Friday, August 31, 2012

Local Fairs and Memories

Wednesday, my wife and I went to the opening day of the Canfield Fair in Ohio. It is a regional fair, drawing from several Ohio and Pennsylvania counties. Since we moved from California, I would rate this as the best fair we've attended. It reminded me a bit of the Big Fresno Fair, with more animals than the Minnesota State Fair. The Canfield Fair had the best collection of antique farm equipment we've seen, and definitely the most food trucks and booths.

In California, there are county fairs. I've been to the Kern, Tulare, Kings, Los Angeles, and Fresno County fairs. The Tulare County fair is a nice little event, usually with some good entertainment. The Fresno County fair (The Big Fresno Fair) is great. I love the entertainment, the craft displays, and the animals. I can still remember the basic layout of the fairgrounds, especially the location of the rabbits, sheep, and horses. Fresno's grandstands are still used for horse racing.

The Minnesota State Fair, held in St. Paul next to the University of Minnesota campus, is huge. It's more like a theme park than a fair. The Space Tower, the aerial trams, and the water rides are permanent at the fairgrounds. In 2002, the race track the grandstands once served was closed. While we lived in Minneapolis, you could still see remnants of the old dirt track and some of the paved areas. This year, they completed a remodel of the area, making the grandstands better for concerts. You can't even tell there were horse and car races at the fairgrounds. I know it is a weird thing to obsess about, but I wondered what the fair lost when the track was closed.

We went to the Minnesota Fair ("The Great Minnesota Get Together") three or four times during our five year stay in the state. I've wondered if we should have found some county fairs, which might have felt more "country" to me. Maybe it is my bias, but the Minnesota fair doesn't "feel right" because it lacks the rural charm I'd expect of a fair. Even the Los Angeles fair feels like a county fair, or at least it did in the 1980s.

The Minnesota Fair did have the best honey display I've ever seen. Yes, honey. I also liked the floral displays at the Minnesota Fair better than any others we have seen. But the crowds, with 1.8 million people attending the fair, are too much for me. I dislike crowds intensely, and the Minnesota Fair is one massive crowd.

The Warner Coliseum at the Minnesota Fair was my second favorite building — it is where the horse shows are. English and Western competitions are interesting. Watching a horse perform is amazing. The rider and horse are one, yet the animal is so much larger and stronger than the human sitting atop. A draft horse is a huge, huge animal, yet they are gentle and graceful. Earlier this summer, we had an opportunity to see several draft horses at the Butler County Fair.

The Butler County Fair in Western Pennsylvania was a lot of fun earlier this summer. We went on July 4 and watched the fireworks. It was a small, hot, dirty county fair. There were small animal barns, with young people tending to their animals. The grandstands were used for tractor pulls, horse racing, and the fireworks show. It wasn't even as large as the Tulare County Fair. Fairs should be "country" — not just country music, but country in every way possible. Animals, farm equipment, 4H and FFA members, and all those things that make me feel at home.

I didn't grow up on a farm (my wife did), but we lived in the country surrounded by orange orchards, walnuts, horses, and lots of dairy cattle. I remember attending the Woodlake Lions Rodeo, the Visalia Rodeo, and events at the Tulare County fairgrounds. The county fair is held the second week of September. It is still warm in Central California during the fall — so you want to walk around in the evening. It is the last big thing of the summer, before the cool Tule Fog settles in for the winter. Growing up, "summer" started with the Woodlake Rodeo in May and ended with the county fairs in September and October.

Unless you've lived in the Southwest or Central California, you might not realize how "summer-like" October can be! The record high in Fresno for October is 101F and the average is 80F. I'm now living in Western PA, where the average for August is 81F. It's like the calendar is two or three months off what my wife and I expect. We still can't believe you can walk around a fair in July and not pass out from heat stroke.

You might imagine someone sensitive to light, sounds, smells, and all other imaginable stimuli, would hate places like fairs. Instead, I love the fairs. Fairs will always remind me some of the best things about Central California and my childhood. My adult memories of the Big Fresno Fair are pretty good, too.

Next year, my wife and I hope to visit more regional fairs. We haven't been to a fair in West Virginia, yet, she reminded me tonight.

If you are anywhere near Eastern Ohio, you should try to visit the Canfield Fair some year. I know we'll be back next year.

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