Race to the Fair

Jacob Lane · Wednesday, July 26, 2017
The weather was not kind to the Muscatine County Fair, July 19-23. Hot and humid days mixed with surprise severe storms hurt overall attendance.

“Mother nature wasn’t cooperative, that really hurt us,” said Fair Board President Travis Ehrecke. “The weather is our biggest factor all across the board.”

A series of torrential downpours Friday evening and early Saturday morning flooded the dirt track, forcing the fair to cancel its main event on Saturday, dirt track racing.

Rain also minimized attendance to the concert Friday evening by visiting country artist William Michael Morgan. Not to mention that when it wasn’t raining, days averaged above 90 degrees.

“Unfortunately this isn’t going to be great fair for the bottom line, but you can’t change mother nature,” added President Ehrecke.

Indeed you can’t, but all was not lost. The Trailer Races drew a large crowd for the fair’s big final day on Saturday, July 23. Meanwhile the fair’s various 4H/FFA and open shows drew consistent crowds throughout the week.

In fact, it was a life changing fair for a few, including this year’s 2017 Muscatine County Fair Queen Makayla Kellor.

The 17-year-old, out of Muscatine, has been going to the county fair her entire life, no matter what the weather. To become fair royalty this year was truly an honor.

“I can’t imagine a fair without going to the Wednesday night queen contest and just looking at the girls and thinking ‘Wow, that’s what I want to be one day, and here I am,” she said.

“I can’t even explain it, I’m shaking so bad,” she added about winning. “This is such an honor, it’s like my littlest girl dream come true, I’m so happy to be standing here today.”

The Muscatine County Fair Princess was Katie Sturmer, out of Blue Grass, while Miss Congeniality was West Liberty’s very own Reghan McNaul.

“Regardless of who won today we all deserved it equally and I can’t imagine a better group of girls to have gone through the process with,” said Fair Queen Kellor about the contest.

Another champion of the Muscatine County Fair was none other than Nichols Mayor Cyle Geertz, who decided just the night before he was going to enter the Trailer Races.

“It was a lot of fun,” he said after taking first in an hour long race full of chaos and destruction. “We started this process at six-o-clock last night, we built the truck and the trailer this morning.”

Not only was it impromptu, but this was the mayor’s first trailer race. Geertz ended up using his own truck from work. It was coated in a dark black with a few select words on the side.

In fact, the Trailer Races were a breath of fresh air for the county fair. After a disappointing Saturday the grandstands were filled for Sunday’s big contest.

During which fair food was flowing while the carnival games and rides elicited excitement from adults and children. New to the fair this year, a corn cob eating contest in the Midway Pavilion.

More than a dozen big-eaters gathered on stage to chow down five cobs of sweet corn, smothered in butter, Cajun sauce, Cayenne pepper, red sauce and tabasco sauce.

As always, the kids had a great time. Hundreds of Muscatine County youth entered the various contests, from the 4H/FFA Swine Show to the Bill Riley Talent show.

It all started Wednesday, July 19, with the Small Pet Show. Six-year-old Georgia’s dog, named O’mally, was not only named the Champion of the Small Pet Show, but had the Longest Tail and Most Spots.

“The hardest part was probably when I almost forgot to say a word about O’malley,” said the West Liberty native as she carried around her big trophy.

“It feels great because you’re a winner and the coolest part of all is that you don’t know if your going to win it, so it’s hard,” she explained.

The Small Pet Show was judged by Denise Hnytka, news anchor for WQAD News 8. The competition was fiercely cute for the friendly show, filled with earth worms, frogs and a goat.

“This was so much fun, some of these categories were so tough,” said Hnytka. “I had to decide who had the most beautiful dog, who had the most lovable pet. How are you going to judge that? Especially when the dogs are jumping all over you and loving on you!”

In a way the Small Pet Show exemplifies what the Muscatine County Fair is all about, giving the youth a chance to reach out of their comfort zone and shine.

“The kids were so sweet, they all were so brave,” said Hnytka. “They’re getting up there in front of a bunch of people they don’t know and they’re bringing their dogs, goats or worms and smiling and having such a fun time.”

Nearby in the Ryan Building were rows of antiques, fresh produce and pies while quilts boldly hung from the ceiling. One such quilt, a mesh of colorful squares, was a big first for Caitlyn Peters.

“Grandpa made a lot of quilts and I thought I would do one too,” said the nine-year-old from Iowa City, “I wanted to make it brighter so it would match my room.”

Thus, she entered her first quilt in her first county fair. She was not alone, the Arts Building was full of drawings, paintings and photos from all age ranges.

Meanwhile, the Floral Hall was a nice cool get-a-way during the hot days, filled with fresh and colorful flowers, specialized placements and kids activities.

For those that could stand the heat, outside was the Chris Short Marionette show, which has been a long standing tradition and guest at the fair.

Nearby was chainsaw artist James Denkins of Log Hoggers. He carved everything from bears to goats. He also created a miniature model of the fairground’s famous “Purple Building.”

Then there was 4H and FFA.

During the fair the clubs competed in the Dairy Goat Show, the Meat Goat Show, the Swine Show, the Pet Show, the Sheep Show, the Beef Show, the Poultry Show, the Bucket Calf show… the list goes on and on.

4H and FFA always draw out a large number of contestant as they compete in leadership, best displays, photography and more. This year 40 4H projects will represent Muscatine County during the State Fair in Des Moines.

There was a large showing during the 4H/FFA Beef Show in the the Large Show ring on Friday, July 21, as competitors marched around bulls and bovines of all shapes and sizes.

West Liberty FFA’s Brittney Harned, Morgan Peterson and Madison McIntosh competed in the Finished Bucket Calf Heifer division of the 4H/FFA Beef Show.

“Getting them to cooperate in the ring is the hardest part, we have to walk them everyday to get them ready for the fair which is hard, because they aren’t born to be shown in a fair,” said Madison McIntosh.

The cows had to be paraded around the ring in a somewhat orderly fashion. It was hot and the building was crowded, but hundreds of cows were shown that Friday morning.

Specifically for the Finished Bucket Calf Heifer division, contestants must have entered a bucket calf last year, raised them, then showed the same animal a year later as finished bucket calfs.

“The toughest part is making sure that you’re going out every day and walking them throughout the year, and close to fair time making sure that they’re getting rinsed and washed at least once a week,” said Morgan Peterson.

“We usually go out for two to three hours every day, so it adds up to a lot,” said her friend Madison and fellow 15-year-old.

“The best part is being able to be with the rest of the girls that are also showing with me,” she added. “We spend a lot of time together and we’ve grown closer over the past year.”

Later on the same day the Kiddie Barnyard came to life during the 4H/FFA Poultry Show. Hundreds of birds, from turkeys to chickens, clucked continuously in the barn.

Muscatine’s Luke Mattingly, 17, was back for a second year-in-a-row. This time he brought more than 10 birds to show.

“I think I’ll do a little better this year,” he said hopefully before judging began. “The hardest part is catching them to bring them to the fair, because they’re all free range birds.”

All of the 4H/FFA livestock shows culminated into the Ribbon Auction on Saturday, July 22, during which champion animals were bid on by local organizations.

The show animals don’t actually change hands. Rather, the 4H/FFA kids give out ribbons representing their champion livestock and in return receive money from the bidders in order to continue their showing.

So yes, the weather was hot during the 2017 Muscatine County Fair. Despite that the Outlaw Tractor Pull and SandBurr Rodeo still managed to draw out fair goers Wednesday and Thursday.

And yes, the rain wreaked havoc. Besides the grandstand fiascos, the 4H/FFA Horse Show had to be rescheduled to the following week.

But there was still that sense of community that can always be found. Even though it’s for Muscatine County, West Liberty’s influence can be seen and felt.

“Every body works together and pulls together, and it always gets done,” said Fair Board President Travis Ehrecke, at the end of the 2017 fair. “It’s been great.”

Hopefully the weather will cooperate more in 2018, but to write off 2017 as a failure is far from true. There were still 4H/FFA shows, there was still laughter, there was still family.

When it comes to heart, the Muscatine County Fair was a smashing success.
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