The Clay County Fair in Spencer is the largest county fair in Iowa and one of the largest in the entire United States. Over the annual nine days (two weekends and the five days in between), they draw well over 300,000 attendees. It started in 1918 and yesterday (Sunday, the 16th) was the final day of the 101st fair.
Growing up about 45 minutes from the fairgrounds, attending the Clay County Fair was a staple of my youth. From 2000 to 2012, my family exhibited purebred and crossbred hogs in the first weekend open class shows.
Going back to the fair always brings a rush of nostalgia. On the first Saturday of the fair this year, after visiting Solsma's Punkin Patch near Sanborn, I spent a few hours wandering the grounds and catching up with a few friends. I hit up a few of my favorite food stands and just generally enjoyed the nice late summer weather.
There are large grass lots that can accommodate thousands of cars - and the parking is free. There are a couple of pay lots but generally, it's rare that you cannot find a spot in the free lot.
Admission to the fair, like a lot of things, has gone up a little over time. Adult tickets are now $10 at the gate. Children are half price or free.
If you need some assistance getting around the fair, there are shuttles like this running throughout its many acres.
It's a fairgrounds that has a nice mix of newer and historic buildings and a few tree-lined avenues.
One of the first stops I like the make is the Livestock Pavilion where the swine and sheep are housed. On this particular Saturday, the show that I used to participate in was happening. I always run into some people I know but there are fewer of the exhibitors left from back when I showed.
I happened to walk in as the Berkshire gilts were being shown.
I walked around and enjoyed the full barn of sheep and hogs.
The open classes of purebred sheep were also at the fair this particular weekend.
One of the most popular places on the fairgrounds is "Grandpa's Barn" which is part petting zoo and part animal learning center. The fair recently finished building a brand new building and it is a great addition. It was jam packed with younger children and their parents or grandparents when I stopped by.
The Clay County Farm Bureau is one of the main sponsors of Grandpa's Barn and they have a couple of different tractor cabs and an area where fair-goers can watch videos on animal production.
Another popular spot for the kids is the midway. There's a wide variety of attractions and rides.
A unique attraction of the fair is The Depot, which houses easily the largest model train set up I've ever seen. It's quite impressive and elaborate and is encased in glass.
It wouldn't be a fair without a great array of fair food. Like anybody else, I have my "must hits" and that includes the Clay County Pork Producers' Chop Shop.
I ordered the loin dinner which, for $10, included a generous piece of pork loin, a huge baked potato, small sides of apple sauce and baked beans, and a dinner roll. That's a good deal whether at the fair or not.
It wasn't that I needed any more food, but I decided to get a doughnut for dessert. But these aren't just any doughnuts - these are Wyman's Spudnuts made with potato flower. Talk about addictive. This year, they had the option of adding some chocolate frosting and so I did that. Wyman's have a permanent location in Okoboji but it's always a fair treat for me.
There are lots of other food stands at the fair - from typical mobile carnival-like stands to permanent structures that are occupied each year by local groups or businesses.
Northwest Iowa is one of the epicenters of livestock and crop production - not just in Iowa - but the entire country. The fair always showcases a wide variety of both implements of husbandry (of all colors!) as well as products manufactured for use within the livestock sector of our economy.
There are also opportunities to look at various sheds, buildings, or even houses that can be built or delivered to your property.
Sukup has an example of one of their homes that is often built in emerging countries by church groups, missionaries, or other humanitarian organizations.
There are other "toys" for viewing and purchase as well. From boats and RVs to golf carts and hunting blinds.
The fair also has several buildings dedicated to the sale or display of a wide range of commercial products. There are a couple of stand-alone buildings as well as space under the grandstand.
The roughly 10 year old events center on the fair has been a great addition. Not only is it where the fair's year-a-round offices are, but there is a large space for big events (concerts/political rallies etc) and a smaller ballroom for wedding receptions or other meetings. This building gets use year-a-round.
During the fair, it is always packed because it is nicely air-conditioned.
From Amish furniture and washing machines to candy and Donald Trump.
I even found some hot tub vendors right outside.
There are a couple of older buildings that are full of interesting merchandise.
I've never been to a show in the grandstand but they do have either a concert, act, race, or tractor pull every night of the fair. There is ample space under the seating for more commercial and vendor set-ups.
There's lots of seed corn and seed soybeans booths at the fair too.
If you like photography, there's a whole building full of both photography and antique cars.
There's also an area on the grounds with dozens of antique tractors and other vehicles.
I found buildings dedicated to both artists and gardeners.
Of course, there is more livestock at the fair. There are several buildings devoted to cattle.
On this particular Saturday, the barns were full of 4-H and FFA cattle.
This whole area is set up with grooming stanchions.
The cattle are shown in an indoor arena.
However, there is also an outdoor arena where horse competitions take place.
There is a large structure dedicated to the housing of horses.
Nearby, there is a smaller building that houses the bunnies and the birds.
In addition to the excellent people watching opportunities, there is plenty of free entertainment, too.
Want some henna temporary tattoos, a fun caricature of yourself, or maybe an old-time photo? That's all available at the fair too.
Even though we are about a year away from the start of the 2019 fair, it is not too early to get it on your calendar. If you have never been, it's a great place to spend a nice late summer day.
In the meantime, check out the Clay County Fair's Facebook page and website and keep an eye on the developments and announcements leading up to the 2019 fair.