The Crawford County Fair at Gays Mills is winding down today (Sunday). Phillip, Bob, and I, the three Scheckel boys growing up on the farm outside of Seneca in the 1940s and 1950s, always looked forward to the Fair. We usually went on Sunday afternoon.
The most memorable fairs occurred when we reached about the age of 10 or 11. Dad gave each of us boys 75 cents, and said “Be at the car at 3 o’clock.” Dad made sure we knew where the car was parked. It was a valuable lesson that I never forgot. When you’re in a large parking area, note a marking, a pole, sign, or directions that will get you back to the car.
We were off on our own. And that felt pretty good, knowing that Dad and Mom knew we would take care of ourselves. They were giving us autonomy and authority to run a bit of our own life and to make choices on our own.
Having 75 cents in your pocket in 1954 would be like having $5 to $7 in today’s money and purchasing power. A ride on the Ferris Wheel was 10 cents. Three rides for a quarter. An ice cream cone was about 15 cents.
We walked down the midway, the line of “barkers” and booths. These are the ones that want to separate money from farm kids. I was fascinated by the games of skill and chance. Knock over 2 out of 3 pins with a thrown baseball, and win huge stuffed animals.
The rifle shoot was intriguing. Rows of ducks moved on a conveyer belt, and it you hit a duck, he fell over. The more ducks you hit, the bigger the prize. Our older brother Ed warned us about crooked sights on those rifles.
If you broke balloons with tossed darts, you won a prize. I noticed that balloons didn’t break unless they were squarely hit. Many darts struck balloons near the edge and pushed the balloon out of the way instead of breaking it. Our Mom didn’t raise fools.
Ring the Bell with a large mallet. I watched a big farm boy, sleeves rolled up, and a pack of cigarettes held by the rolled up sleeve. He took that big wooden mallet, brought it down hard on the target and a metal puck went up a fancy pole, on its way to hitting a gong up about 20 feet. He did it on the fourth try, but he needed to buy 3 more tickets. He walked away with a small doll, not the huge stuffed teddy bear he was trying to win for his girlfriend.
There was the basketball toss. The hoop seemed smaller than it should be. A high school jock was trying to win a stuffed animal for his girlfriend. He must have lost ten dollars before giving up.
Ring toss, like an embroidery ring, had to go over a kewpkie doll mounted on a wooden base. But there was a catch; the ring had to go over the entire base, and it looked like it could barely fit.
Guess your weight within 5 pound, and your birth month to within 2 or 3 month, I forgot which. You had a choice. Phillip said that heard that you should ask the person to guess your birth month. People who did the birth month could lie about which month they were born in, so they would win. We figured that even if you won, the prize you got was less than the cost to play, so the carnival guy won every time.
I always tried to figure out which carnival game would be easiest to win at. Phillip, Bob, and I would watch all the games, but were very reluctant to spend any money. The “Ring a Bottle” game looked easy. Got 10 rings for 25 cents, and you had to throw one over the neck of a large bottle. Phillip tossed all 10, all ten bounced off, none went over a bottle. A good quarter lost. We watched other guys purchase 10 rings, toss 10 rings, watch 10 rings bounce off the bottles and collect on the wooden platform.
We wandered through the cattle and horse barns, saw the sheep, swine, and poultry, and toured the 4-H exhibit building. We climbed up on the new tractors and farm machinery lined up along the road.
We rode the tilt-o-world but refuses to lock the bar that would turn you upside down. We bought ice cream cones, keeping track of the coins. I had 75 cents total, and needed to remind myself not to run out of money. I didn’t want to buy something that cost 15 cents, and only have 10 cents left to spend. I had done that one time and it wasn’t something I ever wanted to do again.
The crowds, music of the fairway, exhibits, vendors, the rides, all exciting stuff. Three o’clock came, we found Dad and the car, out to Highway 171, up to Mt. Sterling, thru Seneca, and home in time to do the evening chores.