“They’ve got to grow up some time…and a fair is a good place to start,” Mr. Arable says to Mrs. Arable in the children’s classic “Charlotte’s Web.”
The classic by E. B. White presents the unique perspective of Wilbur the pig watching the people walk by his pen, something many of us can experience this week in reverse at the Fremont County Fair.
I’m a fan of the fair and have been since my teenage years. As a kid, it’s a place of excitement, a place to meet kids from across the county, and most importantly a place to get away from adult supervision.
It remains that way for the children and young adults that present at the fair.
Our fair has changed this year, but it has always changed a little bit over time. This year, the change will be more dramatic, and more noticeable. There won’t be a poultry barn, so no chickens, turkeys, ducks, guineas, or peacocks on display.
The numbers have dropped over the last few years, and as a result, the poultry division is no more. The poultry barn remains at the state fair, just not in Fremont County.
More small animals than large ones are now shown by 4H and FFA contestants. There aren’t nearly as many steers and horses in the show and even hogs are down from previous fairs. Many see this trend as evidence of the economic downturn in our county, but more likely it is evidence of parents who work too many long hours, spends too much time away from home, and are too exhausted to spend the extra time necessary to get their children ready for competition.
The “bad hair day” chickens as my daughter Staci called the crested breeds were her favorite as a child, but you won’t see any of those wild head fathers on Sultans, Silkies, or Polish crested any longer.
The poultry show, always held in one of the sweltering metal barns has gone the way of the dairy show.
There were once 57 active dairies in Fremont County, delivering to a pair of Riverton creameries, now none remain. All our milk is shipped in from out-of-state and those busy dairy barns are just storage sheds today.
It’s not that way across the nation. I’ve been to Colorado and Pennsylvania County fairs over the years, and they are different than ours.
The Weld County Fair in Northeast Colorado is magnificent, surpassing the Wyoming State Fair in many ways. You might expect that in a county that is ranked higher in total agricultural production than many of the major food-producing counties of California.
We have a good showing most years in fruits and vegetables, Weld County ships hundreds of thousands of tons of cabbage, tomatoes, lettuce, and peppers across the globe. As every farmer, and gardener knows, it’s sun, water, and climate that determine a crop. We suffer from an unpredictable climate, not enough water, and so much sun that the arid conditions are magnified.
The fair in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania is an interesting comparison to ours. Westmoreland County has two-thirds the population of the entire state of Wyoming packed into a county just a ninth the size of Fremont County, but even so, they have a lot of agriculture, specifically corn, grain, fruit trees, grapes, vegetables, dairies, and a sizeable number of beef cattle operations.
What their fair doesn’t have is a rodeo arena.
The Fremont County Fair followed a national trend this year by not allowing a carnival in conjunction with the fair. It was a disappointment to many patrons, but it makes sense. The crowd that comes to the fairgrounds to show animals, model fashions they’ve sewn themselves, display their quilts, woodworking, photographs, and artwork are not the same as those that come down after the sun sets to ride the tilt-a-whirl, eat cotton candy, and get ripped off by the barkers at the dart throwing, target shooting or ping pong ball tossing booths.
Westmoreland County ended the adjoining carnival a few years ago, replacing it with more child-oriented rides. Little rollercoasters, teacup rides, and a carousel, but there are no barkers and no games of chance.
While the Pennsylvania and Colorado fairs surpass ours in fruit, vegetable, and dairy competition, there are a couple of areas where Fremont County is simply the best. Nothing compares with the quality of beef cattle raised in Fremont County. Going hand in hand with cattle production is the quality of our hay. Whether it’s alfalfa, grass, or most likely a mix of both, nowhere on earth produces better small, large, and mid-sized bales than our little corner of paradise.
If you’re looking for a finished product, try the quilting display at the armory. The skill, style, and dedication on display are unprecedented. It’s mostly women, though a few guys sometimes display their handiwork as well, and it is magnificent.
We live in the land of campers when it comes to the fair. Most livestock competitors live at the fair in a camper trailer parked nearby.
Cows, horses, hogs, sheep, goats, rabbits, and formerly poultry need to be cared for constantly. It’s easier (and a lot more fun after hours) to just live at the fair for a week or so.
The Weld County fair does the same thing, only on a larger scale with many more trailers parked near the livestock barns.
They do it a little differently in Westmoreland County, where the distances are measured in single miles instead of dozens, or even hundreds for some of the kids showing at the fair.
In Westmoreland County, the fair board sets aside
a 15×15 area that 4H and FFA exhibitors can make into little living quarters among the cows, horses, goats, sheep, and pigs. Futons were the predominant furniture but coaches, recliners, chairs, and even a few cots dotted the barns. Some areas had televisions and refrigerators, and every single area had cell phone, iPad, and Kindle chargers in evidence.
It was a nice touch of home for the weeklong stay at the fair and a little insurance that there would be no funny business with the livestock in the barns during off-duty hours.
Our fair opened yesterday with the parade and hog wrestling. It continues Sunday with one of my new favorite events, the Weiner Dog races, with the preliminary heats opening at 7:30 pm. The PRCA rodeo takes place Monday and Tuesday.
The Ranch Rodeo on Wednesday is as solid a slice of Americana as you can find anywhere, and with bull riding, monster trucks, and figure 8 races filling the rest of the week, the evenings promise to be as entertaining as the competition in the show ring during the day is fierce.
I love the fair.