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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Tales from the old-timer

The Wausaukee Fair

By Jane Thibodeau Martin,

daughter of the Old-Timer



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When I read the Times I always enjoy the references to the Wausaukee Fair. Going to the fair was an annual tradition when we lived on Highway 180, and all of us, but especially our kids, really looked forward to it.

By the standards of the big fairs, like the one in Milwaukee, the Wausaukee Fair is a pretty simple and primitive event. By the standards of big theme parks, it’s rinky-dink. But for me, the absence of huge crowds, traffic jams and long lines was perfect. I even liked the car journey to get there.

These county fairs are a remnant of our agricultural pasts. Back then, it was a chance for hard-working farm people to socialize and show off the prime specimens that contributed to the family income and livelihood - the famously productive milking cow, the healthy laying chickens, the perfect corn and soybeans raised on the home property. Farm women showed off the lovely quilts that were used to keep the kids warm in the winter, the beautiful preserves to economically feed the family - jellies, canned fruit, tomatoes. Demonstrations of culinary perfection - big apple pies and perfect cakes. And a few “for art’s sake” things that had no true purpose but to contribute a little beauty to their hard lives - flowers, needlepoint.

There’s always a few dozen small rides, some midway games and carnival foods - cotton candy, corn dogs, snow cones. But better quality and quantity foods are readily available at stands staffed by the Pork Producers, American Dairy Association and other local organizations - fresh “real” ice cream, BBQ pork sandwiches.

The stand with the longest lines, inordinately long, was “Norm’s French Fries.” Simple food, but always extremely fresh due to the handful of workers slaving at top speed desperately trying to keep up with the incessant demand.

We always started by touring every barn, examining every single chicken, rabbit, goat, sheep, calf and cow. Next to the best part for my daughter and I, the horse barn. Then it was our son’s turn to have fun, sitting on the displayed new tractors, combines, and other agricultural equipment. After a long meander through the barns of the displays of blue-ribbon winning photographs, paintings, and 4-H crafts, we’d stop in front of the refrigerated case of winning carcasses. Hanging on display are slaughtered animals - 1/2 a cow, 1/2 a pig. I always found this distressing after watching the 4-H kids washing and grooming their calves, but it is a truism of where our food comes from.

Our kids would then ride the Ferris wheel, the merry-go-round, and the scramble. We’d eat whatever struck anyone’s fancy from the food choices, and if the kids weren’t already too exhausted, take in the Demolition Derby.

Sometimes we’d get lucky and be able to watch the horse pulling. Almost extinct now, this is also a remnant of the times when the family depended on stout horses to plow, thresh, log and transport goods and family members. There are few of these practitioners left now - Draught breeds are not popular as riding horses and these big animals are expensive to keep. There aren’t many harness makers left, nor builders of wagons for them to pull. And the time it takes to train a great team of harness horses - in our busy world, few of us have the drive, skills and time to put the work into training a team that would only be used for a few exhibitions. While they are grand to see, they really no longer have a “job” other than reminding us of what a debt of gratitude all Americans owe the horse.

Dying arts, most of these. Go to the fair. Look beyond what is easy to see, and think about where it all originated. My guess is at least 50% of Times readers have a farmer in their family tree. Go look, and remind yourself of your heritage, and the debt we all owe the family farmer - another endangered breed.


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