The Lope: The Iowa State Fair

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Iowa State Fair

The 2010 Iowa State Fair started yesterday, August 12, and runs through August 22. Being fans of the Kansas State Fair, Ace and I paid a visit to the Iowa State Fair last August 16 to enjoy the variety and to see their version of one of my favorite Kansas attractions, Ye Old Mill.

Parking for the Iowa State Fairgrounds is, for the most part, on grassy fields much as in Kansas.

The first difference I noticed is an obvious reflection of the respective environments. The Iowa State Fairgrounds are more of an hilly deciduous woods environment. It's a bit harder on the legs in places, but has lots of shade.

Just as in Kansas, there's a sky ride. There's also a 0.5-megawatt wind turbine placed there by MidAmerica Wind Energy. According to the company, it has the ability to produce the equivalent of a quarter of the energy needed annually to power the fairgrounds.

We entered at Gate 4 near the NW corner of the fairgrounds. The first thing we ran into was a museum complex that consisted largely of a "building zoo" - a collection of buildings brought here from various points in Iowa. A sign states the only clue to the origin of this building is an 1880 photograph and its Pennsylvania Dutch architecture. It is believed to be a small train or streetcar station. Another side of the building bears a sign that reads "Albia."

A sign labels this as Iowa's first church, 1834, Dubuque.

The interior contains a log pulpit. There is no explanation as to whether it was original, but I have my doubts about the cardboard box and trash bag.

A building labeled North Lincoln School was, to my surprise, quite popular as seen below.

Notice the guy on the left putting a dunce cap on the little girl.

The actual museum contains artifacts and reproduction posters like the one below.

I was surprised to learn that the fair featured crashes of obsolete steam locomotives in the years 1896, 1922 and 1932. This undated photo shows the aftermath of one of the crashes. There's even a film of one of the crashes.

Of course, as a railfan I look at this and think "what a waste of two steam engines!"

Old carnival prizes, like this chalk-ware Popeye, are displayed, as are performance costumes.

Button collectors will like this.

There are photos of adult-only peep shows (no longer a feature of the fair). On a classier note, fan dancer Sally Rand once performed here. Alas, all state fairs are a few years too late to get her again.

There were no old style side shows but there was a good exhibit of that style of art.

There were souvenirs for sale in the museum complex, including a few I wish Kansas offered. An unusually practical one was this battery operated fan. I bought it and it still works a year later.

Moving outside the Museum Complex, I ran across these dressed-up ducks. The memory of their purpose escapes me.

Moving on down the lane to the bulk of the fair, I ran across the first of several information booths.

This nice A-frame roof belongs to the Susan Knapp Amphitheater.

A soda fountain sign caught my eye.

The employees could not tell me if anything in here was very old, but it was a cool place to duck in out of the heat.

Ace enjoyed a cherry soda.

A general store along the lane displayed this coin-operated mechanical band:

A nearby sign advertises the consumption of pork. I must confess that on looking at this photo again, I want a pork chop on a stick.

Lifted straight from the fair's website, this is a partial list of food items offered "on a stick":

■Fair Square
■Chocolate-covered tiramisu on-a-stick
■Turtle mousse bar on-a-stick
■Strawberry cream bar on-a-stick
■Twinkie log on-a-stick (frozen Twinkie dipped in white chocolate and rolled in cashews)
■Octodog (hotdog in the shape of an octopus
■Frozen s’more on-a-stick
■Chocolate-dipped cake on-a-stick
■Chicken club on-a-stick
■Buffalo chicken on-a-stick
■Chocolate-covered peanut butter round on-a-stick
■Chocolate-covered key lime round on-a-stick
■Carmellows on-a-stick
■Pretzel rods dipped in caramel or chocolate
■Pickle on-a-stick
■Pork chop on-a-stick
■Corn dog
■Cheese on-a-stick
■Cajun chicken on-a-stick
■Sesame chicken on-a-stick
■Carmel apple
■German sausage on-a-stick
■Teriyaki beef on-a-stick
■Corn on the cob on-a-stick
■Cotton candy
■Veggie dog on-a-stick
■Turkey drumstick
■Nutty bar
■Fried pickle on-a-stick
■Hot bologna on-a-stick
■Shrimp on-a-stick
■Chicken on-a-stick
■Monkey Tails (chocolate covered banana on-a-stick)
■Taffy on-a-stick
■Honey on-a-stick
■Ice cream Wonder Bar
■Deep fried Snickers bar on-a-stick
■Deep fried 3 Musketeers bar on-a-stick
■Deep fried Milky Way bar on-a-stick
■Deep fried Twinkie on-a-stick
■Lamb on-a-stick
■Meatballs on-a-stick
■Deep fried hoho on-a-stick
■Fudge Puppy (waffle drenched in chocolate syrup and topped with whipped cream)
■Chili Dog on-a-stick
■Funtastick Pork on-a-stick
■Dutch letters on-a-stick
■Turkey tenders on-a-stick
■Deep fried hot dog on-a-stick
■Chocolate covered cheesecake on-a-stick
■Potato Lollipop (4 thick slices of russet potato deep fried and on-a-stick with dipping sauces)
■Pineapple on-a-stick (Fresh pineapple dipped in funnel cake batter and deep fried)
■Chicken lips on-a-stick (breaded chicken breast smothered with hot sauce, served with blue cheese dressing).
■Cornbrat on-a-stick (bratwurst dipped in corndog batter)
■Frozen fudge brownie on-a-stick
■Ice cream cookie sandwich on-a-stick
■Rock candy on-a-stick
■Salad on-a-stick
■Hard-boiled egg on-a-stick

I had no idea of the extent to which we are an "on a stick" culture. (Now, can I get my generic Zocor in "extra strength"?)

And finally I came to what had drawn me to the fair - the Iowa State Fair's Ye Old Mill. Unlike the Kansas version of this classic water dark ride, this one is almost completely new.

According to the fairgrounds museum, it was originally built in 1921 (six years after Ye Old Mill in Kansas) and offered a 1,500 ft long canal ride that attracted couples. In 1996 the already dilapidated structure collapsed in a high wind. It was completely rebuilt with donations from The Bank of America (formerly Boatman's Bank). Last year the fair's website listed the structure as having been built in 1911, so I don't know which is accurate.

A sign at the museum also mentions "the wheelhouse and 950 ft. long canal were completely recreated to the exact specifications of the prototype." This would seem to contradict the statement that the length of the canal was originally 1,500 feet. If I can clarify this, I'll re-edit this post.

These fiberglass boats replaced the older ones.

According to the fair museum, this large red paddle wheel is the only relic of the original Iowa State Fair's Ye Old Mill.

I shot some video of a ride; most of it is dark but you'll see enough to get the feel of it:

In contrast to the same ride at the Kansas State Fair, the one in Iowa features reproductions of old fair posters inside, rather than being outfitted as a horror / tunnel of love attraction. The original displays inside the Kansas version were reportedly agricultural in nature.

Near Ye Old Mill is the Agricultural Building with its exhibition style architecture and Jeffersonian domes; it was constructed in 1904.

Outside this building was the abode of giant pumpkins. This first prize winner, weighing 1,099 lb., was the entry of Martin Schnicker of Mt Pleasant. It beat out the largest entry at the Kansas State Fair in 2009 by over 100 lb. Another photo

A fountain outside featured the Earth, spinning in a disturbingly random fashion:

The cavernous interior held exhibits and vendors equivalent to the Pride of Kansas building in the Sunflower State.

It was here that the search for free swag began. Unfortunately this was the year temporary tattoos really caught on, to the delight of this young man. There's not much to recommend a temporary tattoo to an adult. I prefer plastic grain elevators and such.

See the signs for the Iowa Turkey Federation and the Iowa Egg Council? These are logical and legitimate names, yet I keep thinking of United Federation of Planets vs. the Turkey Federation.

Giant fiberglass chickens are good for bonus points, as far as I'm concerned.

Ahh, butter sculpture - a staple of state fairs. Last year the fair paid tribute to the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11, the first manned moon landing. I was tickled to see this.

The display was even tricked out with a working, butter-coated TV set. I've never understood the appeal of butter sculpture myself, but this was kind of cool. I've read that this year's butter sculpture pays tribute to Dr Seuss' Green Eggs and Ham. The fair's website lists Sarah Pratt as the current sculptor.

Near the Agricultural Building is the Pioneer Livestock Pavilion, built in 1902. The interior was renovated in 1989.

The Sheep Barn was designed in phases in 1915, 1923 and 1939.

It has these cool Terra cotta sheep heads.

We visited the Poultry Industries Building, which now houses the 4-H exhibits.

It was built in 1938 and features some bas relief.

I was disappointed that the 4-H entomology and geology exhibits were not nearly as extensive as the ones in Kansas. The 4-H bugs and rocks are always a highlight for me of the Kansas State Fair.

Twelve year-old Kristina Spear made this tractor of pop cans with a comet can exhaust pipe.

The Iowa 4-H exhibit offered souvenirs that were handy for a website like this one. Ace shows the tractor to two new pals, each of whom have customized 4-H accessories. Ace takes the seat while he suggests his friends take front stage and sit on the wheel.

Unfortunately, tragedy struck when this bear fell under the wheel and was run over - slightly odd when you consider the wheels are fastened down.

Ace wears his fallen friend's hat in tribute.

This neat old coin-operated train ride in the Varied Industries Building was a fun-raiser for the Iowa Railroad Historical Society, a non-profit railroad museum.

The Grandstands Building was built in 1909 and renovated in the 1990s.

The Department of Natural Resources Building closed at 8PM, earlier than most other buildings, and we missed it.

I'd have loved to have seen the wildlife exhibits and aquariums inside.

I did shoot this neat swan decoration on one of the corners. It was built between 1926 and 1929.

As night fell, we took in the midway and the carnival.

Here's a video shot from the ferris wheel:

There was the usual amount of carnival artwork

I was particularly pleased to see a funhouse with art based on the classic Universal Horror movies. I ran more pictures of this last year on Bele Lugosi's birthday.

Any fair gets bonus points from me for having food stands that actually look like the food offered, like this lemonade stand. The Kansas State Fair usually has a couple of similar stands, but with a vertical lemon.

Finally, I was pleased to see Norman the Taffy Puller at the Iowa State Fair. Read more about Norman, here. I look forward to buying some taffy pulled by him at the Kansas State Fair next month.


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