Rows of equipment lined the edge of the Grundy County Fairgrounds Saturday as workers and volunteers prepared the area for this week's Grundy County Fair. They were pulling it from the barns and buildings that would host events and competitions. One piece, an Allis-Chalmers tractor they estimated was from the early 1950s, sat at the end of the line.
"I can get her running," Rich Ledwa said as he opened up the hatch and began looking at wires.
Scott Carter, grounds manager at the fairgrounds and secretary of the Grundy County Fair, said it would be good to have that tractor running, and it could help pull some of the equipment around as they prepare.
This close to the start, they could use all the help they could get.
"It's a mad rush this time of year, especially with the weather the way it has been," he said. Rains have soaked the grounds, leaving puddles in some areas and causing the grass to grow so fast it is hard to keep up with the mowing.
But each year it gets done, he said, no matter how much work needs to go in ahead of time.
The Grundy County Fair begins Friday, June 29, with judging in categories like needlework, floriculture and fine arts. The carnival opens at 4 p.m. that day. Other entertainment like Magic Matt's Family Fun Show and a pig and hog helmed variety show — The Porkchop Revue — will go on that day as well.
It's also the day for the Royal Baby, Junior Miss Pageant and Miss Grundy County Fair Queen pageants, beginning at 5:30 p.m.
This year marks the 114th fair, Carter said.
"It's a very old fair," he said. Until 1972, the fair was held in Mazon. Inside the county fair offices now there is a sign, asking for photos and memorabilia from the days when the fair was held there. They were also looking for memorabilia from the Mazon Speedbowl.
Last year, he said, about 35,000 people came through.
"People come from all over actually," he said. "A lot of livestock people come from southern part of the state."
Monday will also see judging for draft horses and draft ponies.
The fair is a family tradition for Carter. His father, Burdette Carter, helped run the fair for as long as Scott could remember, going up to the ground to do work and prepare them, and was also involved in the racing circuit. On Saturday, the same night as veterans night at the fair, the speedway will host the Burdette Carter Memorial race.
On Saturday, Carter said he hopes to honor veterans at the fair. With an honor guard presenting the colors, he hopes to bring all the veterans in the stands down to the track and to have the cars park in formation — parking at an angle near the starting line.
Saturday is also Kids Day at the fair. The carnival opens at noon, and there will be a talent contest and kids pedal pull inside the dance hall.
Carter said a lot of the events and attractions at the fair will be familiar to fair-goers of the past, and a lot of things stay the same from year to year. He said, for instance, the same carnival comes because they've had a good relationship and put on a good time when they come.
Changes come in the racing program, he said. Illini State Pullers and POWERi midgets will be racing this weekend at the fair. And, on Monday, the evening ends with a fireworks display.
"The fireworks are spectacular," Carter said.
The last day of the fair is Tuesday, but Carter said it is usually a slower day.
One thing that Carter worries about his how long the fair can continue. The cost of maintaining the grounds and putting on the fair itself is too tremendous, he said. A lot of county fairs have the same issues, he said.
"There's going to come day when I don't think there's going to be a county fair," he said. "I might not see that day, but my grandkids will."
Most county fairs, which operate as nonprofits, barely break even between the donations and the cost to operate the fair.
The Grundy County Fair has been a family concern for as long as Carter can remember, from his father working at it for decades. Carter's mother still works in the office, as do other family members.
Carter worries about what would be lost if the fairs stopped operating. People will lose touch with a big part of their lives.
"We have to keep the agriculture part alive for the kids," he said.