The thousands of guests who will swarm the 162nd Fulton County Fair from Aug. 30 to Sept. 5 will take the tents, stands, and displays for granted, not realizing the tremendous undertaking to set it all up.
Each year, about 1,000 people gather to haul in tents, set up booths and carnival rides, string countless lights, and apply fresh coats of paint to ensure that one of Ohio’s premier county fairs is up to standards. In fact, the week of the fair is a choreographed cavalcade of paid and volunteer workers who raise up, then tear down the attractions in record time.
The workers include the 17 members and 15 auxiliary members of the fair board, who roll up their sleeves to help.
“Oh yeah, I get dirty,” chuckled Dennis Wyse, Fulton County Fair Board president for seven years. “It’s a huge undertaking because of the size of it, but a little bit of experience helps.”
Tents from Mutton Party and Tent Rental of Fort Wayne, Ind., started going up on the fairgrounds Aug. 22. It takes about 24 hours to complete the job, followed by a day of hanging cords of lights courtesy of the fairground’s electrician and his crew of six.
Wyse said some of the workers have helped open the fair for years, so the process has become routine. “It’s usually not too chaotic. Everything always falls in place,” he said.
On Monday morning rides from Poor Jack Amusements of Cambridge City, Ind., rolled onto the fairgrounds from a stint at the Allen County Fair in Lima, Ohio. They’ll likely be in place by nightfall, then stringently inspected by representatives of the Ohio Department of Agriculture before they‘re opened to the public.
“They bring up a wide variety of rides,” Wyse said of Poor Jack. “They do have a good reputation, and this is one of their biggest fairs.”
He said the amusements company tries to introduce one new ride during each fair season. During the winter months they’re again inspected thoroughly, “similar to like you would an airplane – tear it down and rebuild it to make sure every part’s working.”
As the fair is physically put together some of the most difficult chores are cleaning barns, erecting show bleachers, and landscaping the entire fairgrounds. “It’s like an assembly line,” Wyse said.
One of the Fulton County Fair’s more unique aspects is the replacement two years ago of mulch in barns and show arenas with coconut shell shavings. Used as compost at Nature Fresh Farms in Delta, the shavings are collected from the business by local farmer Nate Andre and provided to the fair venues. The natural coconut oil in the shavings reduces the need to add water to the floor to keep dust down.
Show animals arrive the day before the fair begins. Wyse said for the most part they’re cooperative, although once in a while an animal bolts. Two years ago, a steer got loose and damaged a camper.
And while fair set up has become fairly routine, that doesn’t mean problems don’t arise.
Last year, telephones were installed in all of the fair’s gate booths. A fierce storm hit the county the Saturday prior to the fair opening and knocked out all the phone service. It took a couple of days to correct the problem after it was discovered the Monday of fair week.
It was also last year that the man providing tents to house racehorses declared bankruptcy three weeks before showtime. The fair board scrambled to find another provider, and could get only stalls without roofs.
And on Aug. 18 of this year a storm tipped over the booth at Gate K and ripped off its roof. The next day fair workers repaired the booth and place it upright in just two hours.
Wyse said he feels a sense of relief when the fair is over and the hard labor is finished. But, he said, “The planning starts for the following year.”
He does feel a sense of satisfaction when each year curious onlookers walk the midway days before the fair begins to marvel at the set-up.
“You can’t believe how many people come here,” he said. “It’s like watching a city grow in a couple of days.”
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.