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By Staff | Oct 7, 2011

Last week, I listened to Alicia Schmitt, of Cerro Gordo County, tell me of her family’s involvement with the 4H program.

Her great-great-grandmother started a 4-H club in Floyd County that is active yet today.

She went on to tell me that her family liked to enter chickens for judging at the fair. This took place for several years around 1930.

Her family lived north of Charles City and would enter the chickens for judging at the regional fair at Mason City. The two cities are in adjoining counties and are about 33 miles apart.

When judging day arrived, her family would take the chickens to the train depot in Charles City in the morning and put the chickens on the train to Mason City.

At Mason City, someone picked the chickens up and took them to the fair for the day’s chicken show.

Later that same day, the chickens would be taken back to the Mason City depot and put on the afternoon train for Charles City.

Her family would go to the Charles City depot to pick up the chickens and see what ribbons they had won at the day’s event.

The result was that the chickens went to the fair and the family stayed home.

I laughed and laughed when I heard this. Alicia Schmitt showed me a frame on the wall of her office with a blue ribbon from 1934, a red ribbon from 1939, and a white ribbon from 1935, all from the North Iowa Fair.

Listening to her tell me of this event sounded like it could have happened in another place far away and not two cities I can make a round trip to in a morning’s time.

It tells me there was an era when people did not have the leisure time we have today and staying home to get that day’s work done was more important than a trip to the fair. Cost of travel may have been part of the decision.

It also tells me there was a time when trains ran between towns on a regular basis, carrying everything imaginable from freight to passengers. In this story there was a morning train and an evening train for the towns located along the track.

I was also struck by the idea that someone took the responsibility for picking the chickens up at the depot and returning them that same day to get them back to their owners.

Was this a common occurrence that there were more entries to be picked up at the depot for the day’s fair events and someone was assigned the duties of shuttling entries back and forth?

Wouldn’t it be exciting for the family late in the day to make the trip to the depot to retrieve their chickens and see how well they did at the fair?

It is a great example of life 80 years ago in a much simpler time when people relied on others, and trains were an important source of transportation between towns that, today, we can complete a round trip in only a few hours.

But the best part was hearing how the chickens went to the fair and the people stayed home, not knowing how they placed until the end of the day when they returned to the depot.

I wanted to imagine the chickens telling their friends about their day and what they had seen at the fair, but for the chickens it was probably just another day.

Rye is a Farm News staff writer and farmer from Hanlontown. Reach him by e-mail at crye@wctatel.net.

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