It’s fair time again! I have so many memories of visits to the fair, and the fairgrounds and many of them revolve around the grandstand. During fairs past, I watched harness races, pig iron competitions, and tractor pulls (not being able to hear a thing afterwards and smelling of diesel exhaust!). Then there were shows. I can remember going to see the Beachboys and Kenny Loggins at different shows over the years. This year, the big act is Pentatonix, a group I happen to love. But you probably would have had to buy the tickets the day they came out. Some past acts were Toby Keith, John Mellencamp, Reba McEntire, Sheryl Crow, Martina McBride, Blake Shelton, Dierks Bentley, Brad Paisley, Rascal Flatts, and Crosby, Stills, and Nash.
The first encounter some of us had with the grandstand were those ominous announcements: “Susie and Michael are at the sound tower by the grandstand and have lost their parents and they’d like to find you” (or something like that). The other experience we had was going underneath the grandstand for all the vendors who were selling everything from trinkets to pots and pans, and miracle cleaning solutions. There was one of these, a powder that came in a can that could be used for cleaning carpet stains and other stains. The stuff really worked and one of our missions at the fair was to buy a can every year.
The grandstand was built in 1936. Over the entrance, where grandstand events are posted and the trademark rooster stands, you can see engraved in the cement “WPA 1936.” WPA stands for Works Progress Administration, a Depression-era program designed to put thousands of out-of-work men to work on public infrastructure projects. This one has lasted 83 years and counting! The grandstand can seat 6200 people.
There is an interesting story behind this. Because it was a WPA project, the ownership of the ground and the grandstand, originally owned by the fairgrounds, was transferred to the county in 1935 so they could apply for the construction. It remained in county hands until 2001. The transfer might have happened in 1996, but the fair board borrowed $300,000 at that time for grandstand improvements from the county, and the county did not want to complete the transfer until the loan was paid. In 2001, the grandstand transferred back to fair ownership for the price of $1.
Over the years I visited the grandstand for other things. There used to be stock car races and demolition derbies on the track and I went to some of those. The demolition derbies were fun, because people were intentionally trying to hit each other, doing as much damage as possible while still keeping going in a kind of “last man standing” contest. Apparently these still happen, with one scheduled on Friday night of this year’s fair.
Twice during my growing up years there were “crusades” with associates of Billy Graham, once when I was young with a preacher by the name of Lane Adams, and when I was in college with Leighton Ford. My big memory of the latter event was that one night my father and I were the “night watchmen” over all the sound equipment. All we could do if there was a problem was to call the real police, but fortunately, all we saw that night were the stars as we camped out on the stage.
Often, the grandstand represented a place where you could get out of the sun on a hot day at the fair. You could watch pig iron pulling contests and cheerleader competitions and marching bands. It was part of the “fair experience” and stands as a monument to the workers who built it, the fair board who have maintained it, and all who have performed there.
Congratulations, Canfield Fair on your 173rd year! You are “something to crow about!”