I love going to the Minnesota State Fair. Okay, it’s probably like all other state fairs, but this one’s my favorite. I say this because it’s the only one I’ve ever visited. My brothers and I used to go every year when we were younger spending hours and hours in the dime-arcades (formerly known as the penny-arcades and now, the dollar-arcades). I like the deep-fried aroma, the people-watching, the fun-filled midway and the general air of excitement.
My brother Steve and I were two of the 1,769,872 people who visited this year’s 12-day “Great Minnesota Get-Together” as it’s called. We took a free shuttle bus to the 320-acre (.5-sq.-mile) fairgrounds located midway between the “Twin Cities” of St. Paul and Minneapolis. We noticed how clean the grounds are kept. Nary a cigarette butt to be seen. How refreshing. Minnesota’s first state fair was held in 1859, a year after becoming a state. I missed that one.
Luckily it turned out to be one of the better weather days for walking around the fair. We started at the Creative Arts Building where we found that a lot of very talented people have a lot time on their hands. We went up to Machinery Hill to see if this year’s tractors, milking machines and combines are worth buying — not that we’re farmers or anything. We checked out the Spamville booth. Yes, it’s all about the canned spiced-ham product that was debuted by Hormel (Austin, MN) back in 1937. I did not try the “spam-on-a-stick” this time.
We made our way to the Department of Natural Resources Building where you can see live fish native to Minnesota including the state fish, the walleye. And no, I did not try the “walleye-fillet-on-a-stick” this year. Nearby, the line to climb the ranger tower was not too long so we went up the 65-foot-tall structure (84 steps) to get a birds-eye view of the fairgrounds and a great view of the distant Minneapolis skyline.
Ye Olde Mill boat ride (built in 1913) is worth trying at least once. It’s sort of a hokey, tunnel-of-love kind of ride. Four people sit in little boats that are released into a river that winds its way through the dark tunnels underneath the fairgrounds. Slowly bumping into the walls or the boats ahead, and, (this is the hokey part) you pass by brightly lit dioramas featuring 3-D depictions of scenes from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and other fairy tales. Ooooh, how romantic. My brother and I passed on the opportunity this year.
The Dairy Building has always been a favorite venue because of the malts served there. Also, in a glass-walled, walk-in refrigerator, the carving of “Princess Kay of the Milky Way,” takes place. The busts (by that I mean head and shoulders, of course) of the various princesses are carved out of 90-pound blocks of Grade A butter. Each takes about six to eight hours to complete. Mmmm … butter.
Down the way a bit is the Haunted House, the go-cart track, the river rafting ride and the Miracle of Birth Barn where you can see various farm animals have babies right before your eyes. Eeewww! Although, I must say the little ducklings were very cute. Further along is the Hippodrome, as it was once called, where the horse-related competitions take place and various livestock is shown. Note: Watch your step in this building and the surrounding barns. It may feel a bit squishy at times if you know what I mean.
Speaking of prize-winning hogs, there was a “deep-fried-slab-bacon-on-a-stick” booth. As you might have guessed, I did not partake of it.
We went into the very crowded Grandstand building where a wide-variety of vendors sell their wares and, later in the evening, star-studded shows are held. “A Prairie Home Companion” with Garrison Keillor was scheduled for the evening we were there. Other entertainment acts included Reba, Heart, Def Leppard, Toby Keith and Steely Dan.
Next to the Grandstand is Heritage Square which has some unique shops and Fair-history exhibits. You can walk through vintage rail-cars full of memorabilia of fairs-gone-by. There’s even a shop that sells stuffed, mounted, animal heads — moose, deer, elk, bison, wolf, lemur — you name it. The moose head was only $1,300.
The Midway is probably my favorite part of any fair, although I don’t go on any of the rides any more. Something about trusting roller-coasters and ferris wheels that were bolted together in one week gives me the willies. Perhaps that’s why they call them thrill rides. I do occasionally try the games of chance to prove some sort of manliness. I especially like breaking plates with a baseball. It’s a guy thing. I gave it a try this year and shattered the first plate dead center, but just missed the second one by only a millimeter (go ahead, check the video tape). You need to break both to win. Yep, I’m a loser. Three dollars down the drain.
One thing I miss from the Midway is the side shows. We called them freak shows which, I know, is way too politically incorrect. But let’s face it, they were pretty freaky. Gone are Melvin the Toad Boy, Lobster Man, the Ape Woman, the five-legged goat, the two-headed cow and one of my favorites, Madam Twisto.
All in all, not much has changed at the Minnesota State Fair which, in my book, is just fine.