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State fair has plenty sights, sounds and new food

9/25/2013

On Labor Day, I packed my stuff in the car and headed to Hutchinson. Each year, the Kansas State Fair begins the first Friday after Labor Day. This was my 45th consecutive year working at the 4-H Encampment Building as part of a crew of workers -- 15 men and women -- greeting each other with hugs saying, "So glad to see you made it back again. How have you been?" It's like a family reunion.

This year the fair celebrated its 100th year. A really great history of the fair was published as a free souvenir for those attending the fair.

The Encampment Building was built in 1935 to accommodate the 4-H'ers coming from across the state of Kansas to exhibit their projects. The second floor had the bunk beds (three beds high) enough to sleep several hundred boys on one side of the building and girls on the other. The first floor has meeting rooms, auditorium and dining hall. There have been changes made through the years, but the purpose is still the same -- a place for 4-H members, leaders and parents to stay.

My job is to check in the girls when they come to stay. They bring their bed roll and suitcase. It is interesting to see just how much they bring for a day or two. I have to pack for 14 days, and even after all these years, I should know how much to bring, but I always bring too much.

My shift begins at 7 a.m., and I'm off at 1 p.m.; that allows me time to see the fair.

There is so much going on each day it is impossible to see everything. I'm going to try to tell you about some of the interesting things I saw as I walked around.

The annual butter sculpture was a large workhorse viewing the tractor as if saying, "What's the idea taking my place in the field?"

There was a life-size long-horned steer made entirely of metal pieces welded together using hundreds of items from the size of a bolt and larger. While I was in the building, I heard him bellow.

Each year, the chainsaw artist draws a crowd. The items he makes are auctioned off at the end of the fair, along with the large quilt made from the quilt squares made in 2012. Quilt squares entered this year will be made into a large quilt to be sold at the 2014 fair.

I again watched the Spam contest. They had samples to taste the flavored Spam.

I ate many good things, a new one called a tacon was the tortilla formed into a cone shape filled with taco chicken salad -- very tasty. I brought home a bucket of state fair salt water taffy to share.

The Kansas largest classroom program initiated in 1991 has grown. Teachers sign up to bring their class to the fair, and they go through the special state fair hands-on education display.

This year during the five weekdays, 3,122 students attended. They ate their sack lunches at the Encampment Building.

I witnessed a special happening at the Encampment -- a lady found some money and she hoped she could return it to the owner. We waited, and one late afternoon a frantic mother and her young daughter tearfully asked, "Did anyone find some money?" There were many tearful thank you hugs. It brought back my belief there are still kind, honest people in this hard, cold, fast world.

Other things happening at the Encampment included the 4-H style revue, photo and FACS judging, high school debate, senior spelling bee and bingo. The bingo caller was a character. He asked trivia questions such as how many toilets are there on the fairgrounds? Answer: more than 800 -- wow.

If you happen to hear the croak of a frog in an unusual place, it might be me playing with a cute wooden frog I brought home.

There is a lot more I could write about, but that's it for the 2013 fair.

I enjoyed myself, said goodbye and the Lord willing, I'll do it again next year.

Opal Flinn is a member of the Generations Advisory Group.