The Open Road: County Fair
There's a different quality to light in September--the sun slants lower, illuminating the snow cones and cupie dolls. People are streaming through a welcoming arch, the murmur of a crowd from the back of the grandstand is a magnet drawing me and hoards of others through the gates. I think the races are about to begin.
Every fair has its draw, hawkers, hoochie-coochie girls, big-name entertainment, are all bait to get people in the gate. The main draw here is horse racing, and being Nevada, the betting's wide open.
I've picked a dark chestnut horse named Idaho Wildcat...real sleek and flighty. Looks like a winner to me.
I make enough to buy supper and I'm feeling good. But it's time to explore. Entering the Home Arts Building I'm dazed by a visual feast of mustard pickles, fruit pies, Native American beading, quilts, furniture welded from horseshoes. I bump into an old rancher friend Eloise McQueary, admiring a prize-winning painting done by her granddaughter. We touch on the weather and move on to the hay crop.
I'm reminded that the foundation of most fairs in America is agriculture and its not by chance that fair time happens at harvest. In fact, this fair is full of events that test the skills of local ranchers' branding, reining, pinning, animal showing. Eloise suggests I cross the grounds to the 4-H displays.
Mostly locals pack the auction barn, where a teenage boy in cowboy boots, neatly pressed white shirt with a green 4-H string tie, nervously leads his steer into the ring. For months, he's risen at dawn to care for this animal and now he hopes to get a good price.
Fifteen-year old Samantha Cavender is showing her sheep today.
A cowboy friend and I once compared the different chores we did as kids. "If you don't make your bed, you've got an unmade bed" he said. "If I don't feed my animal, it dies?" Now there's a lesson in consequence.
At the turn of the last century every other American lived on a farm or ranch. At the end of this century one in fifty does. But at the fair we can still be part of a life that most of us have lost only in the last two or three generations. Fairs ground us in horticulture and animal husbandry. No matter where you live, you can drive fewer than 50 miles and find one.From the Open Road, I'm Hal Cannon for the Savvy Traveler.
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