Sunday, August 16, 2009

Bexley Public Radio visits the 2009 Hartford Fair

The Drive to Croton and Hartford Fair.

We leave Bexley with the Mark and Judy Scurci at a little before five. A hot humid late afternoon.

Destination is the 2009 Hartford Fair, one of the three independent fairs in Ohio. We head for Gahanna on the route to Croton.


US 62 is not busy but passing through Gahanna, there is noticeable pedestrian traffic for the Creekside restaurants and Gahanna Gallery Walk. A music concert by the JuJu Bees is scheduled for later this evening at the Creekside Plaza.

New Albany

US 62 passes through New Albany. The city looks beautiful in the late summer heat. There is no traffic at all on the highway. No golfers, no joggers, no walkers. Most retail shops are closed at five o’clock so there is no commercial traffic. Some of the residents are probably on vacation in Michigan or weekending on Lake Erie. Any who remain behind are escaping the heat and humidity by staying inside with the air conditioning.


After New Albany, US 62 follows an agricultural stretch. More corn than soybeans this year. The corn stalks are tall, green and lush. If this crop holds up, there will be a bountiful yield. The agricultural press is talking about a near record harvest and the US Department of Agriculture is estimating a 12.8 billion bushel harvest, second only to the 2007 corn crop of 13.0 billion bushels. The radio reports corn cash prices of $2.82 per bushel and $3.27 a bushel for December delivery. Farmers say that the ethanol market and the animal markets are maintaining steady demand for corn and keeping prices firm.

As we arrive at Johnstown, traffic picks up. An existing shopping center with a Kroger’s grocery is the reason for the traffic. Next year, it will probably be even more busy because a second shopping center is being constructed nearby along US 62.

We turn left at the downtown traffic light onto SR 37. For many years, this short stretch of road has been a First Amendment forum used by Johnstown residents.

For most years of the 1980s qnd 1990s, protest signs were planted in the front yards of the houses along SR 37. The signs protested the stench of the giant egg “factories” of Buckeye Eggs that are located on Croton Road. The owner of Buckeye Eggs was a German named Anton Pohlmann who was eventually protested, regulated and litigated to oblivion by local residents, environmental groups, the Ohio Department of Agriculture and Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

Pohlmann threw in the towel in 2003 and sold the egg operations to a company named Ohio Fresh Eggs.

Protests continue here. This year the signs on this stretch of road protest the Obama administration’s efforts to reform health insurance and healthcare in Ohio. About two dozen signs read “Stop Obamacare” “Read the Bill” “Stop Socialism Now” and “Say No To Socialized Healthcare.”

The charm of Ohio and America is that people aren’t afraid to express their opinions.

At the western edge of Johnstown, we turn right onto Croton Road. The six mile stretch of this road to Croton village and the fairgrounds is dominated by corm fields as lush as the ones we passed earlier on US 62.

As we pass the giant buildings of Ohio Fresh Eggs, there is little activity and some of the buildings look as if they are being disassembled and the machinery being removed.

Something is going on at the egg farms that isn’t getting press attention. (Note: when I return home a google search reports as the only recent activity a court ordered US EPA fine against Ohio Fresh Eggs for illegal discharge of egg wash water.)

As we get close to the fairgrounds, Republican Congressman Pat Tiberi yard signs fill the edge of the road. We wonder why the congressman has his signs out in full blossom? This is not a congressional election year and Tiberi has not announced for a local office?

Entering the Hartford Fair at Gate D
As usual, we take the northern-most entrance “Gate D” and that is where the first changes from last year are noticed.

There are no ticket takers at Gate D and the number of cars, trucks, utility trainers and animal trailers are significantly reduced. My first thought is that the economic turmoil has taken its toll on fair attendance.

Later I notice enough changes so that I speculate that the reconfiguration of the fair grounds has shifted the farm traffic to the southern-most Gate A.

We park the car. The air is still, hot and humid. The parking lot is dusty.

The ticket gate is near the animal auction barn. The ticket price is five dollars. No charge for parking.

The ticket taker is sullen and sounds like WC Fields when he asks how many tickets. He doesn’t tell us that he’d “rather be in Philadelphia” but his sullen attitude informs us that he’d rather be elsewhere. Probably somewhere taking a nap.

Not a positive start to the Hartford Fair adventure.

The concessions near the entrance include the Licking County Beef Cattlemen’s food stand, the Licking County Dairy Director’s ice cream and milk stand.

Sheep are being auctioned nearby in the Grubb Arena. The entrance is crowded with animal trucks, one from Watts Farm. The other trucks are unmarked.

By chance we arrive as the lamb on the block gets the highest hammer price of the day. The lamb is from Reindeer Acres farm and initially, the price is hammered at $600. Then it turns out the auctioneer mistook the final bid and had to reopen the bidding which went to $625 for bidder number 105, identified by the auctioneer as Three Hill Estate.

Introduction To This Year’s Fair Food
We leave the auction barn area and stop for a taste of fair food. We sample deep-fried mushrooms and also “Blooming Tasty Taters” with cheese sauce, vinegar, seasoning and salt.

The deep-fried mushrooms are much too hot to eat, let alone pick up. We walk to one of the merchant buildings while letting the mushrooms cool down.

During this walk I start to notice tattoos in the crowd. There are enough tattoos about to recognize an awful lot of bad drawing skills on most of the tattoos.

The people with tattoos are in the late twenties to forties age cohorts. Not too many teens and early twenties.

Is this an indication that the fashion of tattoos is wearing itself out.

I also wonder if tattoos a form of self-expression? I think of the protest signs at Johnstown and wonder if I’ll see any tattoos that protest the federal healthcare proposals.

Merchant Building
The merchant building is populated mostly with the same merchants and merchandise as prior years.

Sharon’s Quilts is offering Husqvarna Viking sewing machines.

The Gideon Bible Society offers Gospels. Last year, the leatherette covers were orange, this year choices of orange or sky blue are offered. The volunteers have easy smiles. Most of the other merchants seem listless and tired.

Other offerings in the merchant building are jewelry, cosmetics, Carrier furnaces and air conditioners.

The “Shirt-Corral,” a tee-shirt merchant, offers a green tee-shirt with a legend in yellow ink “Will Trade Sister For Tractor.” The price for the tee-shirt is $7.00.

Another tee-shirt merchant also offers Stars and Bars flags; these Confederate battle flags are the only flags offered for sale at this fair. Interesting.

A populist organization has a booth with a cheery woman and two friendly men. The name is We the People Forum with a website www.wethepeopleforum. They are generous with their literature and without asking, I am plied with “We have become constitutionally out-of-control,” “HR3200 America’s Affordable Health Choices Act-Not Affordable-Not Real Choice,” “Don’t Trade Your Doctor For A Bureaucrat,” “What Nationalized Health Care Will Mean for You,” “Repeal the Fed,” and “Ohio Free State.” All this without asking.
I wonder why the Move On. Org people don’t have a presence at the Hartford Fair.

As we approach the midway, we pass the Centerburg Athletic Boosters dining shelter, hamburgers for three dollars. The midway food venders are everything you expect: elephant ears, cheese steak sandwiches, Chinese food, apple dumplings, ice cream, corn dogs, french fries, fresh lemonade, pizza, deep-fried cheese cake, turkey leg and Kolikohns State Fair Taffy.

Other memorable offerings are fried Lake Erie perch and deep-fried Oreos. At least two different vendor offer fried baloney sandwiches.

A new offering is cinnamon coated nuts: pecans, cashews and walnuts.

The Midway

On the midway, there are the usual political stands. The Republican stand is at least twice the size of the Democrat stand. The Republicans have a staff of five people. They offer the usual pads of notepaper printed in red ink “elect Michael Smith auditor.”

The Democrat stand has no one present. Perhaps we walk by the Democrat booth at mandatory break time. The only give-away that catches my eye is a small computer disk called “consumer credit briefcase.” Its purpose, meaning or use is not obvious.

The Ohio Department of Transportation stand has an Ohio road map and other handouts including children games for travel.

The Licking County Master Gardeners offer a handout recipe for deer repellant. Milk, oil, dishwashing detergent, chili power, garlic powder and egg. Dilute, shake and spray. Kristin Price is the source.

Dinner On The Midway
We choose the dining stand of the Licking Valley Athletic Boosters for our meal. For $5.00 we get a chicken noodle bowl with choice of side (cole slaw, baked beans, potato salad) and hot dogs are $1.50. Other dinner menu items: shredded chicken, brats, Ham and cheese, two coney dogs and chicken breast (BBQ or Italian) all with a side and a drink for $5.00.

The dining stand is well staffed by the Licking Valley Athletic Boosters. There are nine, maybe ten people serving orders. In the kitchen two maybe three cooks.

At 6:30 p.m. the line is fast and the staff is friendly. There are about sixty patrons. The line moves quickly. Impressive for the crowd.

Competitive Agriculture, Domestic Arts and Crafts

Dinner done, we go to the Arts, Crafts and Floral Building to see the youth competition in drawing, flowers, fruits and vegetable growing, baking, collecting and photography.

Invariably, this building houses the agricultural highlights of the Hartford Fair.

Near one of the building entrances is the Drawing and Painting competition. The Best of Show is awarded to an oil portrait of a horse head and neck painted by Catherine Jula. Good representational painting. Media looks like oil pastels rather than oil or acrylic. Catherine is from Blacklick, Ohio.

Another Drawing and Painting Blue Ribbon for the 18 and under category of entrants goes to Julius Skestos of Granville for his space travel painting. It appears to be oil on paper and represents planets, other celestial bodies and, of course space ships.

The Flower and Flower Arrangement competition Blue Ribbon is awarded to Paula McDonald for a three feet tall cactus plant. Paula McDonald is also awarded a second Blue Ribbon for her entry in the Most Unusual Potted Plant. No identification for her unusual potted plant is offered. To my eye nothing looks unusal about the plant other than the size of its leaves.

The hot weather has dried out all of the flower arrangements so the display offers a sense of dying and death and reminds me that this is the end of summer and we are on the way to Autumn.

Fruits and Vegetables competition was the most impressive portion of these features. The Blue Ribbon winning white onions of Steve Ide were beautiful. Large, regular in shape and even in color. The appearance of Steve’s entry is picture perfect. Steve Ide is from Lewis Center.

Also appealing were the first and second place horseradish entries of Hazel Bias of Centerburg and Betty Johnson of Galena. Hazel’s Blue Ribbon entry was large at the top, continuing in a long regular root. Also in the horseradish competition were Mary Jane Fisher of Galena and Eloise Collier also of Galena. Fisher and Collier’s entries were less regular in shape than the wining entries.

Is Galena becoming a horseradish growing center? Three of four of the entries in this category were from Galena.

The tomatoes, potatoes, squashes, eggplants and cucumbers entered in the competition are abundant.

The winner of the Freak of Nature category was Michael Laughlin of Johnstown whose first-place entry is a misshapen zucchini. Dan Hamilton of Croton entered a cucumber shaped like a flattened fish. Betty Johnson of Galena entered a misshapen tomato.

The photography competition was once again too massive to have detailed comment. Mark Scurci and I estimate about 1,100 entries. The computer and digital cameras have made photography accessible and easy. In the category ages six through twelve, Mackenzie Lange of Commercial Point received the Best of Show ribbon for her picture of a sea turtle.

In the canned goods competition, Jody Chobuka of Alexandria received a Blue Ribbon for her canned pickled hot peppers and also a Blue Ribbon for her crabapple jelly. The presentation and appearance of her hot peppers and the crabapple jelly are excellent. The jelly in particular is remarkable with its vivid green color.

Gloria Runyon of Johnstown received two Blue Ribbons for her canned green beans and canned red beets. The green beans in particular are very attractively presented.

In the Baked Goods contest, the standout winner is Brittany Poff of Newark for her Ugliest Cake entry. Her entry is a very square block. Hard edges and swirled icing. The icing is acid green, black and white, and brown to reddish orange. Altogether the icing is a very unattractive mix.

The appearance of the icing is unappetizing by itself but the addition of lengths of blond hair into the icing makes it a disturbing spectacle.

Art critics would call Poff’s entry as a post-modern pastry. But the piece has closer associations with the floor of a hair salon and the freezees in an urban convenience store.

Other entries in this competition include worms and fake eyeballs. Poff’s entry is far and away the deserving entry because it captures an esthetic out of the ethers and is disturbing.

Poff takes the cake. But not too soon for us to have enjoyed the unsettling merit of her work.

Other competitions include a collection of rolling pins assembled by Victoria Barkman of Newark. One of the rolling pins was inherited by her from her great grandmother Ella Ashcroft (1883-1977).

The collection is the kind that is unsettling for any husband who has once been threatened by his wife’s rolling pin.

Horse Pull Competition
It is a quarter after 7:00 p.m. and time to watch the horse pull competition. We abandoned a survey of the amusement rides and carnival joints.

This year we stay only for the light weight horses. These are Belgians, muscular beasts who in teams of two can break eight-thousand pounds of deadweight and pull the heavy sled about fifteen feet.

Unlike horse racing and harness racing where the horses are named and identified, in horse pulls the competition teams are identified by their owners: John Roberts of Johnstown, Greg Mulberry of Florenze Kentucky, Lynn and Randy Arnold of Tippeecanoe, Ohio Tom Ferguson of Riggs Farms in Cameron, West Virginia.

The competition begins with 4,500 lbs of concrete blocks in a steel framed sled. The concrete blocks are loaded from a truck operated by Oberfields concrete building supplies of central Ohio.

As each leg of the competition is completed an additional 1,000 lbs of concrete blocks are added to the sled: 4,500 lbs becomes 5,500, then 6,500 and 7,500. Then the incredment is reduced to 500 lbs.

From the beginning the shirts of the teamsters were wet with their sweat on this hot and humid evening. In contrast, only after reaching 6,500 lbs did the horses lather up and show their sweat.

Sitting on the infield side, there is a man in a dark blue tee-shirt with white letters PETA emblazoned across the chest. There is additional text on the tee-shirt but at the distance, the additional text is too small to be legible. My curiosity is aroused: PETA at a horse pull? I think not.

I ask permission from my wife to walk to the infield to investigate further to read the small print. When I get to the infield, close enough to read the small print, I quickly conclude that it is worth the trip.

The back side of the tee-shirt has the text: “I think there is room for all of God’s creatures… right next to my mashed potatoes.” There is also a logo on the rear for “cultured rednecks” and a website for other products.

The text on the front is “PETA: People for the Eating of Tasty Animals.”

I return to the grandstand and the horse pull competition.

Randy Arnold’s team prances sideways and threatens the safety of the teamster. The horses twist the sled about 45 degrees.

Anna Wilson sitting nearby in the grandstands offers technical assistance to me on details of the competition. She lives in Gahanna. She doesn’t own horses but has come to the horse pull at the Hartford Fair for about twelve years with her father.

Her parents don’t own horses either but enjoy watch the animals compete. She says that her father explained to her that the family had to choose between having horses or having children. He and his wife chose the more expensive option.

The horses finally wear out at 8,500 lbs.

The first place winner is Jerry Riggs of Cameron, West Virginia whose team pulled the 8,500 lbs the full fifteen feet. The second place winner is John Stover of Marengo, Ohio whose final attempt pulled the sled of dead weight only 3 feet four inches.

The Mud Run

Mark and I abandon our wives when the heavy-weight Belgium competition begins. We want to watch from the infield but on the walk to the infield we hear the roar of gas engines and follow the sound to discover the Mud Run Contest. The location is a new venue near one of the large parking fields filled with cars, trucks and trailers.

The popularity of the Mud Run venue is the explanation of why Gate D was so empty when we arrived. The parking lot is closer to all of the events than Gate D.

The air is heavy with the smell of hot oil.

There is so much oil and gasoline fumes in the air that there is no doubt that if just one of the pick-ups breaks down, the fair grounds will be entitled to one year worth of carbon credits in any cap and trade law enacted by Congress.

Modified pick-ups and jeeps are run through a trough of mud.

A man standing nearby complains that the mud is too shallow and the trough should be watered to restore the mud to a proper depth.

He tells us a few technical details about the sport.

He says a good vehicle and good driver is called “three three three” but he doesn’t know why.

The man also says he doesn’t want to be identified in my notes.

The mud appears to be about two or three feet deep and challenges the vehicles. One of the jeeps almost overturns into the mud. The appeal of the sport is suddenly apparent.

The only flags decorating the competing vehicles are Stars and Bars. Is there a pattern developing?

Mark observes that the uniform of the drivers is “a safety helmet but no shirt.”

One of the drivers, Vic, has a cheering squad. “Go Vic, Go Vic.” Vic’s pick-up truck is decorated with the Stars and Bars. The pattern continues.

This is a new event at the Hartford Fair and the event is illuminated by the emergency lights of fire department pumper. The light is provided by the volunteer firemen of the Porter Kingston Fire District in Delaware County.

The crowd is younger here than at the horse pull.

When the Mud Run contest is finished, we return to the grand stand and look for our wives. When Mark’s cell phone rings, I see Egle and Judy in the infield. The cell phone is a call from Judy calling to learn where we can meet and return home.

We return to the Grubb Arena area. I ask at the Licking County Dairy Directors ice cream stand for some milk. They give me four half-pints of 2 percent milk. Free. The milk is fresh, cold and satisfying on a hot summer night.

The drive back to Bexley is uneventful.

The Hartford Fair is located in Licking County where it shares boundaries with Knox and Delaware counties.

The first Hartford Fair was held in 1858 for residents living in Hartford and Monroe townships in Licking county and Hilliard township in Knox county and Trenton township in Delaware county.

By 1871 there were ten townships represented, with the annexation of Milford township in Knox county; Harlem & Berkshire township in Delaware county; and Liberty, Bennington and Burlington townships in Licking county.

St. Albans and Jersey townships were added from Licking county in 1908 as well as Miller township in Knox county and Porter townships from Delaware county.

Directions from Bexley
From Bexley, northeast on Johnstown Road, US 62 to Johnstown. At the intersection of US 62 and SR 37, left to Croton Road on the edge of Johnstown. Turn right on Croton Road, drive six miles to the village of Croton (also known as Hartford Village). Continue on Croton road for a half mile more to the fair grounds.


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Design is copyright 2009. All rights reserved. Bexley Public Radio Foundation. Text is copyright 2009. All rights reserved. WCRX-LP Editorial Cooperative.

1 comment:

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