J.T. Oltman knows where he’ll be in early August: at the Sarpy County Fair in Springfield, Nebraska, with four generations of his family. “We’re there from sunup to sundown,” says Oltman, of Papillion.
In his younger days, Oltman showed swine, cattle, rabbits, chickens, ducks, goats and sheep in 4-H competition – and has the ribbons, plaques and trophies to prove it. These days, he supervises the swine competition.
The Sarpy County Fair, he says, is a growing tradition for his family. His 19-month-old daughter will attend this year, as will his 86-year-old grandmother. In fact, JoAnn Ostransky has attended all 82 county fairs.
“The fair is the reward for all the hard work the 4-H’ers put in,” Oltman says. And it’s fun. “It’s a reunion, a time to catch up with family and friends.”
While the Sarpy County Fair may not be the oldest or biggest in the state, it ranks tops with Sarah Rudolph, chairman of the concert and marketing committees.
The fair runs from July 31 through Aug. 4 and features all the staples of a fun-filled, something-for-everyone event, she says.
Start with the standbys: the carnival, 4-H exhibitions and the Saturday parade. Next, look to the food stands. The Methodist food stand is known for its homemade pies, the Masonic Lodge for steak sandwiches and the Knights of Columbus for its breakfast menu. The fair also features several food trucks.
The addition of a second arena for motor sports competition five years ago has allowed the Sarpy County Fair to expand its entertainment offerings. Friday night’s attraction is the Nebraska Bush Pullers/Lucas Oil Western Series Tractor Pull.
The Motor Sports Complex seats 3,500, and the competitors love large crowds, says Nichole Jansen, chairman of the sponsorship committee. “The trucks and tractors are loud and make a lot of smoke, and the competition is exciting,” she says. “These pullers have a significant amount of money invested in their trucks and tractors and travel thousands of miles each summer to compete.”
The Nebraska Bush Pullers portion of the evening features five classes of tractors and pro-stock 4x4 pickups. The Lucas Oil Western Series features two classes of pickups: super two-wheel-drives and pro-street diesels.
Saturday night’s concert will feature Rodney Atkins with special guest Logan Mize and the Dylan Bloom Band. If advance ticket sales are an indication, Rudolph says, attendance will eclipse last year’s banner turnout. “Concerts are the rave right now. They put us on the map,” she says.
Last year’s fair drew 85,000 attendees; the all-time record is 87,000, according to Rudolph. “People know the family atmosphere at the Sarpy County Fair is absolutely amazing.”
Jansen attributes the crowds to the carnival rides ($20 unlimited-ride wristbands for designated hours) and a variety of events that touch all age groups, not to mention free admission at the gate and free parking on 30 acres.
“You can spend the day at our fair and not drop a dime,” she says.
You can get in your steps, too, between the 4-H and livestock buildings, the open class and commercial buildings and the open-air grandstand.
See the complete fair schedule here.