Bolt-sitting, baby-kissing, and $1000 pies — the county fairs of Northwest Missouri couldn't happen but once a year. Thank heaven, they still do.">
Lining up for the main event, the parade, Nodaway County Fair
(The charity Abby's Hugs gives stuffed animals to children in hospitals)
Photo: Richard Oswald
County fairs are great places to gain public exposure if you’re a politician. You can shake hands, kiss babies, pass out literature, and try to make some friends. Over the hill from Langdon in Nodaway County they even put on a Candidate Forum at the courthouse. All the candidates on the primary ballot have a chance to strut their stuff and answer questions from the gallery.
But there’s more to fairs than politics. In fact, county fairs bring out the best of communities in a whole variety of ways”¦like parades. They’re always well attended. Churches, civic groups, businesses, and clubs have a great time decorating floats. Saddle clubs get to show off their best horseflesh, and the young folks lining the parade route make a killing on candy hand-outs.
There's a definite order to county fair parade. Generally the floats and cars go first because they have to be judged. The politicians follow the floats (they’re judged in August and November), with incumbents toward the front and challengers toward the back. (Maybe it’s the Republicans and then the Democrats. Around here I’m never sure.)
It seems like they always pick on the livestock, because the horses follow the politicians.
At some fairs they let the paraders throw candy from the street, but in Nodaway County, where I was July 19, parade walkers have to deliver candy, curbside.
A good hour before the parade started, when my family and I were driving into Maryville, the Nodaway county seat, people were already setting up folding chairs in choice spots along the route. Public Safety (around Langdon we call them "police") had some streets blocked to avoid congestion and mishaps, and parade participants were getting ready to run the gauntlet of candy-hungry kids.
The parade is generally on the last day of the fair. Leading up to that are displays and contests for food, crafts, photography, needlework, horticulture, and all the rest. 4-Hers get to show their livestock, and at an auction held after the judging, entries come through the sale ring not to sell the animals but so that the charitable community can bid to pay exhibitors a premium for all their hard work.
At the Atchison County Fair auction in Rock Port, most of the entries netted somewhere between $350 and $500. That’s money the kids use to help pay expenses, hopefully with a little left over. Interspersed between the livestock, other items — furniture, food, or even quilts — that have been donated to the Fair Board are auctioned to raise cash for trophies and cover costs for next year's fair.
At this years auction I saw a quilt sell for $1050. A cherry pie brought $1000. Marilyn Graves made the pie. They say hers are the best.
I think even Marilyn was surprised to find out it was that good.
It’s not unusual for farmers to show off their tractors, or enthusiasts to display their antique cars, hot rods, or motorcycles at the fair.
Something that just started here a few years back is the tractor cruise. It seems that since most farmers now have enclosed tractors complete with AC and heat, we hold nostalgic memories of those older tractors whose greatest amenity was a padded seat.
Just before the Tractor Cruise, Atchison County Fair
featuring older tractors and nostalgia, with and without padded seats
Photo: Richard Oswald
I remember when Dad got a new seat for our 1948 M Farmall. He bought what he said was an Army tank seat that he found at a surplus store in Lincoln, Nebraska. It had a shock absorber and a big spring to smooth out the jolts of tractor driving, but there were 2 bolt heads right in the middle of the part you sit on. By the end of the day the driver always knew exactly where those bolts were. Being the frugal man my father was, he put off buying a seat pad, preferring to use a cushion my mother made for him with a hand sewn cover that matched our sofa.
It worked so well she could have entered it in the fair.
Eventually Dad bought a factory made cover for the seat, complete with foam rubber. You never saw a happier farmer than the day he got that cushion.
By the time I was old enough to operate the M, the foam rubber was wearing out and the bolts were back.
Anyway, tractor enthusiasts at the fair have what they call a “Tractor Cruise” where they climb aboard their oldest, best tractor and take a cross-county drive together. This year my grandson Hayden drove our 1968 John Deere 4020. It was one of the newer tractors in the line. Hayden (he’s an Eagle Scout) mounted two American flags on the three point hitch for a patriotic touch that matches the feelings of county fair participants.
Hayden Oswald on the family's 1968 John Deere 4020, cruising at 12 mph
Photo: Richard Oswald
There was never a prouder grandpa than when I saw those tractors pull out from the Memorial Building.
It was a hot day. When my grandson returned I asked him how it went. “Well,” he said, “it was a good experience, but when you only go 12 miles an hour it takes a really long time to get somewhere.”
I remember all the hours I spent sitting on those bolt heads on the M, going up and down the rows in third gear before I got my first 4020. I couldn’t help but think that if Hayden had a bolt head in the middle of his seat, we could have added a degree of understanding and spanned an extra generation.
When you have as much history invested in a place as we do around here, it’s a good idea that we get together once a year to celebrate it. I guess that’s something city folks who move from town to town or state to state may never really have.
If you think about it, fairs are about kids, parades, eating ice cream and visiting in the shade. We do pretty much the same good things our grandparents and great grandparents did at their fairs, and become a little closer to them and our friends and neighbors in the bargain.
And it’s a whole lot better than sitting on a bolt head.