New and improved Grandpa’s Barn
By KAREN SCHWALLER
SPENCER – Phil Hurst, the former manager of the Clay County Fair, once had access to a hands-on, makeshift milking cow and wanted to do something with it at the fair.
He didn’t know it at the time, but he was sitting on something that would be part of what would become a major attraction at the fair in the following years.
Grandpa’s Barn, located west of the Clay County Regional Events Center, sits in a brand new 90 foot by 60 foot building this year because the barn needed more room.
It’s twice as big as it used to be.
“Our biggest surprise with Grandpa’s Barn is that so many people come to see us,” Teresa Schoelerman, of Everly, said. “I think we’re the No. 1 attraction here.”
Schoelerman, along with George Moriarty, of Spencer, works to get Grandpa’s Barn up and running for the Clay County Fair.
According to her, Grandpa’s Barn first graced the fairgrounds in 2010, as part of Iowa State University’s Ag-Citing agriculture education program. Ag-Citing educates more than 900 school students within a 60-mile radius of Spencer.
Grandpa’s Barn was originally housed in a Quonset hut south of the horse barn.
It started out with seven kinds of animals, including ducks, a cow and calf, horse, sheep, goats, chickens and Hurst’s makeshift milk cow.
There was also a place for students to watch the movie “Charlotte’s Web.”
After two years, it became clear that Grandpa’s Barn needed more room. At that point, a 20 foot by 40 foot hoop building became available on the fairgrounds and Grandpa’s Barn was moved to the attraction’s current location.
But then that location filled up, and the barn needed a tent on one end of the building to house additional attractions, such as the tractor cab simulators sponsored by the Iowa Farm Bureau.
At that point, Schoelerman and Moriarty got to wondering if they should have something larger and more permanent so they didn’t have to rent the tent each year. They thought an actual building might pay for itself over time with the money they would save in tent rentals.
They began having conversations with the fair board, and with a few large donations from families. local and area ag organizations, along with some help from the fair association coffers, a new Grandpa’s Barn became a reality.
The new Grandpa’s Barn features wide aisles for crowds to stroll, along with even more animals that come from a 100-mile radius. They include sheep, goats, Jersey calves, donkeys, alpacas, ostriches, turkeys, chickens, red pheasants, rabbits, Flemish rabbits (which can weigh up to 20 pounds), cats, pigs, Highlander calves (of Scottish descent) and even Hurst’s makeshift milking cow, which gives fairgoers a chance to actually milk a cow.
The building offers the tractor cab simulators, which gives fairgoers a chance to see what it would be like to operate a tractor or a combine. It also features hand-washing stations, two cupolas to move air with the aid of power fans, and a grain bin “theatre;” – a corner of the building that looks like a grain bin is situated there.
Behind the grain bin wall is a space with benches and chairs, and a TV set up so fairgoers can watch animals of all kinds give birth.
“The kids are just mesmerized when they watch it,” said Moriarty, dressed up in his coveralls, straw hat and carrying a “pooper scooper” to use when he sees pens that need some cleaning.
He also acts as “grandpa” to fairgoers, and visits with them as they stroll through.
The walk doors on the building are from the original horse stables on the fairgrounds. Schoelerman and Moriarty would someday like to line the inside of the building with barn wood.
Grandpa’s Barn also features a working windmill on its east side, showing fairgoers how farm people used to get their water. Placing the windmill there, they said, was the brainchild of current Fair Manager Jeremy Parsons.
The windmill was donated to this cause by a local family.
“If you ever don’t know where Grandpa’s Barn is, just look up – you’ll see the windmill,” said Schoelerman. “We want to show people that windmills were part of farms lots of years ago.”
She added that Grandpa’s Barn educates people about the importance of agriculture and of keeping our water clean, as well as the cycle of agriculture.
“We show kids that the animals drink the water and we eat the animals,” Schoelerman said. “And we have pigs in farrowing crates here for a reason,” that being so the new mothers don’t lay on their piglets.
She added the very first Grandpa’s Barn in 2010 was up and running within a week, and four people managed its operation throughout the fair’s run.
Today it takes two weeks to get it up and going, and it boasts a staff of 181 volunteers who want to be part of it as the fair’s nine-day run plays out.
“We actually have a waiting list of people who want to help with this,” said Schoelerman. “Most of our help comes from 4-H and FFA kids.”
Plans next year call for a paddock-like pasture area next to the building to give their mini horses a place to run, and possibly a white fence surrounding it.
Moriarty said his biggest satisfaction in being part of Grandpa’s Barn is the bringing together of the generations.
“It’s the smiles of the kids and grandparents, as the grandparents talk to their grandchildren about how they used to work on the farm,” he said.
“This is a place where stories (of the farm) can be told,” Schoelerman added. “We’re all about traditions here, and this way of life.”
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