CCF’s 50-year men
By KAREN SCHWALLER
SPENCER – Farmers know it. And so do Wayne Ginger and Glen Chenhall.
Both have spent the last 50 years working at the Clay County Fair, in Spencer, and were recently recognized by fair officials for their dedication and time spent there.
“It gets in your blood,” said Ginger, a member of the fair’s police force. “You don’t do it for the money.”
Ginger, 84, from Everly, started as a policeman on horseback in the days when people parked their cars on the fairgrounds.
“In those days, there was no parking lot across the street,” he said. “People parked in an area past the livestock barns.
“When I first started I got $1.25 an hour with my horse. It was a dollar for me and two bits for my horse.”
Chenhall, 78, from Spencer, has been the superintendent of the ag department. He worked out of the Agriculture Building, taking entries from exhibitors, rounding up judges for department exhibits, arranging the exhibits on the shelves and adjusting rules for the ag department in the fair’s premium book.
“I actually started in 1961,” he said. “Two of my longtime neighbors -Clarence Hummel and Russell King – asked me if I would start helping them there. And in 1962, I was named in the premium book as a co-superintendent.
“A couple of years into it, I was in charge.”
Ginger, now a lieutenant on the fair’s police force, has spent most of his 50 years on a horse, golf cart or four-wheeler, directing traffic into and out of the fairgrounds, helping to park cars and campers, working the infield of the race track, and around the fairgrounds in general, working to maintain order there.
“On the day of the chuck- wagon races I had to keep the (competitors) corralled,” he said. “And when I would work at the track on the days of the car races, I had to keep the people working at the track and the spectators that were down there back away from the track. People are crazy.”
Ginger remembered one particular moment during a chuckwagon race.
“The wagons and horses came around the corner and I heard someone yell at me to crawl the fence. I didn’t ask no questions and just did it, and just then, one of the horses came through right where I was standing.”
Ginger also spent some time judging at the chuck wagon races, first as a wagon judge, then ending up with the head judge honor.
Ginger remembered the first year they allowed campers into the parking area.
“That first year it rained and rained, ” he said. “We pulled those campers in and we pulled them back out.
“Another year it rained a lot and we had a horse trailer that we used to get out of the rain,but it leaked, so we tarped it. After that, the fair board paid for materials that I used to build a shack for (us ) at the campgrounds.”
Since Ginger spent many years patrolling the parking lot, camp grounds and infield of the track, the ground’s police chief asked him if he would like to work on the fairgrounds directly.
“He said (someone else) wanted the job I had,” Ginger said, “and told me that I never got to see much of the fair because I was always out with the parking or campers or directing traffic. So I said, ‘OK’. I’ve worked out of the police station ever since.”
Ginger said the people who visit the Clay County Fair are great people, but once in awhile he would meet up with someone who wanted to “pull a fast one.” It was then that he had to decide how he was going to deal with it.
“People would get in my face once in awhile, but the fairboard would stand behind us as we were dealing with it, whether they thought the decision was right or wrong.
“But after the fair was over, they would let us know if they thought we were really right or wrong. They wouldn’t challenge us in front of the people, though.”
Chenhall said his job there as ag superintendent is a little less time-consuming than others who head departments, but that he never knows what kind of exhibits he will see from year to year.
“Our exhibits vary so much with each growing season,” he said. “This year we had a very dry year, but our corn exhibits were of excellent quality.”
He said seed companies’ rapid development of new varieties and hybrids need requires the fair to modify classes to meet those changes.
One of the most recent change, he said, was in the potato category, with the new Yukon Gold potato being most popular.
Fairgoers often see large pumpkins sitting inside and outside of the ag building. Getting those large pumpkins where they need to go can be a challenge.
“The biggest one we’ve had here was 650 pounds,” Chenhall said. “We used to take all of our large pumpkins upstairs in the ag building, but because some of them are so large, now we keep some of them downstairs and even outside.”
Chenhall said they have special equipment – operated by four men – to carry some of the 200- and 300-pound pumpkins upstairs to their exhibit home. Today, the extremely large entries are exhibited outside, brought in with tractors and loaders.
Exhibitors come from as far away as Story City, Mashalltown and near Davenport.
“In eastern Iowa the ears of corn are a little longer because they have a little longer growing season over there,” Chenhall said. “There are another couple of rows around the ear typically.”
Though Chenhall said he gets to enjoy much of the fair, he misses out on the Sunday night grandstand shows because of the releasing of exhibits that takes place on the final Sunday evening of the fair.
“It’s usually one of the better shows of the fair,” he said.
Both said they have seen many changes at the fair in 50 years. Ginger said there used to be 4-H dormitories where the commercial building now sits.
There are several new buildings on the grounds, including the Varied Industries Building, the Depot Building (housing the local radio station and Smoky Mountain Railroad); the new Livestock Pavilion, the inside show arena, and new cattle barns.
He said the calf barns used to be where the horses are now housed, and said the midway carnival used to be on the east end of the fairgrounds.
“They used to block off fourth street for the midway carnival, and it would extend across that street and into the area that is now the Silver Lot for parking,” he said.
Chenhall said back in the day, the fair would feature enough 4-H lead calves that they would fill all of the barns.
“That would be several hundred lead calves,” said Chenhall, adding that there are nowhere near those numbers now.
Ginger said they have worked under five fair secretary managers, including Bill Woods, Myles Johnson, Jim Frost, Phil Hurst and now Jeremy Parsons.
Both men said that, hands down, the people who come to the fair are what keep them coming back year after year.
“I’ve met a lot of friends,” said Ginger, adding that one Sunday morning he was checking the parking lot and campgrounds. He saw a pickup stalled in the middle of the road, and following an investigation, Ginger went to get the necessary parts and installed them. The man asked what he owed him.
“I told him he didn’t owe me nothing, but to just come back to the fair. I’ve seen the guy every year since then. He always looks me up,” Ginger said. “It’s the people that keep me coming back.”
Chenhall agreed that the people make all the difference.
“The exhibitors become your friends,” he said.
But even after 50 years (or more) of service, Ginger said he’s not ready to quit yet. Chenhall, however, isn’t as sure.
“I’m some older than some who stepped aside when I started. It might be time to let some younger people take over pretty soon,” he said.
Chenhall’s late wife, Barb, used to be the superintendent of the textiles, arts and crafts department and used help make tags for ag building exhibitors. Their oldest daughter, Cindy Kress, is now a head clerk in her mother’s former department.
Ginger’s wife, June, has also helped him in the parking and campground area for a number of years, writing tickets for campers to park, and helping people get parked. Their son, Jeff, has 28 years into the fair as a police lieutenant in the livestock barn area.
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