August 2016
Homeplace & Community

Come See the County Fair

A remnant of our agricultural past remains, alongside modern family fun.

“If you ever start feeling like you have the goofiest, craziest, most dysfunctional family in the world,
all you have to do is go to a county fair. Because five minutes at the fair, you’ll be going, ‘You know,
we’re all right. We are dang near royalty.’”       ~ Jeff Foxworthy

An an episode of Andy Griffith, Aunt Bee and Clara Johnson canned homemade pickles both thinking their pickles were good enough to win a blue ribbon at the county fair. Clara’s pickles were actually good enough to win the blue ribbon for the last 11 years. Andy, Barney and, later in the story, the county fair judges, all agree that Aunt Bee’s pickles tasted like they had been floating in kerosene.

 

The mechanical bull offers a safe alternative to the real thing.

Clara goes on to win her 12th blue ribbon at the county fair, and Andy and Barney are faced with having to eat 16 more jars of Aunt Bee’s kerosene pickles. In one of my favorite Andy Griffith scenes, Aunt Bee pressures Andy and Barney to try her pickles when she brings them lunch. Not wanting to hurt her feelings, Andy and Barney simply look at the pickles in an admiring way.

Finally, Aunt Bee tells Andy and Barney to go ahead and taste the pickles. After staring and commenting on the pickles, Barney said, "Well, I don’t want to waste it when I’m so full up like this. I think I’ll just wait and smoke it … um … eat it after supper."

This August is a great time to get out and visit a county fair near you. It’s a great way to build community involvement, get youth involved in agriculture and socialize in person instead of on Facebook.

 

A Fair History

According to the International Association of Fairs and Expositions, the father of U.S. agricultural fairs, Elkanah Watson, a New England patriot and farmer, earned this title by organizing the Berkshire Agricultural Society and creating an event known then as a cattle show. The first one took place in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, in September 1811. According to IAFE, this was more than just an exhibit of animals. It was a competition with prize money in the amount of $70 paid for the best exhibits of oxen, cattle, swine and sheep.

Many of the rodeo events are centered on activities for children as well as the bull and bronco riding.

 

Early county fairs were used to promote modern farming techniques and there would be events such as plowing contests, livestock judging and the unveiling of new agricultural implements. By the 1900s, according to Ross Earle’s book, "The Evolution of the Agricultural Fair in the Northwest," "Bicycle races, balloon ascension, and eventually automobile races and airplane demonstrations were common features, while plowing matches and evening lectures were replaced with fireworks."

Also, during the early part of the 1900s, boys and girls were encouraged to exhibit their fair entries. The local fair would showcase youth involvement in agriculture through a new national movement for youth known as 4-H. This helped revitalize youth interest in agricultural competitions.

County fairs are different today in that you might find a few inflatable jumping houses for kids or cell phone charging stations, but there is still a remnant of our agricultural past at these gatherings. Today, you can check out your nearest county fair and enjoy some of the classic entertainment of the past. You can attempt to catch a greased pig, show off your best canning in a contest and exhibit your best chickens. Or you can go modern and hang out at the snow cone machine or ride a mechanical bull.

 

Cleburne County Fair

 

Many live-stock including lambs are shown and prizes are awarded to youth.

If you want to make a quick summer road trip to Cleburne County, you can visit a truly action-packed fair just south of I-20 at the Heflin exit. Just travel about 3 miles down Highway 9 and you’ll see acres of fairground activities at the foot of Ross Mountain. This year, the county fair will be Aug. 13.

This year’s fair will host a two-night rodeo beginning Friday at 7. The fair’s activities start at 10 a.m. and end at 7 p.m., when the rodeo begins. There will be a lamb show, zip line, Capture Cleburne County Photo Contest, canning competitions, musical acts, antique tractor shows, and the usual good, old-fashioned fair food and fun.

As you take part in the viewing of the canning competitions, there is a good chance you will find canned pickles. To this day, no one has bested Aunt Bee’s record for the worst-tasting pickle as confirmed by Andy, Barney and a panel of judges. If you would like more information about the Cleburne County Fair, call 256-463-2222 or email executive director of the Cleburne County Chamber of Commerce, Abby Minter, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

This August, take time to visit your nearest county fair. Just make sure you avoid the kerosene cucumbers like the ones Aunt Bee pickled for the Mayberry County Fair.

 

John Howle is a freelance writer from Heflin.