The Oneida County Fair is moving to Pioneer Park this year.
For many folks, a fair in town is a reminder of the old days when the fair was held at the fairgrounds on Coon Street. Many in town have fond memories.
Judy Schlub, owner of Cool Clothing on Brown Street, remembers the old fair.
“We saved up all summer for the fair. I was really good at the games, especially the dart games. I ended up playing for everyone. I’d win the plaster of Paris banks, a pig for my sister, Donna. Chucky and Tommy Tillman got the puppy dogs. We’d get so wound up the night before the fair we couldn’t sleep. We’d always get one or two rides. We’d go on the Scrambler. The heaviest kid had to sit on the outside. And you could only have two or three kids on the ride, otherwise the other kids wouldn’t slam into you. One time the Tilt-A-Whirl wasn’t grounded properly and I got a shock. But the games were the big thing,” she said.
The games were the thing for Mitch Mode as well.
“I remember the games, the inside exhibits and the rides. The bottle toss was fun. And I was in 4-H. Those were fun days. We’d walk out to the fairgrounds with a pocketful of quarters. I remember the obscure Bruce Springsteen song, “County Fair,” that hit a few common themes with the old one here. Springsteen’s fair touches on what seem to be fairly universal themes like the cheap games, the fortune teller and the rides that must be typical of most of the old-timey fairs.”
Mode remembers testing his young muscles during the fair.
“I recall the “Show of Strength” hammer game (you use the big mallet to try and drive the indicator up as far as you could) which I remember from this fair, with skinny local kids trying to impress all who were watching. And there was the “Guess Your Age and Weight” booth. All good fun,” he said.
Joan Belongia didn’t grow up in Rhinelander but she was also in 4-H as a kid and remembers her family having a huge garden. Her mom canned food and entered it in the fair. Her brother did the woodworking.
Another Rhinelander businessman, Pat Dineen, recalls a certain animal at the Oneida County Fair.
“We’d get there early and help the carnival workers set up the rides. I think we got $1 an hour. When I think of the fair I think of the donkey. You got a prize if you stayed on the donkey for a minute. The donkey always bucked the guys off. The guy who ran the attraction managed to get the donkey to stay quiet for the girls. They didn’t get bucked off,” he said.
You can get a hot dog with a serving of memories at Roger’s Dog House on Brown Street. Roger is old enough to remember the fair.
“The Lucky O’Hara Thrill Show! It was in the old grandstand. They drove 1958 Chevrolets. I remember the guy got inside a wooden box that looked like a coffin for the finale. Then he blew hinself up. And I remember Clintsman’s French fries. I think that was how you spelled it. They only served French fries. How about the shooting gallery, where you shot out the circle for a prize? I thought I had won the prize by shooting all the red out but the carnival guy didn’t think so. So I got a cop and brought him over. He said I won and the guy had to give me the prize,” he said.
Abby Dall, owner of Travel-Aire restaurant at the airport, is too young to remember the fair on the east side but she is determined to recreate the old fashioned fair food.
“I think having the fair at Pioneer Park is great, it’s like stepping back in time. We’ll be serving corn in the husk, barbecued turkey legs and an old fashioned giant dill pickle,” Dall said.