I know it’s not the right season to be writing about county fairs, but some recent happenings have kind of put the memories of Buffalo County’s fair in the front of my mind lately, so I figured I’d recount a bit of what it was like being a kid whose parents encouraged me to be involved in those four jam-packed days that my summers used to build up to. 

I was involved in a local 4-H club from a pretty young age, probably as a result of my family’s farming roots and the desire to get us involved in our new community as soon as possible after we made the move to Buffalo County from the Elkhart Lake, Wis., area. We did a lot with the Eagle Valley Wide-Awakes, but the largest event of the year was, of course, the Buffalo County Fair.

Being a farming community, the biggest competition at the fair were the cattle shows, but my dad didn’t own a trailer so we stuck to the smaller livestock and pet offerings, which were more easily ensconced in crates and shipped off for the 45-minute drive north to Mondovi, Wis. Over the years we brought dozens of chickens, ducks, turkeys and even rabbits up for judging, some ready for the extra attention and some less than thrilled about the whole ordeal. The ducks in particular were never pleased, but a little white one named Alexandra won me my first trophy in the poultry category. My sister’s Holland Lop rabbit, Cotton, regularly swept the Best in Show category for the rabbits, and my brother had great luck picking out vain roosters and happily explaining to the judges what their daily care routine was, while they curiously eyed the crowd and the other chickens. 

We brought more than animals to the fair: Art pieces, vegetables, flowers, baked goods, photographs, woodworks and canned preserves were all packed in the car for the trip as well. My favorite exhibit I was ever involved in was a vegetable art category, labeled “prehistoric vegetable sculpture.” I built a wooly mammoth out of potatoes, carrots and corn silk. I’ve still got a picture of it somewhere. 

Each day of the fair was a new adventure. Day one consisted of showing up on time and placing our exhibits, living and non-living, in their appropriate places for judging. We never had an animal escape, but there were a number of times we had to back out of the way and watch a forlorn exhibitor chase their prize Angus steer around the grounds, the steer clearly pleased with its newfound freedom. Once we had to shut down the whole poultry barn to help an exasperated girl try to recapture her pet pigeon, which had decided the rafters looked a bit more welcoming than its new cage. 

Day two was dedicated to the showing of beef cattle — big, glossy animals who were a little more unruly than their dairy cousins. I used to wander through their barns admiring the sheer bulk of them, while my dad was always a little skeptical about whether or not some exhibitors were cheating when they said they were exhibiting steers. Following the beef cattle came the sheep, expertly shorn and washed for the occasion. My sister and I got to spend quite a bit of time getting to know the sheep after we went missing for a bit at one of our first county fairs: But that’s a story for another time. 

We usually pitched in to help out our fellow exhibitors for the huge dairy cattle show on day three. Every cow was scrubbed until she was spotless, her fur trimmed and the hair along her spine spiked up like a cow mohawk, to make her back line look level and even. I made the mistake one time of resting my arms over the back of a cow before she was sent off to compete, and immediately jumped up again when her owner’s dad let out a screech when he saw me ruining his handiwork. 

The third day was also the day my relatives usually made it over to visit and admire our exhibits. My grandma and aunts and uncles made the trip for a day, walking with us through the buildings while we showed off what we were offering up for judging and making sure we had enough money for carnival ride wristbands and tickets for games. My mother’s cousin, Diane, and her husband Perry usually turned up to see what we had too, as they lived right in town in Mondovi and were usually trucking around, talking to everyone for their fair feature story in the local paper they ran together. We usually congregated at their house after a draining day spent showing animals, cleaning barns and selling concessions at the stand by the grand arena. 

Day four meant it was time to pack up, grabbing the things we had brought and loading up the car again and inspecting our haul of ribbons during the ride home. It was only four days of the year, but it certainly made up for the months of planning that went into it. It’s an experience I wouldn’t trade for the world. 

This column is dedicated to the memory of Diane Nyseth, who passed away Feb. 1 after 72 years of love and life. She was golden, she was glowing, and she was a great inspiration to me and the rest of my familyshe and her husband Perry owned and operated the Mondovi Herald-News together for 25 years. I can give many individuals and groups credit for my choice and ability to write, but I’d be remiss not to give Diane and Perry a large piece.