Thursday, September 5, 2013

The W.O.E.: an old-fashioned country fair

8/14/13 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

Every summer for 81 years, generations of local residents have happily anticipated our annual fair and now it’s here. This weekend, Aug. 16-18, the W.O.E Cottage Grove Heritage Fair & Timber Show will be in full swing, full of old-fashioned fun and entertainment.

My husband and I attended our first W.O.E. in 1989. We had been to many super extravagant fairs that were overwhelming and exhausting. This fair was different. Relaxing. A step back in time. One that allowed us to appreciate a community at work and play.

We enjoyed the small town ambiance: savored the sights and smells of animals munching hay and being groomed; and drank in the joy of laughter and neighborly competition. At the W.O.E. there are just enough animals to admire, food to eat, shade to sit under and exhibits to appreciate. Its size is ‘just right.’

Traditionally, fairs started as organized agricultural events. As far back as the Old Testament, folks came from near and far to display (and sell) their livestock. In the Book of Ezekiel it says, “They of the house of Togarmah traded in thy fairs with horses and horsemen and mules.” That was the beginning of annual traditions around the world.

Elkanah Watson is considered the father of the American-style Fair. In the early 19th century Mr. Watson exhibited some mighty fine Merino sheep in Massachusetts. He wanted to share his knowledge with fellow farmers and thus education was added to fairs. He even encouraged women to come and add their art and feminine perspective to new events.

Over the decades, entertainment, food, commercial exhibits and carnival rides were added. Sizewise, fairs range from small to humongous. Think Cottage Grove’s yearly W.O.E vs. The Kumbh Mela, held every 12 years in India. A record 60 million people attended in 2001 making it the largest gathering anywhere in the world. To each his own, but personally, I break out in a sweat just thinking about that many people in one place!

Every fair has a different flavor. (Pun intended.) In Tillamook, Oregon, it’s cheese (of course) and pigs. Yep. According to fair organizers, they have the only Pig-N-Ford races in the nation. The race goes something like this: Drivers, usually six at a time, pick a 40-pound pig out of a bin, tuck it under an arm, run to a waiting Model T, crank it up and drive once around a half-mile track. They change pigs and repeat the lap, then do it a third time. After three days of pigging and cranking, a champion is announced.

This being a logging town, our competitions are area appropriate. Friday night at 6 p.m. (the first night of the fair) bystanders can watch and cheer during the Ax Throw, Hot Saw, Men’s Double Buck and Modifiers contestants. Sat. morning at 10 a.m. there are kid’s events along with Women’s Stocksaw, Hotsaw, Ax Throw, Modifieds, 6 Cube Under and Big Log Stock Saw competitors.

Exhibits are mandatory. Browsing through the 10 different Divisions (Textiles, Culinary, Forestry, Livestock, etc.) and their dozens of sub classes, I determined we must have an abundance of talented individuals in our fair town. So if you have any textile skills at all, there’s a category for you. Class I is Theme of Fair (see page 8). Textile classes to enter include: crochet, knit, tatting, artistic handwork, quilting, sewing, fleece, weaving, hand spun yarn, rugs, holidays and original design by professionals.

As for all of you gardeners, check out the list in Flowers/Forestry: potted indoor plants, potted outdoor plants, cut flowers, arboreal, theme arrangements, garden craft and many sub-headings. Now is the time to show off your green thumb.

The Culinary division is huge! Bread: sourdough, fruit bread, muffins, donuts, sweet rolls and coffee cakes; Decorated and Diabetic (cakes, pies and cookies), Candy and more. Then comes table settings, categories for food preservation, fruits and farm produce. Next up are art, crafts and hobbies, amateur ceramics and both amateur and professional tole painting. There are 8 photography categories, scrapbooking, and dozens of livestock entry possibilities. Think cattle, sheep, goats, swine, rabbits, guinea pigs, poultry and more!

Maybe (like me), you’ve never entered a contest—but a blue ribbon is enticing. So do it! Enter something. Read the complete WOE publication that came in your July 31 Sentinel. “Exhibit Information” begins on page 10 under and will tell you everything you need to know. The most important thing to remember is that entries begin today (Wed.) noon—8 p.m. and the deadline for all entries is tomorrow (Thursday) from 8 a.m.—noon. 

Friday is when the fun begins. In addition to the contests, kids can play games, climb the rock wall or build and race their own derby-style cars. Everyone can check out the classic cars, have their face painted, learn about bee keeping, get a glitter tattoo, pet a critter, enter the daily pie eating contest, play bingo, listen to ghost mine stories and pan for gold. That’s just for starters. There’s more.

Entry into the fair world will only cost you $3 per person OR $2 per person AND one (1) can of food for Community Sharing. Kids 12 years and under are free. And the price of admission will include entertainment with all types of music from Americana, Bluegrass, Jazz and Blues. That’s a good deal!

Last, but not least, there’s food. You’re going to get hungry with all that running around. Fortunately, there are a variety of fragrant, fattening and fried foods available. I just throw dietary caution to the winds and chow down on fair-hearty foods like corn dogs, sno-cones and Kettle Korn. See you there!

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.

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