Demolition derby drives revenue
David Todd was happy to see more people strolling through the Leavenworth County Fairgrounds last week for the annual county fair.
Last year, attendance was down considerably because of heavy rain during fair week.
This year, hot weather kept people away the first few nights, but fair board president David Todd said attendance increased steadily Friday and Saturday.
"I would say to sum it up, it was probably much, much better, but overall just an average year," Todd said, comparing this year's fair to last year's festivities.
It didn't take long to realize that this year's demolition derby would bolster fair proceeds.
"We don't know how much we cleared off of it," Todd said on Monday. "But we took in a gross of somewhere around $19,000.
The proceeds included entry fees, of $35 per car and driver, pit passes of $15, and admission of $10 for adults and $5 for children.
"It was packed," Todd said. "We had to tell people right at the beginning that there was nothing but standing room only and they kept wanting to go in."
Todd estimated that about 2,500 people packed into the stands.
Though the area was in dire need of rain, Todd said he was relieved the rains held off until Sunday.
Last's year's demolition derby was rained out twice, once during the fair and once later on. When a derby finally was held in October, attendance was drastically less than when it's held during the fair.
"We lost money last year on the derby," Todd said, "That never happens."
The fair's other big draw, the rodeo, was "about like average, maybe a little below," Todd said.
Again, the heat played a factor, as attendance was low on Thursday, one of the hottest days last week. The rodeo always runs Thursdays and Fridays during fair week.
It's a hot one
Wednesday is hot and dry.
In the livestock arena, just north of the hog barn, a south wind blows. Somewhere downtown, it's said, a bank thermometer reads 105 degrees.
Even when shoes and boots aren't kicking it up, dust on the nearby lane rises and swirls in the summer wind.
Calves bleat, cattle moo, hogs squeal and life goes on at the Leavenworth County Fair.
Before the bucket calf competition begins, fair volunteers spray water on the arena floor in the hope of keeping dirt down. Near the bleachers a blond-haired boy sits on the ground, playing with loose brown dirt as if he were in a sandpile. It's August. It's hot, it's dry and it's Kansas.
Across the highway, just south of the fairgrounds, corn, which a day before was still tinted green, has turned to brown, dried up in the summer sunshine and drought.
It's a sweltering heat. But you'd never know it by looking at the youths who are showing their bucket calves. Spruced up, boys and girls with dusty boots, shiny belt buckles and wide smiles. Calves, freshly bathed, every hair combed in place.
It was fair time, and the county fair -- which each year offers something for everybody -- was well under way.
When Kansas artist John Steuart Curry painted murals in the Statehouse, he was criticized because he painted pigs' tails curled in the wrong direction.
Gene Waters, superintendent of open class swine at the Leavenworth County Fair, wasn't so sure which way a pig's tail does curl. Even a quick glance didn't answer the question. Today, it's common to dock pig tails when they're young, so only about half the pigs at the fair even had tails to check. For the record, those tails were about 10 inches long, and some appeared to be curled clockwise, and some counter-clockwise.
"If they're happy it curls to the left," Waters said, grinning. "And if they're sad it curls to the right. It's an old wives tale and I might have the directions mixed up."
However, he said, if a pig's tail is straight there may be cause for concern.
"It generally means they don't feel well," Waters said.
Dean Sheets, 4-H hog superintendent, said 224 hogs were entered in this year's fair, about a dozen less than last year.
The hogs are kept in an open barn with fans, straw to rest on and plenty of food and water. The children who take livestock to the fair know how to take care of their animals. With hogs, it's particularly important to make sure the animals don't overheat.
The high temperatures the first couple of days stressed the hogs. "But we didn't lose any," Sheets said.
Sheets has a long history with the fair. He started in hogs when his son, who now is 51, was only 7.
"I haven't missed any since," Sheets said of the hog competition.
And, for the past 30 to 35 years, Sheets has served as 4-H hog superintendent.
Curious George almost got away.
But instead, the Lansing hen found herself at the fair, entered in the open class poultry division.
And what a week it was for Curious George -- also known as Georgette -- as well as for her Lansing neighbor, Denise Butler.
Butler usually enters craft or cooking projects in the fair. This year she focused on baskets. Last week -- on Tuesday morning, the opening day of the fair -- she put several baskets in the trunk of her car and went back inside her house to gather more.
Earlier, she had shooed the chicken, who was an Easter gift to a neighbor girl, away from her car.
She came back outside and placed her last baskets in the car.
"I didn't think anything about the chicken," Butler said. "And I just popped the trunk shut and we came to the fair."
She parked her car by the fairgrounds administration building.
"I popped the trunk open and said, 'Oh my gosh.' There was the chicken, she was just sitting there between two cans of pop. I like to had a fit because I thought, what am I going to do with the chicken."
Butler had planned to spend the day at the fair.
She picked the chicken up and, with her friend, carried baskets into the building to enter.
"The ladies had a fit because I was carrying this chicken I, and I said, 'It's a stowaway -- I couldn't do anything about it,'" Butler said.
Hearing her plight, someone suggested she park the chicken in a cage in the poultry barn. Denise Sullivan and her daughter, Meghan, said they would take care of the chicken there.
"And so I went and entered it in open class," Butler said.
Later she called her neighbor and told him she had "a little problem."
"He just laughed," Butler said.
Butler said the extra trouble she went to for the chicken was worth it. And she encourages others to participate in the fair.
"I had a great aunt who was involved in 4-H when I was growing up," Butler said. "She always told us kids, 'If you don't take stuff to the county fair and participate in 4-H, you won't have a county fair.' So I always think about that every year when the fair comes around."
And as for Curious George, though she didn't win a ribbon in the poultry judging, she won an unexpected -- and likely a memorable -- trip to a county fair.
Watch for the kicker
While everyone at the fair suffered through the heat in one way or another, one 4-H father went to extraordinary lengths to participate.
David Schmalstieg, McLouth, was looking forward to helping his children, Jake, 13, and Faith, 9, with their livestock and other fair projects.
Last week, on Monday afternoon, the first day of the fair, while still at home, David was clipping one of the heifers they planned to bring to the fair.
"Something spooked her and she brought her hind leg up and kicked me in the nose," Schmalstieg said.
The kick from the 1,000-pound cow toppled him over backward.
So, instead of heading for the fair, the family made a trip to the emergency room at Lawrence Memorial Hospital.
Schmalstieg, who wasn't knocked out by the kick, had three lacerations, a broken nose and two black eyes. It took 20 stitches to put his face back together again.
But he still was determined to help his children get their livestock to the fair.
"I was sitting there in the emergency room waiting to get out of there because we had to get the hogs down there by 10 o'clock that evening," Schmalstieg said.
And they did, pulling in with a load of hogs by a little after 8:30 p.m.
Schmalstieg's bruises made him the talk of the fair. And Schmalstieg, who is 38, said his bruises reminded fair-goers to keep a safe distance from the hind legs of cattle.
"I had parents come up to me and tell their kids, 'This is why we tell you to be careful,'" Schmalstieg said.
The Schmalstieg family lived in an air-conditioned camper during the fair, which helped Schmalstieg survive the heat.
"Whenever I had a free chance, I would go in the camper and ice pack it down, and the swelling would go down big time," Schmalstieg said.
And as for the heifer, well she missed out on the fair.
"We left her at home," Schmalstieg said. "I figured, there's no sense in trying that again."
The gentle giants, bridled, harnessed and ready to go, stood in pairs along the horse arena, quietly waiting their turns to pull
Al Dyer, who's helped organize the draft horse pull for about 15 years, said this was a great year for the event.
"We had a good one, 11 entries," Dyer said. "I think that's the most we've ever had."
Dyer said Merle Beckman, Mound City, took top prize, with his team pulling a 10,400-pound sled a distance of 12 feet. Taking second place was Joe Miller, Clark, Mo.
Dyer, who is 84, said usually the draft horse pull includes Belgians as well as Percherons.
"I believe every one there was Belgian," Dyer said. "Didn't have a Percheron in the bunch."
Of the horses competing, one pair, Dave and George, was entered by 7-year-old Ranae Poole from Wendyville, Mo. The family brought three teams of Belgians in a 32-foot horse trailer.
"We did real good," said Ranae's mother, Jackie Poole. "We got a fifth and sixth and an eighth, so we did good, I think."
The Poole family used to use the Belgians to help feed hay to their 550 cattle.
Now though, Jackie said, the Belgians are used for fun. Ranae and her father, Robert Poole, train them for draft horse pulls.
And the horses, whose ages range from 6 to 20, have a good life.
"They stay here till they die," Jackie Poole said.
She said Belgians are nice to have around.
"They're real good-natured," Poole said. "They're just a good-natured horse."
Normally, the family participates in numerous draft horse pulls in the summer. But Poole said, with higher fuel costs, they've cut back on area competitions. However, they're looking forward to making a big trip in September, to a horse pull and rodeo in Albuquerque.
She already knows how she'll load the six horses into the trailer.
"It's kind of like a puzzle," Poole said. "You put all the harnesses and stuff at the front. Then you put in two horses and a gate. Then another two horses and a gate, and then the last two."
The horses aren't lightweight animals to haul around. They're 17 hands tall and each of the Belgians weighs nearly a ton.
Effects of terror plot
Lana Wiehe loves the fair. In fact, on Thursday, she was scheduled to work during the Wranglers 4-H Club's shift at the 4-H food stand.
"I was the egg fryer," she said.
But Wiehe, who is branch manager for Carlson Wagonlit Travel in Leavenworth, changed her plans. Actually, they were changed for her by Thursday's announcement concerning arrests in a terrorist plot to blow up jets bound for the United States.
Wiehe knew it was useless to head to Tonganoxie.
"There was absolutely no way, with the raised terror alert, with what they were saying on the news at 4:30 this morning," Wiehe said Thursday afternoon.
Ironically, the day at work was relatively quiet.
"There's been a lot of confusion resulting from the new restrictions," Wiehe said, particularly over what passengers are allowed to carry onto planes. ''Actually, it's turned out to be a fairly mellow day."
The last hurrah
Addie Heim's 4-H career finished in good fashion Thursday during the beef show.
Heim, a member of the Livewires 4-H club, is 19, but still was 18 as of Jan. 1, 2006, so she was eligible to compete a final time at the fair.
She earned champion status with her Angus in the market beef steer category.
"I did good," said Heim, a 2005 Tonganoxie High graduate. "It's my last year, so it's a good way to go."
Heim became involved with 4-H when she was 7. She said she appreciated her 12 years participating in the fair.
"It's a lot of fun, but I'm ready to watch my nieces get into it and help them out," Heim said.
Jake Silvers, of Happy Hollow 4-H, showed a Hereford on Thursday. His animal won two blue ribbons, while his sister, Kristin, earned several ribbons for her Hereford steer, including a red in showmanship. Her steer earned reserve champion in its category.
Jake and Kristin actually live near Winchester in Jefferson County, but participate in the Leavenworth County Fair because their father, Gary Silvers, is the FFA adviser at Pleasant Ridge High School.
Jake, who is 13, said preparing an animal for the fair is what the owner makes of it.
"It depends on how hard you work on it," Jake said. "It depends on how hard you work with them.
"It's not so demanding that you can't have any fun. I get to walk around the fairgrounds with my friends."
When he's at the fair, Jake said he checks on his Hereford about every 30 minutes.
Aside from the beef show, Jake also had a successful fair in livestock judging.
He was top finisher in his category judging cattle, pigs and sheep.
Because of his finish, he could be one of four youths to represent Leavenworth County in the state fair, Sept. 8-17 in Hutchinson.
Flat and straight
On Thursday, east of the cattle barn, Cody Koch was busy prepping his rabbits for their show.
"The most time is the grooming because you have to get the hair all flat and straight," said Cody, who with his siblings had 16 rabbits at the fair. "As you can see, I'm all hairy."
Cody, who had breeds such as California and black satin represented at the fair, said grooming can take between 20 and 30 minutes, which includes clipping the rabbit's nails.
Someone watching the rabbit shows might notice rabbit owners wearing white laboratory coats during judging.
Cody, who is 10, said one reason for wearing the coat is to provide an extra layer when handling the rabbits.
"It's important, if the rabbits' nails aren't clipped, they might cut through," Cody said. "That's why you have the extra layer."
The rockets had already been judged Monday evening at the Leavenworth County Fair, but youngsters took the time to indulge in the fun part Friday afternoon -- launching them high into the sky.
Parents busily helped children set up launch pads, adjust parachutes and align rockets in the baseball fields north of the fairgrounds to prepare for the big event. Children who were not participating ran out into the field to act as spotters to help catch and retrieve the launched rockets. Superintendent Brenda Schmalstieg said the rocket launch is just for fun.
"The rockets were judged Monday night based on things like the paint jobs and fins," she said. "They're not judged on the actual launch or post launch damage."
After a few final adjustments the creators stepped back one at a time, cleared the area, counted down from five, hit the button and watched their rockets blast off with a hiss and a cloud of white smoke. Each rocket produced different results. While some flew high in the sky and floated safely back down to earth with the help of a perfectly opened chute, others dove nose first into the ground after the parachute failed.
"That's called a disaster," Anne Johnson, a mother of a veteran rocket launcher said pointing to a rocket that had just crashed to the ground. "That's when something goes wrong. It's called a milestone when the chute opens and everything goes well."
Many of the children chose to launch a couple of rockets, but others who had earned purple ribbons decided it was better to leave the winning rockets at the fairgrounds.
"All purples are eligible for the state fair," Schmalsteig said. "The last thing you want to do is damage your rocket."
Playing it safe was the way to go for veteran rocket competitor Ethan Johnson, 13, who won grand champion for one of his rockets. He plans to send his winning rocket to state, which features a two-part design -- the actual rocket and a separate glider plane.
Friday afternoon he focused on launching a bright orange skinny rocket and helping his friend Matt Spezia, 11, and sister Sadie Jane, 9. The lone female rocket launcher donned her rocket called the "Cosmic Cobra" with none other than pink stickers.
"This is Matt and Sadie's first year doing rockets," Anne Johnson said.
Schmalsteig said the kits to make the rockets can be purchased at craft stores such as Hobby Lobby and the children really enjoy watching their creations come to life.
"They just really like coming out and doing it," she said.
Calling all seniors
"OK ladies and gentlemen, it's sing-a-long time," said Duane Porterfield, the musical entertainer for senior day at the Leavenworth County Fair as he prepared to strum his banjo.
Soon after, he had about 240 senior citizens singing along to the familiar song, "This Land is Your Land," while adding in a few of his own humorous twists.
This is the fourth year the Leavenworth Council on Aging has partnered up with the fair board to bring senior day to the fair. Shirley Hund, social events coordinator for the Council on Aging said Porterfield has appeared at several Council on Aging events.
"I didn't think he would perform for seniors, but I asked him and he said sure," Hund said. "He puts everything into it."
Seniors not only enjoyed musical entertainment, but a meal, drinks and bingo with prizes all under the cool, shady big top tent. A trolley also offered them rides to and from their vehicles as well as around the fairgrounds to view animals and other displays. Hund said the event was designed to help bring senior citizens to the fair despite the hot temperatures and excessive walking.
"I think a lot of seniors weren't coming to the fair anymore," Hund said. "This just gives them a chance to be comfortable at the fair."
A portion of the food was donated by Bichelmeyer's Steakhouse and Sonic in Tonganoxie and the rest of it was purchased with monetary donations from the banks in Tonganoxie. All prizes also were donated from area merchants such as Kelley's in Basehor and Village Floral and Do It Best Hardware in Tonganoxie.
The event also allowed several seniors to reunite as greetings and hugs were exchanged. Others spent time telling fair stories from their youth or talking about grandchildren's endeavors.
"I think it brings back a lot of memories for them when they used to be in the fair," Hund said. "It's nice to see them out in the community."
Although Dorothy Tolman had already spent two hot days at the fair with her grandchildren earlier in the week, she said she thoroughly enjoyed senior day.
"I thought it was very nice," she said. "The food filled me up and I enjoyed the music and his (Porterfield) humor."
Helen Edmonds, who said she never misses a Council on Aging event, also expressed her gratitude for senior day.
"I attend all these nice things the Council on Aging has," she said. "They do such nice things for us. We just had the best time and I also got a nice prize."
The Council on Aging provides a variety of different services such as Meals-on-Wheels, transportation and support for senior citizens in Leavenworth County. Director Linda Lobb said the Council has been pleased with the cooperation from the fair board during senior day. She also expressed the Council's willingness to be of service to anyone in the area.
"We are a countywide office available to anyone," she said. "We're committed to the seniors and enriching their lives."
Easton's Mike Beying is turning into a dynasty in the Ag Challenge of Champions.
Beying won the Leavenworth County senior division for a third time Friday at the fairgrounds.
Winners of the competition advance to the Kansas State Fair next month in Hutchinson. Beying already has placed first and second at the state fair in recent years.
However, because he previously had one of the top finishes at state -- which carried a college scholarship -- it's possible he won't be able to compete again this year. This fall, Beying is entering his sophomore year at Hutchinson Community College.
Leon Stites, Leavenworth County extension agent, said that if Beying were ruled ineligible, Aimee Ostermeyer of Tonganoxie likely would go in his place because she finished second at the county level. Tyler Thompson of Leavenworth placed third.
The Ag Challenge of Champions is a quiz bowl of sorts for agriculture, according to David Todd, fair board president.
Competitors must identify crops and weeds and veterinarian tools.
"You've really go to know what you're doing," Todd said. "You have to know the whole spectrum of the agricultural industry."
In the junior division, Victoria Thompson of Leavenworth won the title, while Kenny Campbell, also of Leavenworth, placed second. Tonganoxie's Elizabeth Patrick finished third.
Winning the intermediate level was Leavenworth's Taylor Kraft. Austin Baragary, Tonganoxie, finished second, and Blaine McDougal, Leavenworth, placed third.
And in the adult division, Leavenworth's Becky Savidge placed first, Tonganoxie's Kathy Baragary placed second, and Tonganoxie's Catherine Patrick finished third.
Stites said only the top winner in each county in the senior division advances to the state competition.
A cool down
It wasn't easy staying dry for some youths competing in the Ag Olympics on Saturday.
Games for the event included a water balloon toss, a water relay game, a squeeze bottle contest and a team ski relay.
"It kind of revolved around water this year," Pat Bailey said with a chuckle. "This year, it's kind of hot."
In the water balloon toss, teams broke down into groups of two as they tossed water balloons back and forth. With each successful throw, one member from each of the teams moved back a step.
In another event, teams used squeeze bottle to shoot water into a cup that a teammate was holding.
The final water event involved three teammates working to get water from one bucket to another through a towel. One teammate immersed the towel in the water and then threw the towel to a middle teammate, who then tossed the towel to the last teammate. That teammate squeezed out the water into the second bucket. A bobber was placed in the second bucket. The team that moved enough water into the bucket to make the bobber float won.
In the fourth event, teams of six slipped into shoes that were affixed to two 2x4's.
"They had to work in unison to get shoes to the end of the course," Bailey said.
The just-for-fun contest brought together many youths.
"The most unorganized chaos you can get," Bailey said with a smile.
From horses and tractors to politicians and Shriners, Fourth Street in Tonganoxie again was a popular stretch for the annual Leavenworth County Fair Parade.
Plenty of parade entrants were wearing cowboy hats to coincide with this year's parade theme: "Old Fashioned Country Hoedown."
Karen Seymour, an organizer for the Wednesday event, said there was a good turnout.
"We were very pleased considering the heat -- 109 temperature, 117 heat index just on the blacktop," she said.
Seymour said she wasn't sure how many entries actually were in the parade. She said many people who have been in the parade for years know the routine and don't send in a parade entry form. However, she thought there were fewer entries than usual.
"We were very pleased, considering," Seymour said. "I'm more pleased there wasn't anybody hurt."
At attempt to combat the heat, some entrants handed out bottled water to thirsty parade-goers.
Tonganoxie and Lansing high school marching bands performed in the parade, as did THS cheerleading and dance squads. Seymour said this was the first time the LHS band had performed in the parade.
Of course, no parade is complete in an election year without a few candidates heading down the parade route.
And the fair parade was no exception.
Judges selected winning entries in seven categories.
Among 4-H floats, Stranger Creek won first place, while Boling 4-H placed second and Leavenworth County 4-H Division third.
In open class floats, the Leavenworth County Council on Aging float earned the top spot, Genesis School placed second and Kerby Farm placed third.
In the "clowns" division, Green Acres won first prize, Greg Schlitz second and Bob Jenkins, third.
Judges gave top recognition in the bikes category to: first place, Braxton and Evan Shupe; second place, TAG; and third place, Clint Oelschlaeger.
A few classic cars entered the parade as well. Top winners in that category were Big Brothers/Big Sisters in first, Trinity Lutheran Child Care second and John Shoemaker in third.
In the unusual category, First State Bank won the top prize with its entry.
The final category was the horse division. The last name of the top winner was unknown. Seymour said the entry was listed simply as "Marvin." Second place went to Kansas Miniature Horses and third to Leavenworth County Horse Group.
Also riding in the parade were the longest-married couple in Leavenworth County. Carroll and Wilma Smith of Basehor were married April 19, 1936.
-- Lara Hastings and Caroline Trowbridge contributed to this coverage of Leavenworth County Fair 2006.