I'm back from my annual trip to the Kansas State Fair. Many ask me, "Just what is it you do at the fair?" Well, I work the morning shift at 4-H Encampment Building.
First I will give you a little history before I explain my life. In 1913, legislation was passed that designated Hutchinson as the location of the "official" Kansas State Fair and the Board of State Fair managers was named.
Through the years, The Old Mill was built in 1915 and the House of Copper in 1916. During the depression, the government Work Project Administration assisted the unemployed and the Kansas State Fair, building the 10,000-seat grandstand in 1930 and the 4-H Encampment Building in 1935.
While the fair was in session, the building was needed to house 4-H and FFA girls and boys, their parents, counselors and leaders in order for them to participate in their activities at the fair.
An interesting bit of history -- the Encampment Building was used during World War II years to house U.S. Naval Air Cadets, until the Naval facilities were ready south of Hutchinson, and later housed German prisoners of war.
Now back to what I do at the fair. Everyone working for the state fair is given a name tag to wear during the fair. The tag has your first name in big letters, the department you work in and the numbers of years you have worked for the fair. This year I've worked 43 years. Golly, that's more than half of my life.
I work on the girls' side (Jim used to work on the boys' side). When girls with reservations come to my desk on the second floor, I check the list of reservations from their county and give them a bed tag with their bed number on it. This will be their ID tag. As they come and go, they must show the tag each time.
My shift begins at 7 a.m. and ends at 1 p.m. There are four shifts, one dorm manager for girls, one for boys and a security man at the building's entrance. Every six hours, a different shift takes over.
There are four dorms for girls, four for boys. The bunk beds are three beds high and there is space for 288 girls and 288 boys. In the past, the rooms were full many weekends. Through the years, changes made in schedules and judging events have cut the number of reservations. In fact, there is no need to assign anyone to a top bunk anymore.
It's really interesting to see how much they bring for a stay. Men and boys bring only one gym bag and their bed roll; the ladies have a suitcase on wheels and a bed roll. But teenage girls usually have at least two large cases and their bed rolls.
Those wanting to stay at the dorm can make reservations; just contact your county extension office. To stay, it costs $15 per night. I feel it's a convenient way to see the fair; you have a place to sleep and take a shower. After seeing a grandstand show or watching your 4-H'er perform, you don't have to drive home after dark or pay for another gate ticket the next day.
It's like a reunion for me each year; workers come back and 4-H'ers return. I'm seeing 4-H'ers that came back in 1968 when I started. They are now bringing their children and even grandchildren.
Since I get off at 1 p.m., I have the rest of the day to check the daily schedule and attend the many free concerts, exhibits, demonstrations and contests. There is enough going on to keep me busy.
At this year's fair, I watched the Spam contest. This year, the contestants had to make a breakfast dish using Spam. Spam muffins won the prize.
I listened to a good-looking young country singer from Leon, Rusty Rierson. He was so good I came back several days in a row.
One tent gave smoothie samples made by Pedal Power; the blender was attached to a bicycle.
I tried sauerkraut pizza -- it was really good. Also tried a pronto pup cupcake frosted with mustard-flavored icing -- it was OK, crumbled a lot.
I bought the book titled "From Myself To My Savior" from the author Ellen Myers, an interesting lady who grew up in Germany while Hitler was in power.
I signed for prize give-aways, spun wheels and picked up sacks full of hand-outs to bring home for grandkids who didn't get to come to the fair. I turned in a guess in the "I am?" contest. A picture of something on the fairgrounds came out in the Hutch News each day. I actually won a $10 gift card.
I also enjoyed the comic hypnotist show and the Not-So-Newlywed Game.
I didn't get over to the livestock exhibit area, but Bob Briggs, the "chicken man" from Knoxville, Iowa, stayed at the dorm. This year, he brought 127 chickens to exhibit. He also demonstrated, three times a day in the poultry barn, how to wash a chicken before it was to be judged. I never heard of washing a chicken. He even made the front page in the paper.
I again had a good time at the fair, but I had "fair lag" when I got home. I was tired, two weeks of mail to go through, obits to check in the newspaper, suitcases to empty, clothes to wash and things to put away. I'm trying to get back to my regular routine.
Oh yes, I'll go back next year to make it my 44th year when the fair celebrates its 100th anniversary.
Why don't you plan to come to the fair and stay a couple of days at the Encampment Building? It would be fun.
Opal Flinn is a member of the Generations advisory board.