WAPAKONETA — If you’ve been to an area fair in the last three decades, you’ve likely come to love Farmer John and his Barnyard Express farm.
John Forshee has been entertaining crowds across mostly Ohio and Michigan for 27 years, but that time is coming to a close following the Auglaize County Fair. After an Aug. 9 performance, he will officially hang up his overalls.
“I got two big inheritances last year, so I don’t need the money anymore, and I want to do some things while I’m young and able to,” Forshee explained.
Forshee started Barnyard Express in 1993 following a layoff at Domino’s Pizza Petting Farm in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where he was the manager. One year prior to the layoff, Forshee and his team started taking the petting farm on the road.
“We’d go out to a festival, nothing like this, just throwing some stuff together,” Forshee explained. “I made a backdrop and I think we had some straw bales for a stage.”
Forshee knew he wanted to continue down that path.
“I like entertaining kids,” he said. “Kids also need to be educated nowadays … Grandma and Grandpa used to farm and they’d go out there, but it’s not like that anymore. Some kids have never even seen a pig in real life.”
Now, kids can make a stop at Barnyard Express to see Forshee’s companions Bunch the dog, Goofy the goat and Sloppy the pig, who are featured in his shows. In a nearby pen, they can also pet a mini horse, sheep and three baby goats, Little Thing, Wild Thing and Poopy Thing. Popcorn and Smudge, his other two dogs, also travel with him.
Farmer John and the gang complete about 10 fairs a year but also do school assemblies and other events. In total, they average about 110 events a year from March through October.
In all those performances, what he remembers most is performing with one of his favorite dogs.
“Just performing with my dog Pal would be what stands out in my mind as the highlight of my career, I think,” Forshee said. “He passed away now, he was born in 2000, and he was the best dog I ever had. He was phenomenal. He’d do these Frisbee tricks just effortlessly. I love to show my dogs off if they’re performing good, but they can give you problems, too.”
When his fellow entertainers do give him fits, Forshee said he just makes it part of the show.
“The dog I’m using now, he won’t give the Frisbee back sometimes. I get by by making jokes about it,” he explained.
Those wise cracks are going to be what Forshee is going to miss most.
“Being in front of a good audience where they’re laughing and going through all my jokes, that’s what I’m going to miss the most,” he said. “It hit me about two months ago. I’m doing a school assembly with the kids all sitting there in rows. Soon I won’t be in front of these kids doing this ever again, and that was sad, but I’m happy because I have time to do other things I want to do.”
After his final show, Forshee wants to enjoy traveling with his camper and dogs, including a three-month trip to Alaska. He even has some other family-friend projects on the brain, potentially.
“I was at my sister’s house with the pig running around in the house, and then I said something — I’m not going to say what I said because it would be the title of the book — and I said, ‘That would make a great book!’”
Reach Tara Jones at 567-242-0511.