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Clay County Fair hopes to exceed 316,000 visitors

By Staff | Sep 4, 2009

The Kamikaze ride thrills fairgoers during the 2008 Clay County Fair.

SPENCER – Clay County Fair officials have spent some serious time in the past year thinking about how the country’s weakened economy could affect the 2009 fair, which is set to run from Sept. 12 to Sept. 20. But like many business decisions go, the fair board determined that now would not be the time to scale back.

“Last year’s overall attendance was just over 316,000, and this year we’re hoping to increase it,” said Robyn Amthauer, assistant to the secretary manager for media promotions and advertising. “We don’t like to get down on the economy here. We like to keep it positive. We thought we could either pull back or ‘amp it up’and we decided to amp it up.”

Keeping that in mind, this year’s theme is, “The Good Life,” Amthauer said that with much to offer in terms of agricultural exhibits and activities, commercial exhibits, a host of free entertainment acts, a powerhouse of grandstand shows and events, a full docket of 4-H and FFA activities, and new and exciting rides on the fair’s midway, people should find the CCF a destination that could keep people of any age busy all day long.

This year’s fair will feature an endless list of activities, including chuck wagon races, free antique tractor pull, Midwest National Finals Invitational Truck & Tractor Pull, the Wide World of Animals, the “Elephant Encounter,” an aerial show, ventriloquist, hypnotist, juggler, bands, a high-tech body puppet called “Rock-It the Robot,” “Dallas the Fire Guy,” comedian “Amazing Arthur,” the Iowa Arm Wrestling Classic, “Fair Survivor” (lasting throughout the week), a new tractor parade, parade of classic tractors, tons of livestock shows, team roping, rooster crowing contest, a chainsaw artist, the Northwest American Classic Series Draft Horse Six-Horse Hitch, World of Outlaws pit crew challenge, and much more.

The CCF features what fair officials call “the greatest and most complete display of farm equipment and ag products in the nation.”

One of the new events in the ag arena this year is an educational experience called “Ag Adventure Day,” to be held on Saturday, Sept. 12. That day will focus on agriculture as the foundation of the CCF. With the help of the Spencer Ag Committee, CCF officials came up with the idea of fair goers taking a sheet of paper around to specific ag exhibitors and asking the question listed on the back for that exhibitor. When the question is answered, the person gets a token. When all of the questions are answered, people can take their paper to the Spencer Chamber booth to get a prize. Amthauer said it will be a good way to get people to speak with more ag exhibitors on the fairgrounds.

The CCF features acre upon acre of ag exhibits and displays.

“Our location helps,” said Amthauer. “Being in a rural community makes a difference. If people are looking for ag equipment and ag products, this is the place to come.”

The CCF horse department will, for the first time, bring the North American Six-Horse Hitch Classic Series to the fair’s final weekend of the year. Officials said it’s one of the most prestigious draft horse events in the nation – featuring six-horse hitches from across the continent traveling to compete at state and county fairs and ag exhibitions to acquire points for the Classic Series, and vie for thousands of dollars in premium money. Breed classifications include Belgian, Percheron and Clydesdale/Shire horses.

“This will be the first time ever here for this sanctioned show,” said Amthauer. “It’s pretty big to get something like this to come to our county fair.”

A somewhat unusual ag educational act will be something called the “Ag Magic Show.”

“It’s a gal and her mother who travel to different fairs all over doing entertaining magic tricks while educating kids about agriculture,” she said, adding that the duo will be showing up at the various implement lots during the fair’s nine-day run, including Case-IH, Agco, John Deere and New Holland. “Ag education is something that seems to be happening less and less in schools,” she added, “… so it’s a good fit at the fair.”

The CCF will honor various people and groups during it’s 10-day run. Sept. 13 will be “Twins Day,” allowing biological twins, triplets or multiple-birth siblings to get in the gate for free. Sept. 14 will be “Veteran’s Appreciation Day,” when veterans will get in free. Sept. 15 will be “Iowa Rock ‘N Roll Music Association Day with the outside gate price of $5 for persons 65 and over.

Disability Awareness Day will be Sept. 16, when the CCF will welcome these persons with events planned just for them. Senior Day will be Sept. 17, with gate fees of $5 for persons age 65 and over. Sept. 18 will be Kids and IPTV Day – persons 18 and younger will be able to enter the fairgrounds for free that day. Sept. 19 will be Extreme Saturday, a day featuring the most extreme shows and entertainment, and the last day will be Good Neighbor Day, garnering fairgoers $1 off of admission and a ticket for the Sky Glider for each person who brings in a non-perishable food item for Upper Des Moines Opportunity.

Wristband Days will also be featured both Saturdays of the fair, where fairgoers can ride in unlimited fashion the midway rides all day with a wristband.

The Fantastic Friday Preview will be on Sept. 11, where would-be fairgoers can preview the new and other usual midway rides-even getting to ride them. The “Taste of the Clay County Fair” will also be going on in the Regional Events Center that night, where people can sample food products from various vendors who will be on the fairgrounds during the week.

The fair’s midway will feature a couple of new rides this year including the Crazy Mouse Roller Coaster, which Amthauer said will take six semi trucks to haul it up here and two cranes to set it up. Two other new thrill rides will include The Himalayan and The Sizzler.

Grandstand shows are many and varied, including comedian Bill Engvall, the “Gaither Vocal Band” (southern gospel/Christian band); “Heart,” country stars Trace Adkins with Heidi Newfield, Phantom of the Opera star Franc D’Ambrosio, “Ricky Nelson Remembered, and more.

Take all of this and add more than 625 commercial exhibitors throughout the fairgrounds, and it has the potential to offer many memories to those who pass through the gates.

Phil Hurst, secretary manager, said it’s been a long time since the first Clay County fair in 1918, but that it has done nothing but grow and deliver to families since then.

“A lot of things just worked out in the fair’s favor over the years,” he said. “This fair was a celebration of the harvest in its early years. This area was not heavily populated, but it was announced to be the best county fair in Iowa, and they delivered on that. The fair history books say that after that first fair, the main concentration was on how to make it bigger and better.”

The fair has been privy to some major world events, and has even seen some of its own unusual events in its 90-year history-including 14-inch rains, Hurricane Katrina, Sept. 11, 2001; sharp rises in gas prices that made it challenging for people to come to the fair, and on a positive note-the years that Bob Hope and Red Skelton came to entertain fairgoers.

“We have seven buildings full of commercial exhibitors, with 131 of them are in the events center alone,” he said. He added that the events center was dedicated in 2003 under his management. “Our center is comparable to the varied industries building at the state fair, and with the grandstand and all of the buildings, there are a lot of commercial exhibitors under roof. If it’s raining you can go inside and see what’s in the barns and tent areas, along with all of the commercial exhibitors under roof (and under tents).

Hurst added that the fair’s economic impact to Clay County adds-up fast. The most recent figures indicate that sales tax alone generated from each average fair amounts to about $400,000 or more each year.

Hurst said there are many reasons why the CCF is special, but overall, he said, it’s because many people have lots of input in what happens there each year.

“Everything we do is geared to people coming through our gates,” he said. “The community works together for a common goal. It’s something that’s important to them and the fair is important to our community. It allows people to see things in their lives that they don’t normally see, or that they seldom see.”

Contact Karen Schwaller by e-mail at kschwaller@evertek.net.

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