Nail-driving contest

Owatonna People's Press managing editor Jeffrey Jackson dons a dress and wig to participate in the Ladies Nail Driving Contest Thursday afternoon at the Steele County Free Fair. Competing against Jackson, who came in last, were, from left to right, Jennifer Libby, Sarah Archer, Nikki Johnson and Theresa Spear. Johnson won the contest. (Al Strain/People's Press)

My wife took one look at me, pointed, laughed appropriately and managed to talk through her snickers.

“It’s a good thing you’re a man,” she said, “because you sure make an ugly woman.”

She had a point.

Wearing that awful floral dress with a wig slapped on my head and a bonnet to hold the wig on, I was not the picture of gracious femininity. In fact, I was so homely I could have knocked a buzzard off a gut wagon.

Bear with me on this one.

My guess is that by now a question surely has crossed your mind: Why exactly would I want to dress like a woman — and an ugly woman at that — especially at the Steele County Free Fair, where hundreds of thousands of people crowd onto the fairgrounds?

Let me make it clear, it’s not that I wanted to dress like a woman. It’s just that it was the only way I could guarantee my participation in the Ladies Nail Driving Contest.

And why would I want to be in that contest?

Apparently, the Ladies Nail Driving Contest is one of the oldest continuous competitions at the Steele County Free Fair. It’s been around at the fair, I’m told, since 1956. It’s even older than I am.

I got in touch with the good folks at KRFO, the radio station that introduced the nail-driving competition to the fair and that still sponsors and broadcasts it to this day. A couple of years back, the KRFO gang allowed me to participate in seed-spitting competition, so I hoped they’d let me participate in the nail-driving contest as well.

There was just one problem.

“You do realize it’s a Ladies Nail Driving Contest,” said John Connor of the KRFO sales department.

Yes, I know. So?

Apparently, John recognized the fact that I’m, y’know, a guy, and the contest is supposed to be for women only. For me to participate I needed to be a woman — the parts of which I do not possess.

But that should be no impediment. My pitch was that I would be doing only as an exhibition participant — sort of like the Owatonna High School Marching Band during the Harry Wenger Marching Band Festival here in town. Even if I won the competition, I wouldn’t accept the prize.

“Besides,” I said, “there’s no chance that I’m going to win.”

No, I wasn’t being modest. And, no, I wasn’t planning to throw the contest.

The fact is, folks — and I’m secure enough in my manhood to admit this — I’m not very good with tools, even with something so simple as a hammer and a nail.

Hey, I never claimed to be a handyman.

Yes, I do own tools. A few. I have a hammer (possibly two), several screwdrivers, a smattering of wrenches, a putty knife (though no putty), a roll of duct tape, a pair of tweezers for when I get a splinter in my finger and something with a cord that’s either a drill or an electric mixer, I’m not sure which. I even own a tool box.

Well, sort of.

What I have to keep my tools is an old Currier and Ives cookie tin the outside of which depicts a nice wintry scene. If you think I’m kidding, ask my wife, who apparently laughs a lot at me since she chortled the first time she saw it.

Bottom line: In the nail-driving competition, I would be no competition.

Then I threw in one other offer that I thought might earn me a berth in the contest.

“I’ll even dress like a woman,” I said, “dress, wig and all.”

I drew the line at high heels.

So Thursday afternoon, I appeared at the KRFO stage, decked out in my new duds, ready to take on four challengers — Sarah Archer, Nikki Johnson, Jennifer Libby and Theresa Spear.

The rules are simple. Each participant was given five nails. When the official — Roy Koenig, the KRFO sports director — gave us the go, we were supposed to see how quickly we each could hammer our five nails into a board. The first person to hammer the five nails in would win.

Roy asked me how quickly I think someone could hammer five nails.

“If it were me, five nails, five days,” I said. “But others? I don’t know. Two minutes?”

Apparently the record is just shy of 13 seconds. You heard that right — 13 seconds.

Our heat was a little slower, though I’m sure it’s because the ladies didn’t want me to look like too big of a doofus. Still, Nikki Johnson, the winner, managed to drive five nails completely into the board in right about 40 seconds.

Her strategy?

“Beginner’s luck,” she said.

That’s right. It was Nikki’s first time competing in a nail-driving contest.

Jennifer Libby, who competed last year, improved on her performance. Last year, she managed to drive in three. This year she got four.

How did she manage it?

“It’s just like yoga,” she said. “I don’t look at the others. I just focus on myself.”

Of course, it was my first time competing in a nail-driving contest, too, so I was hoping that maybe, just maybe, I could share some of that beginner’s luck that Nikki had.

No such luck.

Without hitting my thumb, a finger or any other appendage, I did manage to drive two nails completely into the board and start a third one — barely — before Nikki slammed her fifth nail in for the win. And as predicted, I came in a solid fifth place out of five.


If there was any consolation, it was that I didn’t bend a single nail.

“They’re all straight,” Roy said, commenting on my work.

Given the way I was dressed, it was nice to know something looked straight.

Reach Managing Editor Jeffrey Jackson at 444-2371, or follow him on @OPPJeffrey

Jeffrey Jackson is the managing editor of the Owatonna People's Press. He can be reached at 507-444-2371 or via email at

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