Happy Iowa State Fair memories feed hopes for future fun


Mom loved the Iowa State Fair. It got Dad and me out of her way for a day. She no doubt spent that quiet day cleaning, ironing and doing other tasks on her list — but with no interruptions and with no constant checking to see if others needed anything.

I don’t remember how many years it lasted, but there was a period for which a day trip to the Iowa State Fair was a daddy-daughter event.

We’d enter through what I still believe to be the scariest part of the Fair — the Midway. It is not a haven for introverts when multiple strangers are shouting at you every single step of the way down the entire length of the Midway. Thankfully, I could hold tightly to my dad and trust he’d get me safely through the gauntlet.

Why couldn’t we enter by the rabbits?

Once I was older and abandoned my dad, tossing coins into stacked glassware was my midway game of choice. You didn’t have to spend much to get a lot of tosses at a nickel a toss. Of course, my nickels would promptly bounce out of the big bowl prize at the top of the pyramid of glass, but many times it would land in a lesser prize I’d eagerly accept.

Mom tolerated this glassware on our dining room table for years.

Once I was old enough to take a girlfriend with me to the fair, mom didn’t love the State Fair so much. She no longer got left behind but replaced me as Dad’s companion.

The Register Building was always our checkpoint spot. We’d be allowed to go off on our own and report back to the Register Building at specific times to make sure we were okay, and then off we’d go.

During the dad-daughter years I joyously climbed onto the tractors while dad checked out the newfangled offerings in agriculture equipment.

For years, the Varied Industries Building had a magical faucet hanging from thin air that was spewing water into a barrel. How did they do that? Hopefully, it didn’t take me too many years to figure that out.

While I was still young enough to reach for dad’s hand even outside the Midway, there was the prankster salesperson who flicked on the electrified fence just as we walked by and my dad reflexively held out his hand and ran it along the hanging tentacles. I felt the shock!

Remember Teen Town? I remember it as a blue walled-in space with a zig-zag partial roof covering but completely open in the middle with a stage. The crazy act I recall the most was “Duck’s Breath Mystery Theatre.”

I’ve always remembered their “Household Appliances” act and a song refrain that I recall including, “I hate, I hate, I hate household appliances.” I could relate as a teen, and I still relate! If you gift me a household appliance — namely a kitchen appliance — you either don’t know me or you’re not my friend.

Endless entertainment both free and ticketed at the Fair — Floppy, of course, and Bill Riley’s Talent Show, Paul Revere and the Raiders, Hairball, Sonny and Cher, the Oakridge Boys and more. Watching tractor pulls and demolition derbies from the grandstand.

Avenue of Breeds, super bull, big boar and the horses were all must-see stops. Of course, the butter cow! And for a few years, a lard pig!

Kids dropping fake spiders in front of you as you walked into an animal barn — giving themselves away with their laughter.

Making sure not to step into something unseemly in or around any of the animal barns.
And choosing one souvenir. I’d search and ponder throughout the day, remembering where I saw various choices and then make my final selection and purchase at the end of the long day — one year a truly giant purple paper flower.

A ticket to the grandstand show to close out the evening and a tired walk back to the car to head home.

Whether a dad-daughter day, a family day, a day with friends or some other pairing or combination, I hope each of you have happy memories of the Iowa State Fair. Or maybe, like my mom, happy memories of staying home. Please share them in the comments on Facebook.

Wishing us all new State Fair 2021 memories!


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