The Kalamazoo County Fair

by Sam Staffen


I was a 15 year old kid who had went to the Kalamazoo County Fair with my mom and step-dad. My mom and step-dad had pony teams that they showed at the fair. We had to be there all week because the ponies had stalls for all fair patrons to see them in. I was basically there to shovel the horse manure keeping the stalls cleaned and the ponies fed and watered. Someone may argue that I was there because I had to be there on the account that the family was there. But my three sisters were not required to be there. So I was there with nothing to do.


I had been to these fairs in this capacity for a few years seeing as how my home county fair was something that we showed animals of all kinds almost every year. We would sometimes camp at the fairs all week long. With all of this fair experience I knew that around 10 p.m. the regular one night fair patrons would start to leave the fairs. I also knew that in Kalamazoo County Fair that the parking lot was quite the walk from the midway and the grandstand. I also knew that I had six ponies and or three teams at my expense. I also had wagons to hitch the to at my availability. I also knew that I was going to get left at the fair on opening night because my step-dad had to be to work. Now you know why I knew my job was to clean the stalls and feed and water the ponies. After all I was being left unattended at the fair any damn way. Why not be left unattended at home, right? So I have three pony teams a wagon with no supervision and a whole shit load of tired fair patrons that were going to have to walk to the parking lot. Way the hell out there too. And I wanted to make a buck or two.


I hitched the most fair acclimated team up to a wagon. The wagon that had the largest capacity to haul people to the parking lot in. I did that around 9 p.m.. I then took off to the end of the barn they were stalled. At the end of the barn they were stalled in was the main drive from the midway and grandstand to the parking lot. The parking lot was behind the race track where mostly everyone that attended the fair had to park. I started offering rides in the wagon to the patrons cars. I knew from a previous year that I could not charge because the fair board would say something about that. No signs could be displayed asking a price unless a person was willing to pay the fair board a vendors fee and you had to have insurance. Nonetheless, the way I did it and the fact that it was very handy, the people would often offer a tip which I was definitely going to accept. I made some money and I was sure glad I did because my mom left me with $3. Hell I made $3 or more on the first wagon load.


It got so late in the evening that no one would need a ride because everyone had pretty much left. I made my last run around 12:30 at night. I dropped that last batch of fair patrons off and started in going past the track heading back to the barn. I pulled the team to the side of the road, next to the track fence, to stop the team out of the way of the little traffic that was still leaving the fair. No not to give the damn ponies a break or nothing. To count the money. Of course, come on what were you thinking. I was counting the money and I noticed an extremely large horse being walked by a man heading out onto the infield of the track. This horse I seen was definitely not a racehorse. I squinted real hard and sure as heck he was really a large horse. I stopped counting my money and instead headed for the barn to put the team up. I was now in a hurry. You know why, right? To see this horse. Because earlier in the day I walked by the "Big Jim the Giant Horse" show and had noticed it costed 50 cents to see him. Heck! if I hurried I would get to see him up close and personal for free.


I got to the barn, and all I did, was un-hitch the team and walk them into their stalls. With their entire harness on to tie them up. I was courteous enough to give them oats as a treat for a job well done. They were a really good team. I then hurried to the infield of the race track to get a close look at this horse. The horse was billed as being 19 hands and 2600lbs. That's freakin' big you know. I also knew that a normal horse was 14 to 16 hands and up to around 1400lbs. So this freakin' horse was big for sure. By the way a hand is four inches. with a hand being four inches that makes this horse 6'4" at the shoulder. I made it out there in time to see the horse. There was a Mexican man walking him. He really wasn't Mexican but Mexican of descent and actually an American born and raised. This was way before the recent increase in illegal aliens.


The man introduced himself as Joe. What the heck, Joe? He let me pet the horse after I told him that I was the kid that was driving the pony team and what I had done to insure being able to see this big ole' horse for free. I petted him and asked Joe if he was ride-able. Joe said that his brother-in-law had told him that yes he could be ridden. Joe then said that he personally had never been on him though. So, of course, I wanted on. I told Joe I wanted on and he helped me get on this big ole' horse called Big Jim. Believe it or not. You just have to realize the dialogue that I already had with this Joe guy. The horse didn't mind a bit. He didn't mind so much that he went on ahead and started eating the track infield grass again. What the heck? Hell I wanted Joe to give me the rope because I knew how to ride a horse with nothing more than a rope linked through the halter. Hell I had been around horses my whole life. Had ridden a horse, myself , before the age of four. I was disappointed he still wanted to eat but asked Joe anyway and Joe wouldn't go for it. Matter of fact he wanted me to get off right after I asked him.


I went all the way back to the show barn with Joe and Jim the Giant Horse talking with Joe the whole way. The show barn was where Jim stayed at night. It was also where he was to be seen for a price. It was basically right on the way back to the barn where our pony teams were. It was just a little out of the way. On the way I explained to Joe that I was going to head back to get the harnesses off the ponies. I also told him that I was taking the fair-goers back to their cars in the parking lot. I also said that I did that for the reason of making tips. He asked if I made that much. I said probably $15 and told him that it was not too cool with the fair board. I also told him my mom didn't want me doing it either and that she wasn't there and wouldn't know anyway. Joe then told me that he needed a break person for the stand because his wife had left the week before to take the kids home and get them in school. I ain't stupid you know. So I asked him if he could let me give him breaks. He said only if my mom would let me. I knew she would and told him so. Then I asked what I would get paid and he said he didn't know how much he would need me and that he paid at the end of each fair. He did tell me I would make at least $80 or more if I was able to give him all the breaks he needed. Maybe more if he thought he could take longer breaks. Longer breaks meant trusting me to not steal any of the money that people would pay me for seeing Big Jim the Giant horse. A deal was struck.


I did the break job. Well it wasn't really a break job because I basically worked the stand the entire time after that other than when I needed to break. Uh, clean our pony stalls. Oh and feed the damn ponies and help my mom hitch them up before the shows. Bit I did work the majority of the hours for sure. At the end of the week Joe paid me $125. I thought that I got beat but understood that he would have worked more had I not been so willing to work. Joe asked for our phone number and said he would call me when I was 18 to work for him on the road. Right! Like I was gonna believe that shit. Later Joe and nice knowing you and it was really a cool job for a kid.


Three days after my high school graduation ceremony my mom answered the phone. It was Joe. What the heck? Really? This guy did call. Three years later? And he wanted me to go to work? He wanted me to get to Rushville, Illinois before the weekend. Apparently some 35 year old guy he had working for him was going to go home to Texas. He also said that I had to have a drivers license, which I did. He then told me I would be running his Little Luke the Midget Horse stand. That didn't matter to me. He then said that his 14 year old son, Joey, would be working with me. What the heck, really? And he stated that we had our own route to do and that we would be on our own. I ain't the scared type that's for sure. I was in. All I could make money at that summer, where I was from, was bailing hay for very cheap wages. Not to mention bailing hay isn't full time. He said that he would pay me $125 a week and that I also had a bunk room in the 5th wheel of the show trailer. Show trailer, I asked? He explained that Little Luke was just 26" tall and that the trailer was actually the stand that people went up in to view Little Luke. He explained that I would share the 5th wheel of the show trailer with Joey his oldest son and that Joey knew everything that had to be done. I didn't care I just wanted to get going to Rushville, Illinois. Never had been to Illinois before. My sister Sheila drove me there and dropped me off.


I created the web site USCarnys was first published on the internet on February 4, 2008. Already boasts probably the best free fairs and festivals listing on the internet, with 48 pages of these events. There are 5 other web pages on this site all dedicated to the carnival industry. Come by and check out this very informative site.


Article Source: Ezine Articles - Sam_Staffen article submitted by Sam Staffen copyright 2008

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