A Trip To The Iowa State Fair

Try fitting that in your shopping cart -- giant foodstuffs at the Iowa State Fair
This story originally aired on Sept. 25, 2004.

Sunday Morning correspondent Bill Geist marvels at the wonders of the Iowa State Fair.

Friends, do you suffer from a nagging, unsettling feeling that life is spinning out of control in this topsy-turvy world? Ask your doctor if a day at the State Fair might be right for you.

The State Fair - where things are now as they were before, where overalls are still the height of fashion and folks remain attracted to tractors.

Where they come from miles around to admire vegetables, celebrate steers and applaud sweet potato cinnamon buns. It's a place where they stand in line to see the big boar and the baby piglets; where the guys toss bull, and where modern dietary laws are suspended here in the home of the funnel cake diet. This is the Iowa State Fair.

And historic photographs show that this is one place where not much has really changed over all those years, although, sad to say, they did discontinue the popular locomotive collisions.

Mary Kranovich has been coming to the fair since the 1930s.

"I had a dollar each year to spend at the fair," she said. "My mother would pack my lunch and tell me to save five cents for a root beer. Just send me off and that dollar lasted me all day."

Kranovich was the fair's poster girl.

"The picture was taken when I was 11 years old on the fairground, and the cameraman told me that my picture would be in the paper," she said. "It never was, and of course, I was disappointed."

Iowa's may just be the quintessential state fair, the subject of a book and the Rodgers and Hammerstein movie musical, "State Fair." Scenes from the movie look pretty much like scenes from today: the pigs, the rides, the ribbons, the campers.

In this state of nearly 3 million people, more than 1 million attend the state fair, a lot of them from Burgett's family, which arrives in an armada of campers.

"Well, there's four generations, several sets," fairgoer Betty Burgett said as she introduced her family who attend the fair each year. Her 10th great-grandchild was just born.

They've come to the fair every year since 1948. Burgett says she can't think of one thing she doesn't like about the trip. They see things here they just don't see anywhere else, like a 875-pound pumpkin, a 45-inch beard, and 600 pounds of butter sculpted into a life-sized Jersey cow. That's enough for 19,000 pieces of buttered toast.

Duffy Lyon sculpted in butter at the fair for more than 40 years. Her subjects range from a motorcycle to "The Last Supper."

Nearly 1 million aficionados will come to the fair's refrigerated gallery in 11 days. That's way more than the Louvre.

Speaking of edible art, there's a pineapple pina colada cheesecake over at the foods competition, created by Marjorie Rogers from Indianola, a perennial champion.

Rogers has a house full of food, having entered 90 dishes in the fair's 898 food classifications. Rogers scored one blue ribbon with her cream cheese salmon pie which came in first place in the canned salmon division.

"I once entered my state fair bake-off with apricot sour cream coffee cake," she said. "Made it every day for 30 days for practice, and finished third. I might have taken it all had I not had what the judges called 'uneven nut distribution.'"

A ribbon at the state fair means a lot. Over at the sheep barn, David Hoskins won first prize for his Suffolk ewe lamb.

"This is one that I raised," he said. "It's quite a big deal."

His mother, Kathy, said it's a family affair.

"This is our hobby," she said. "This is our vacation, you know. My kids aren't going to remember going on a summer vacation without a trailer with sheep in it behind us."

Meanwhile at the swine barn, a grown man gets misty-eyed when his Hampshire boars finish first and second.

And over at the Parade of Champions, thousands looked on as Dan Faber's crossbreed steer, named Adamson, was crowned grand champion. Adamson gains nearly three pounds per day, and at the state fair, he isn't the only one.

Fairgoers never seem to stop chewing, eating anything as long as it's on a stick. There's bologna on a stick, pickles, meatballs, you name it. And for dessert, a deep-fried Snickers bar with whipped cream on it, or deep fat-fried Twinkies. On sticks!

It's standing-room-only now over at the accordion contest, where the guy with the biggest bunny is signing autographs, where players spend 20 bucks at Skee Ball to win a pocket comb, and where wild rides still delight and frighten passengers and turn many of them green.

A day at the Iowa State Fair is like spending a day in a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. That was then, this is now, and the two meet every year at the Iowa State Fair.