The Steele County Free Fair hosted the first and only “junk food” eating contest in 2012. The contest involved all attorneys and office staff of the Ruth/Schreiner Law Firm. The rules were simple. Take $10 and purchase the worst combinations of junk food that represented anti-health, anti-wellness and anti-good nutrition. Judging was based on originality and grossness, and EVERYTHING had to be purchased and eaten at the fair.
The judges announced a tie between attorneys Scott Schreiner and Shaun Floerke. Schreiner’s concoction included a taco burrito filled with french fried onions, mini donuts and cotton candy. Floerke submitted a chocolate-dipped corn dog, a strawberry malt with cheese curds inside, topped by a shish kabob. I don’t remember if these concoctions were actually eaten.
State fair held in Owatonna for two years
The Minnesota State Fair was traveling around the state in the late 1800’s. In 1883, largely through the efforts of Col. Clarke Chambers, and the generous efforts of the businessmen of Owatonna the State Agriculture Society was influenced to bring the State Fair to Owatonna. Col. Chambers not only provided the use of the grounds, but donated very liberally to the general fund a put in weeks of time personally supervising the erection of the buildings.
The 1883 fair, Minnesota’s 25th, was plagued with adverse weather. Several large buildings were erected after Owatonna was awarded the fair, but on July 21, a cyclone wrecked both even before they were completed. The citizens of Owatonna dug into their pockets, and ordered the contractors to go on with their work. When the work was almost finished for the second time, an even worse storm passed over the city and the buildings were blown down again. This time, people from St. Paul came to the rescue and assisted Owatonnans in constructing the buildings for a third time in one summer.
When I worked at KRFO all of our broadcasts from the fair emanated from what we called the Radio Tent Theatre. Alexander Lumber delivered boards we placed on concrete blocks to make the stage where visiting bands would perform. We spent Monday night pounding stakes in the ground for the tent and placed boards on concrete blocks to make the sitting area in front of the stage. I don’t what has changed, but in all the years I worked for the fair, I never experienced severe weather like we did in those old days. We endured winds so high that we feared our tent would just take off! I can remember cold days when the winds were strong and the temperature didn’t get out of the low 40’s. It was miserable. I can’t recall those cold temperatures hitting our fair in the 30 years I was working there.
The fair’s big hit
A very popular and big hit was the little steam train that ran in a circle in the area now used as Fair Square Park. Owatonna folks always became excited when they heard the train whistle that was blown days before the fair opened. The miniature train gave thousands of rides each year to youngsters at the fair. The train ran from the 1940’s to the 1960’s. The tracks were left down all year.
A proposed move
In 1916, a group of Ellendale businessmen made an offer to move the fair to their city. But by 1918, the obvious right place for the fair was Owatonna. By 1918 the fair had new buildings and opened the new fairgrounds in Owatonna.
Bulova Watch Drop
Another event that proved to be very popular was sponsored by Kottke Jewelers. It was an event that lasted no more than three years. Ted Ringhofer, a member of the fair board and a private pilot with his own airplane proposed a Bulova Watch drop over the fairgrounds from his plane. Bill Kottke went along with the idea and provided the watch to be dropped from the air. The Kottke Bulova Watch drop took place from 1967 to 1970. I can remember the entire fairgrounds watching the skies for Ringhofer’s plane on a certain evening of fair week. When the watch was dropped, people of all ages scrambled toward the area where the watch would land. It was a fun and exciting event at the fair until the final year when the watch landed on the beer garden roof. Fairgoers were climbing drain pipes to get to the prized watch on the roof. It was then decided by the fair board that the event proved to be too dangerous and the event was never to be held again.
More historical fair notes
The first fair in Steele County was held on October 17, 1860 and premiums that year were quite interesting. Best six yoke of working oxen, $6; best wagon made in Steele County, $3; best buggy made in the county, $5; best team and plow, $2; best butter churn, $1; best corn and best 100 lbs. of flour, 50 cents.
By 1927 the fair board made the decision to make the fair a “free fair”.
By 1932, big car racing came to the fair. Auto racing and other motor events became huge attractions
Fair church services
Sunday morning of fair week will provide outdoor church services on both sides of the fairgrounds. The Village of Yesteryear will provide the site for the 9:30 a.m. service. Nathan Palmer from Cornerstone Evangelical Free Church will give the message and Matt Lounsbury will share testimony and Greg Krueger will provide special music.
There will also be an 11 a.m. service in Fair Square Park led by First Lutheran Church of Blooming Prairie. One of the two pastors, Heidi Heimgartner or Mike Walerius will speak.
Equine Hall of Fame
Kim Klukas will be this year’s honoree in the Equine Hall of Fame. She will be inducted at 1 p.m. in the livestock show arena. Kim has been the Steele County Horse Show Assistant for many years. She also served as President of the Owatonna Saddle Club, President of the Waseca FFA and served three years as President of the Southern Minnesota Saddle Club Association. She has assisted with 4-H clinics in Waseca, Dodge and Steele Counties. She has shown at the SCFF Equine Shows for over 20 years and has received numerous year-end awards on the SEMSCA circuit. Kim has shown in the quarter-horse, Paint, Pony of America bred shows and is currently showing in the National Pinto circuit. She has earned the register of Merit (ROM) in English riding. Kim has an animal science and veterinary tech degree. Kim joins other members of her family who have been inducted into the Equine Hall of Fame including her mother, Sue, and her grandparents Carl and Ethyl Quimby.
The Muckle Museum
The Muckle Museum is located on the west side of the fairgrounds in the north side of the fair office. It was donated by Stan Muckle. Be sure to stop by and see the interesting memorabilia from past fairs. It’s air conditioned and free to all. Hours are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.
Joke of the week
If walking is good for your health, the postal carrier would be immortal!
A whale swims all day, only eats fish, drinks water and is fat. A rabbit runs and hops and only lives 15 years. A tortoise doesn’t run and does nothing and yet it lives 450 years. And you tell me to exercise? I DON’T THINK SO!