The North Idaho State Fair

The unofficial end of summer has arrived. Long days turn short. Warm afternoons followed by cooling nights. Soon, the deep greens of maple leaves will change into a kaleidoscope of oranges, reds, and yellows; the increased saturation of pigments of the color wheel. The calendar still proclaims August, but autumn is in the air. Another marker of the seasons changing: the North Idaho State Fair.

The North Idaho State Fair makes its home at the Kootenai County Fairgrounds, situated north of I-90. A carnival sits on the south side. The fair is small and only lasts for five days; these five days are packed with events, 4H booths and animals, and vendors. Leading up to the fair are days of submitting crafts, foods, and photography prints to be judged and awarded ribbons.

Sunday afternoon, we drive in through the chain-link gate and onto the gravel and dirt where we wait in line to pay our $5 for parking. The parking lot attendant takes the bill and adds it to a huge stack held in his other hand. Trading it for a parking ticket, “Enjoy the fair,” he says with a toothy grin. “Thanks,” I reply. The soft dirt of the parking lot is stirred up and swirls; vehicles drive and search for their space to park. Covered in a fine brown, cars and trucks line the aisles where colorful flags mark entrances and exits. Finding ours, we unload, lock, and walk towards the fair entrance. DEMO DERBY SOLD OUT declared by signs scotch-taped to the glass at the ticket booth. The announcer at the rodeo congratulates, over the loud-speaker, a rider who is recently married. He then comments “I finally decided to get married because I was tired of finishing my sentences,” he says while laughing.

Weaving through crowds of people who decided to come on the last day, we make our way to different booths and buildings, looking at entries and talking to those that we know. As in years past, huckleberry ice cream is always a must-have. Ordering our waffle cones filled with the frozen purple feast, we eat and talk while listening to the sounds of the fair. Finishing the last bites of cream and cone, we walk the pavement and head towards the insect barn where the bees are kept.

Eight honey sticks for a dollar. I hand the man a buck and he counts out the correct amount of honey sticks, hands them to me and says “Thank you, enjoy.” We suck out the amber, golden sweetness then wander more of the grounds. On the main stage, near the arena, Sean Owsley and the Blue Mustangs begin a 2 hour set; they perform covers of classic rock and other favorites.

Sean Owsley, who is a local TV news anchor, plays rhythm and is lead vocals. Bill Bozly, a favorite at the local farmers' market, plays lead. After an hour, they take a quick break. We leave our spot of occupancy to take in more sights. Food booths offer curly fries, turkey legs, fresh squeezed lemonade, and other fair delicacies. Deep fried Twinkies, Oreos, and Snickers candy bars. There are sellers of clothes. Caricature artists. 

The second set starts as we return back to the side of the stage. The day's hours quickly change. A few drops of rain are felt as they fall from the clouds overhead and quickly stop.

A cacophony of sounds envelops our ears. The smells of fatty fair foods sting our nostrils. We stand in line for funnel cakes. Order. Wait. My name is called. I retrieve the paper plates stacked three high with the deep fried treat then we walk towards another gate and wait in line again.

We hand over our tickets and get our hands stamped. Walking on the dirt path that lines the backside and wraps around empty steer pens and through another entrance to the bleachers that sit northeast of the arena. Finding our rows, front and back, our seats number 1,2, and 3. Friends come and sit next to us. This is their first time attending.

The Canadian anthem is played for our visiting neighbors from the great white north, then our beloved American anthem. Hands over hearts, we sing along; as the last bars finish, we cheer then sit. The Demolition Derby is about to begin. Lumbered logs line a lake of mud. A chain-link fence creates a perimeter; a safety blanket of protection between us and the battling beasts of junk.

To truly experience the culture of North Idaho, there is no better way than to sit in the cheap seats at the demo derby. Even a celebrity (who we were finally able to meet on this night) that lives part-time in the area, was in our section. Music is piped loudly through the sound system. Cars begin their slow roll and enter the lake of mud: a parade of dilapidated automobiles that have had new life breathed into them and are given a second chance at glory. ‘Artistsspared no expense as rattle cans were emptied of their paint contents and spewed onto metal skin.

Cars parked hood to log. Surrender sticks decorated with American flags adorn the driver's side. The first heat begins with a rookie driver in attendance. 3-2-1-GO! Cars slam into each other; mud sprays outward from spinning tires. Reverse into one another. Forward. Any which way. One car gets tipped on its side so the horn is blown. He is pulled back down and entered into the Hard Luck Heat. Officials stand near the muddy lake with orange flags and hand-held horns. The heat begins again. Double smoke stacks belch fire while broken radiators puke white smoke. The roar of deafening engines mixes with the cheers from the crowd. This is North Idaho.

The heat finishes. Tow-trucks clear broken cars that litter the muddy arena floor. Winning cars move on to the final heat; the Rookie earns a membership. Second place cars get another chance to prove themselves as they are placed in the Hard Luck Heat. Music blasts out of strategically placed speakers while scrap metal is hauled away: Johnny Cash, Michael Jackson, AC/DC, and Bruno Mars; a mixture of old and new. Once clear, the drying lake needs refreshment; the tanker truck enters and quenches its thirst. The second heat soon begins and ends with losers and winners and Hard Luck recipients.

The sun bids goodnight as it casts a brilliant sunset across the western sky. Arena lights are lit and chase the dark night back into hiding. Another layer of liquid is spread heavily across the arena's floor.

The Hard Luck Heat begins; the ear-splitting pitch of engines roar to life; drivers slam and pound into each other, fighting for the coveted two spots of the final heat.

This heat finishes and the smoke clears: two drivers advance. While trucks tow dead cars, the announcer does his best to keep us entertained. As with tradition and on cue, Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline" bursts onto the scene. Digital lighters begin to burn in the grand stands. Those of us warming the bleachers sway with the music.

A sold out crowd sings along. The mud is watered down again; manure from the previous days of rodeos blends into a confection of brown goo.

Cars crawl through the entrance again, finding their spots and engines are quieted. Applause for the Rookie as he enters the lake of mud. The horn blows as the final heat begins. The place erupts in a thousand shouting voices and cheers. Cars crash and crumple. Slamming into each others, fighting for that grand prize of $4000 and named winner.

One by one, the salvaged scraps succumb to the blunt force trauma. The Rookie is still alive and kicking while one other remains. Rookie gets slammed in between two dead heaps. Hope is lost. The Rookie reaches up and breaks his surrender stick, receiving second. Cheers and smoke rise into the blackness of night where a sea of summer stars shine brightly down.

Our way is made to our dirt covered vehicle. Pull out of our spot and find another line to merge into while we try to escape the fairground's parking lot. The Brakelight Brigade burns a bright red.

1 comment

  • Hey, didn’t you guys submit some items at the fair:P Pictures please hehe

    Jennifer Shivel

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