‘County Fair’ concept struggles during WWII | VailDaily.com

‘County Fair’ concept struggles during WWII

Kathy Heicher
Eagle, CO Colorado

EAGLE, Colorado – The first Eagle County Fair in 1939 was a smashing success, drawing hundreds of people from throughout the county to Eagle for a day of competition and camaraderie. The organizers believed they had hit the formula for an annual tradition.

Blame Adolph Hitler for the world turmoil that set back the fair celebration for a full decade.

To be sure, a county fair-type event was scheduled in 1940, but it was not of the scale as the previous year’s celebration. The event was once again held on the grounds of the Eagle School. The exhibition, staged in the fall the previous year, was moved to August, possibly to accommodate the 4-H’ers headed to the Colorado State Fair in Pueblo with their projects.

Among the 4-H exhibitors in 1940 were Lena Sansosti (Yost), Mac Macdonell, and Mildred Eichler. Tommy Hartman’s Angus beef steer, which he had captured in the 4-H “Catch It” contest the previous year, took grand champion in the under-900 pounds class, and went on to place second in the state fair.

Danny Rule, the son of Brush Creek ranchers Fred and Mary Rule, earned grand champion honors with his Hereford heifer. Young Rule had obtained the calf from local rancher Holly K. Brooks, then raised and groomed the animal by himself.

Rule made some local headlines by taking that same heifer to the state fair, and again winning a purple ribbon. Then he astonished the sophisticated state fair competitors by entering the calf in open class and going against the best breeders in the state. His animal took first place, just missing reserve champion honors. When a buyer offered $300 for the heifer, Danny refused to sell.

The highlight of the local celebration was a square dance contest on Saturday evening.

Judy (Allen) Burford, 83, of Grand Junction, was a “city girl” from Eagle during those early years of the fair. She didn’t raise animals, but she belonged to a 4-H club led by Mary Rule.

“Mary and Fred Rule were good leaders. The rules were very important,” recalls Burford. The Rule family played a major role in the fair for many years.

Burford admits that she never took to sewing – but she could figure out baking. She still remembers the prize-winning loaf of yeast bread that earned her a trip to the Colorado State Fair in Pueblo.

The fair was a major social opportunity for the younger set.

“We had kids coming over from Brush Creek, Gypsum Creek, Gore Creek, Bond and McCoy, and all the smaller places … the boys looked at the girls, and the girls looked at the boys … it was fun,” she recalls.

Years later, when she was raising her own family on a sheep ranch on Lake Creek, her own children looked forward to the annual Fair.

By 1942, the community was feeling the impacts of the war. Most young men in the county had either been drafted or had signed up for military service, resulting in a farm labor shortage that seriously hampered local production. Shortages of products such as rubber and leather, and mandatory rationing made it challenging for ranchers just to keep their operations going.

By the mid-1940s, there was no mention of the county fair in the local newspapers, although there is coverage of 4-H activities and exhibits.

Like the entire nation, the community picked itself up and re-grouped after the war ended.

By the late summer of 1947, the Enterprise front page reported the first “4-H Exhibit Day” since the war years. Each subsequent year, the one-day event, typically capped off by an evening dance, grained momentum. The temporary “exhibit hall” set up in the school gym was getting crowded.

The newspaper and community leaders were seeing a need for a permanent fairgrounds space.

Kathy Heicher is a freelance journalist, and can be reached at heicher@centurytel.net.

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