1950s: Eagle County Fair finds a home
Special to the Enterprise
Eagle, CO Colorado
EAGLE, Colorado –By 1950, the Eagle County Fair was suffering growing pains. The large number of exhibits overflowed the school gym in Eagle, and spilled out into the downstairs hall of the main school building.
For the first time, local businesses manned commercial booths at the fair, featuring displays of various farm and home appliances.
Organizers decided to roll the county fair and the annual “Flight Day” celebration into a single event on Sept. 9, 1950. In addition to the exhibits and 4-H competition, plane rides were being offered at the county airfield “for those who would like to view the county from upstairs.” Entertainment also included a baseball tournament. The Eagle Theater offered a free showing of the movie “Dynamite” and three cartoons.
Despite a downpour of rain that lasted most of the day, a crowd turned out. Jack Whittaker’s ram lamb won champion honors. Velma Larsen, of Brush Creek, earned $10 in the women’s division for collecting the greatest number of points in individual competition. Ted Reynolds’ Burbank potatoes also garnered a purple ribbon.
The polio outbreak in 1951 stifled some activities. Local leaders decided not to send 4-H’ers to Camp Tobin at the Colorado State Fair in Pueblo – a much-coveted honor among the younger set.
Still, locally, what was now being called the “Junior Fair” drew 202 entries. Felix and Nick Strubi won blue ribbons for soil conservation projects. Vern Albertson, of Burns, and Lloyd Mayne, of Gypsum, were the lucky winners of the Catch-It Calf contest.
In 1952 the fair, having outgrown the Eagle School site, was moved to the Gypsum school grounds – but that was the only time the event was staged away from the county seat.
Ella Bindley, 83, of Eagle, was a 4-H leader for a number of years. She remembers those fair exhibits in the school lunchroom. A number of local girls, including Susan Koonce and Judy Seabry, learned to sew under Bindley’s watchful eye. Koonce once sewed a dress that won high honors at the state fair.
A fine fairgrounds
“Junior Fair to have a permanent grounds,” declared the headlines in the Eagle Valley Enterprise in August 1953. Eagle rancher Chet Mayer (whose property encompassed what is now known as the Mayer, Bull Pasture and Eagle Ranch subdivisions) offered to set aside more than an acre of land on the south edge of Eagle for a fairgrounds. The land was located just east of the Forest Service supply depot.
Eagle Chamber of Commerce volunteers built a fence. Others arranged for water to be piped to the site. By the following year, an exhibit building was constructed on the site. With the new facility, by 1955 for the first time the fair became a two-day event.
“The addition of a livestock shed has meant the difference between a mediocre one-day fair and the magnificent present with a two-day fair,” declared the Enterprise.
Claude DeGraw, of Gypsum, remembers the fun of packing a sleeping bag and camping out overnight at the fairgrounds with fellow 4-H’ers. Theoretically, the kids were supposed to be keeping an eye on their stock. But in reality, it was a time for those farm kids to kick up their heels.
“We didn’t get any sleep at night. We ran streets of Eagle, knocking on doors. Oh yeah, it was fun,” he recalls.
The 1956 fair was particularly memorable for DeGraw. He was 12 years old.
“I caught a calf and lamb in the same day (in the catch-it contest). And I about caught a pig, but the darn thing just about bit my finger off,” he laughs.
One of the big new editions to the fair was a tractor contest. Bob Havener was in charge of the event where young tractor drivers worked against time to drive their tractor through an obstacle course.
By the mid-1950s, a county agent named Sam Kuntz was the guy who, backed by the local business community, was leading the county fair to even greater heights.
“He was the one who really got it going,” recalls Judy Burford, of Grand Junction. She describes Kuntz as a “small guy, very sage.” Kuntz had a way with children, as well as a knack for managing the fair, and he stayed in the county agent post for many years.
By the late 1950s, the county commissioners agreed to underwrite a large portion of the fair’s expense. But when the Mayer ranch sold to a corporation in 1960, the fairgrounds were part of the sale. The fair once again needed a new home.
(Kathy Heicher is a freelance journalist, and can be reached at email@example.com.)