OTTAWA — It may have been the most understated comment among a group of unassuming people at this year’s Putnam County Fair.
“This year’s fair may look a little different,” Putnam County Fair Board President Nathan Meyer said in the event’s opening ceremony.
The coronavirus pandemic didn’t erase this year’s fair from the calendar, but it certainly made its impact on the 165th annual event, which is traditionally the first county fair in the region.
Gone were the rides as you enter the fairgrounds. Also gone were most of the food vendors outside the grandstands, save one french fry stand. In fact, most of the front of the fairgrounds looked like it might look when nothing was happening there.
There was plenty happening in barns and show arenas at the back corner of the fairgrounds, though. Winners were selected among the rabbits, goats, horse showmanship and sheep in the junior fair area.
The fair leaned in to its agricultural roots to give the youth a place to showcase their projects, even moving the opening ceremonies and king and queen coronation into the main show arena instead of the grandstands. The court candidates swiftly moved through the show arena on golf carts.
“It’s been a lot different,” said Ashley Maag, who was crowned fair queen. The recent Ottawa-Glandorf graduate is showing hogs and market steer this year. “There’s not as many people here, and it seems there’s a little smaller in the animal sizes too. Still, it’s great to see everybody who is here.”
Many of the fair favorite foods moved closer to the barns than in past years, too. Seating was reduced by half in the show arenas, with every-other-row marked off with caution tape. There were also plenty of signs to remind people to remain socially distanced. Few people wore the masks Monday that are so often recommended by health experts.
Cody Meyer, a recent Ottawa-Glandorf graduate who was selected as the king, said he never spent much time on the midway anyway. As far as he’s concerned, the real action is back in the barns and show arenas.
He’s shown market hogs three times, winning grand champion once. He appreciates the opportunity to show how much work goes into the animal projects.
“Most people don’t know you have to walk the hogs around,” he said. “Sometimes that’s some work to keep them corralled.”
The fair continues through Sunday. The first grandstand entertainment is scheduled today, with harness racing starting at 3:30 p.m. There’s also the junior fair feeder calf show at 8:30 a.m., the junior fair steer show at 6 p.m., the feeder calf auction at 7 p.m. and the market steer bred and fed show at 7:30 p.m.
Other highlights include more harness racing at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, the premium sale at 8:30 a.m. Thursday, truck and tractor pulls at 7 p.m. Friday and demolition derby at 7 p.m. Saturday.
There’s no admission to get into the fair this year, although there are donation barrels at the entrances. The demo derby and the truck and tractor pulls each cost $10 for grandstand admission.
“Have fun. Be safe. Enjoy the fair,” Nathan Meyer said.
Reach David Trinko at 567-242-0467 or on Twitter @Lima_Trinko.