History of the Lyon County Fair
According to Josephson, who served on the Lyon County Fair Board from 1957 to 1992, the Fair Association used to give away cars on the final day of the fair for about five years. Winners had to be present to claim the car. Businessmen from throughout the county donated funds for the purchase of the car, which in turn was bought from a local dealer. The fair gate was never free — except for the last 30 to 45 minutes of Sunday night when the car was given away, which allowed people to get onto the grounds for the drawing.
The old grandstand and racetrack were in the same location of the present grandstand. The racetrack was built for sulky or harness racing of horses. This event was very popular up until the middle 1950s when interest diminished. Josephson said, “I used to make a joke that each year we would take last year’s attendance and subtract the obituaries and that would be this year’s attendance.” About this time there were car-racing enthusiasts that were interested in using the track for racing cars. They would have three or four build-up races in the summer, prior to the fair when they would hold a big race. But the track was never built to accommodate car racing and should never have been used for that. It came to a terrible end when a racer hit a tree on one of the curves and was badly hurt — he is still in a wheelchair to this day, according to Frank. After this happened the county commissioners said, “That’s it — no more car races.”
The carnival rides have always been very much a part of the county fair, and they have always been run by good companies. Frank also praised the Holy Redeemer Church for its good food stand, as well as the food offered by 4-H’ers.
The 4-H program was always an activity for country kids. School did not provide a lot of extracurricular activities, and during the summer farm kids just stayed at home and worked. 4-H clubs provided a social interaction as well as a learning experience through project activity. Today 4-H includes town kids also. The focus has changed to include non-farm-related activities. The numbers are fewer due to the abundance of activities offered to youth through other organizations, but the 4-H program itself remains strong.
Women have participated in county fairs by entering their “handiwork items” for exhibit and judging. This includes sewing projects, quilt and rug making, as well as gardening and canning of produce. Josephson pointed out that county fairs have always been family inclusive. When Frank was growing up, the only social contact was when families went into town on Saturday night, to church on Sunday, or to activities like the county fair.
Breczinski remembered some of the outstanding performers at the fair — the most outstanding being Barbara Mandrell. When Roy Clark was in Marshall, the board had to get a special piano from Sioux Falls, S.D., and have it tuned for him. At one of the Sunday night performances, a rainstorm hit and because the event was held at the outside grandstand, the board had to quickly move all the equipment and the crowd into the 4-H building. He added, “One-half hour later the show went on again.”
The County Fair is one of the oldest and most venerable institutions for gathering people together. It also has been true to its agricultural roots. It is part livestock exhibition, part commercial display and part carnival midway. County fairs were often organized and promoted by businessmen and lawyers, not farmers, because these people used the fair as a marketing tool to attract additional settler’s attention to the availability of fine farmland that produced the products shown at the fair. For some people the fair is the just reward for a season’s hard work — for others it is the end of summer and freedom, the last chance to celebrate before school and other activities begin again – and before winter sets in.
Sources: History of Lyon County, A.P. Rose; News Messenger, Oct. 4, 1912; “Lyon County Agricultural Annual Report,” 1936 and 1937 editions, F. J. Meade; Balaton Press, Aug. 22, 1963; Tracy Headline Herald, Aug. 29, 1963; Marshall Messenger, Aug. 19, 1964; Lyon County Independent, Sept. 2, 1964.