DES MOINES — Open-air trailers have hauled millions of weary fairgoers around the Iowa State Fair.
On Thursday, officials kicked off fair festivities by honoring a southwest Iowa group that has helped make the rides possible for 50 years.
Dale Juergens, 90, is a member of the Clearfield Lions Club, which organized a shuttle service in 1963.
He said the satisfaction of helping people, including those who use wheelchairs, has kept him and the other volunteers involved all these years.
“It's one of the greatest attractions in the world,” Juergens said of the fair. “Just to be a small part of it makes us feel really good.”
The fair began its 11-day run with milder-than-normal weather: a light breeze and temperatures in the 70s. The Iowa State Fair is considered one of the 10 largest in the country, usually drawing more than a million people annually.
Gerald Maharry, 94, a member of the Clearfield Lions Club, said the shuttle service to the fair campgrounds had its origins with a group of weary parents.
“We were tired of carrying our children up the hill after a day at the fair — it was as simple as that,” Maharry said.
Tractors pulling trailers filled with fairgoers have become a common sight at the fair. One fair official estimated the group has transported 8 million to 10 million people over the past five decades.
Fairgrounds sidewalks were clogged Thursday with people out and about, eating fried food on sticks or pushing strollers, on their way to livestock shows, contests and farm equipment displays.
“It just makes you feel like doing more and seeing more,” Mary Fopma, 57, of Grinnell, Iowa, said of the weather. “This is a good day to be out and taking it all in.”
Even sitting in the pig-filled Swine Barn, things were pleasant, with a light breeze blowing through.
“The temperament of the pigs is better; they aren't as hot and crabby,” said Peggy Ausdemore, 46, of rural Neola, Iowa. “They feel better. And they show better.”
The State Fair is internationally known for its butter cow, sculpted anew each year. This time the roughly 5½-foot-tall yellowish bovine overlooks a butter sculpture of the Lincoln Highway bridge in Tama, Iowa, in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the transcontinental route that crossed Iowa and Nebraska.
“It helps us appreciate our heritage,” said Cheryl Bowen, an Indiana resident who grew up in Des Moines. “I thought it was original and informative.”
Also in the display was a butter sculpture of President Abraham Lincoln, commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address and the Emancipation Proclamation in addition to his namesake highway.
Galen Fick, 53, of Boyden, Iowa, was showing six heifers and two cows at the Cattle Barn. He has attended the fair every year since 1977. He said he enjoys the competition and meeting friends.
“You get to know a lot of people at the fair, and you get to see them once a year,” he said.
Another aspect he enjoys is using his cows to promote the dairy industry to city folks.
A lot of people have never been up close with a cow, he said. “This gives them an opportunity to do that.”
Just bit into my first pork chop on a stick. The Iowa State Fair has begun.— Andrew Nelson (@nelson_aj) August 8, 2013