend, Pat Smith, and I would head to the fair days ahead of time to scout and see what new things had been done to make it an even better fair than the previous one. We could always tell when a building had been painted or if something new had been added. I guess we were pretty much fair junkies, because we couldn’t wait for that magical time. We would usually ride our bikes to the fairgrounds and hang out all day inspecting every inch of the place making sure it had our stamp of approval. There was one particular time when Pat rode his horse to my house. I jumped on the back, and we were off on our initial inspection tour of the fairgrounds. His horse was a Welsh pony that he named Scout after Tonto, the Lone Ranger’s sidekick’s horse. It was a pinto like Tonto’s horse, but unfortunately for me, he wasn’t overly fond of carrying an extra rider. We had ridden to the fairgrounds where we spent a big chunk of the day, and we were on our way home when Scout decided he was tired of two riders and decided to rid himself of the extra passenger. After running through the ditch and bucking like a rodeo horse, he finally shed himself of the extra rider (me) and then stopped, looking at me as if he were giving me the horse laugh. This just reassured my suspicions that horses just didn’t really like me all that much. I was a little sore, but overall none the worse for wear. Although Pat encouraged me to mount up, I decided that I was within walking distance of home and would keep my feet on the ground. That was one occasion when I felt safer not heeding the old saying about getting back on if you get bucked off.

The first day of the fair we would be there bright and early hoping to get some sort of odd jobs around the carnival. One year they had a new ride called the Mad Mouse, and the guy setting it up asked us to fill his water jug and run some errands for him, which resulted in a couple of free rides. There was another time, however, when I helped a guy with his game stand and in return he gave me some free games, which ultimately led to him bilking me out of all my hard-earned fair money. That was a sad time for me, because I couldn’t go to the fair without my own money. I can still remember laying upstairs in my bed with the window open and hearing the fair going on loud and clear without me! Can you feel the self-pity oozing out?

That was a life lesson indeed, and if I learned anything from that it was that those games were not for me, and maybe that’s why I’ve never been much of a gambler. If I did help one of those carnys again, I made sure that it was someone who worked on a ride with payments in tickets or cash. Lately, I only attended the fair one day each year, and that is to watch the grandkids show their 4-H projects. I still enjoy walking through the barns to look at the livestock, and every once in a while, I’ll think of Patrick and the fun that we had hanging out at the fair on those hot August days.

The down side of the fair was as soon as it was over school was just around the corner. School meant my mother would take me to town for school supplies and new clothes. It was time for new shoes, socks and underwear along with two shirts and two pairs of dress pants; blue jeans were not an option. To me, the newness of the clothes wore off almost as fast as the excitement of the new school year. I attended Hammer School from first- to sixth-grade, and I have to say that those were my most enjoyable school years. The end of summer might have meant the beginning of school, but it was also the beginning of football, which was my favorite sport at the time. I have many good memories of Hammer School with its two classrooms and some very good teachers.

Until next time, enjoy the outdoors, maybe take in a fair or even do a little fishing.

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.