Anna Dellinger, Features Editor
A cross-section of humanity can be seen as inconsistent raindrops pattering down on skin, smells and sounds fill the air and taste buds anxiously await a treat at the fair. Running only for 11 days – Sept. 14 through Sept. 24 – this year marks the 111th edition of the Oklahoma State Fair.
The fair today is not nearly the same as when it began in 1907, a few months before Oklahoma had even entered statehood.
“The farmer is to have the front seat at the great fair in all things,” according to the sign. “It is to be primarily an exposition of the products of the farm, a place where not only will be found the corn, wheat, cotton, broomcorn, potatoes, alfalfa and all that the Oklahoma farmer grows, but all his livestock, in fact everything he raises, even to the garden and orchard.”
The fair has certainly changed in the past 110 years, growing to include carnival rides, a petting zoo, a car show, the ever-popular fair food and so much more.
“Bigger, Better, Best” is the theme this year at the fair, and the fair has added a new attraction to prove it – the Sky Eye Wheel, the largest portable Ferris wheel in the country. A mix of old and new, the fair strives to offer something to anyone that would come.
Vice President of Marketing and Public Relations Scott Munz has worked at the fair for the past 29 years.
“We like to say we have something for everybody from eight to 80,” Munz said. “Maybe if there’s one unifying component, we’d probably say the food.”
Isela Walters-Harjo of Oklahoma City was at the fair with her husband, daughter and dad. The were there for the family time and the food.
“I really just look forward to the food, I think it’s just the best part… we always get a cinnamon roll,” Walters-Harjo said.
Tradition is another reason some families visit the fair year after year. Brandon Werner of Oklahoma City has gone to the fair over 30 times in 25 years.
“The family tradition is probably the biggest thing,” Werner said. “My dad buys everybody food. My great grandpa bought him food and took him to the fair and now he does that for us.”
The fair has a lot to offer in the way of food – nearly everything is deep-fried on a stick for mobility’s sake.
“Part of the success of fair food is that you can walk around,” Munz said.
Though fair favorites vary across states, three of the most popular foods at the Oklahoma State Fair are corn dogs, Indian tacos and cinnamon rolls.
While Werner said that his traditional favorite food would be the Indian taco, his family makes sure to have a variety.
“We always just get a few different things and make a community buffet,” Werner said.
Some of the new foods this year include a Mac-N-Cheese Burger, the Unicorn Crepe and seemingly impossible, red beans and rice on a stick.
As far as attractions go, people attending the state fair don’t always want the same old, same old, but everything can’t be new either, Munz said.
“We try to maintain a balance between old and new. We try to get a good mix of things, a little something out there for everyone,” he said.
One of the new attractions at the fair this year comes from Bison Hill’s own home: Shawnee. The Shawnee Tractor and Engine Club made their debut at the fair this year, and they said they can hopefully make it a yearly event.
Including about 60 families, the club participates in every parade they can. Walter Wolffrum, president of the club, shared about the activities of the club participants aside from the bimonthly meetings.
“We do 4th of July, the Christmas parade, Veterans’ Day – anywhere we can bring [the tractors],” Wolffrum said. “At an event we hold, we let everybody take turns ploughing, and we do a tractor drive of 25 or 30 [tractors]… A little bit of town, a little bit of country, and then we have antique tractor pulls once a month.”
The Shawnee Tractor and Engine Club also holds an annual event in Shawnee on Highway 177 and Hardesty Road in the third week of June.
Dusty Gilpen, an artist with Tree and Leaf, has been invited back to the fair for the 8th year now. He and his team use spray paint and other mediums to create pictures on large wooden backdrops scattered around the fairgrounds.
“The atmosphere is great,” Gilpen said. “We have 18 artists, and they’re all friends of mine. It’s fun to take our time and paint whatever we want.”
The fair gives Gilpen and his team some ideas about what to paint according to the events and theme of the fair each year.
This year, one backdrop included a shark to indicate another new attraction to the fair this year: a live shark encounter. A tank holding three nurse sharks is available for free viewing, and various shows throughout the day give more information about these rescued animals.
One other new piece of the fair this year is the Bennett Event Center. As part of the MAPS 3 program (a capital improvements program in Oklahoma City), the event center was built and then opened in January.
It is the largest center on the fairgrounds, and it now hosts the car show, along with the Made in Oklahoma Store and several other attractions.
Some of the longest standing events at the fair include the rodeo, the petting zoo and the car show.
Different than fairs in some other states, this one is not a byline on the state’s budget.
“We’re actually a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, unlike a lot of other state fairs,” Munz said. “We’re a little unique in that we’re a private company that owns the state fair… it’s a 35-acre property owned by OKC and we subsequently run the fair here.”
Most people may not think about what goes on behind the scenes at such an event, but it takes 100 to 125 full-time staff working year-round to bring it all together. Come fair time, there are anywhere from 800 to 1,000 workers and volunteers running the fair.
“Everyone is responsible for their own corner of the world… they all come together to seem seamless to the public,” Munz said. “Really, when you think about it, we’re like a little city.”
General admission: Adults (ages 12+): $10
Children (ages 6-11): $5
Children (ages 5 and under): FREE!
Sunday – Thursday: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Friday – Saturday: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
3001 General Pershing Blvd, Oklahoma City, OK 73107
For more information, visit: http://www.okstatefair.com/#home