From the 1985 El Paso County Fair Souvenir Program
By Toni Knapp
This year, 1985, marks the 80th birthday of the El Paso County Fair. Since its first, simple gathering in 1905, the Fair has not just gotten older, it has definitely gotten better--- and bigger. In eighty years it has survived, endured and grown through two world wars (and a few significant others), a depression, recessions, monsoons, blizzards, indebtedness, and too many other events to mention---much less remember. But with the help of old newspapers, collected mementos, and some very vivid memories, the El Paso County Fair’s history has fallen richly into place. This commemorative book includes some marvelous glimpses into another time.
In 1905, people came by covered wagon, conestoga wagon, surreys (with and without fringe), and horseback to gather at the first fair held in Calhan’s little country schoolyard-a thanksgiving festival held by the farmers to celebrate a bountiful potato harvest. The celebration was simple, then-a potato and bean bake, joyful, improvised entertainment, and horse races! That first horse race was a relay event in which each of three horses was ridden once around Letterman’s Hill in Calhan, with the saddle changed between each horse. The winner was 15-year-old George Young, still young at 93, and living in his home north of Simla Colorado. The potato bake was so much fun, a similar event was planned for the following year, to include home economics and agricultural exhibits, races, and its first rodeo. By the end of that second county fair in 1906, the fledgling event has a three-person Board of Directors,, and the Fair was set up on a profit-sharing basis with stock sold at $5 a share. It was the beginning of a long-running annual event that has never been static. In 10=907, the first fair book was printed; and in 1909 the first charter was granted authorizing the Fair Board to hold a county fair in the State of Colorado.
By 1911, the little community event had outgrown the school yard. But thanks to the County Commissioners, who gave the Fair some land repossessed for unpaid taxes, the Fair had room to stretch in. It was, by now, the most important social event of the year. Potatoes and wheat were the predominant agricultural exhibits until 1915, when beans stole the spotlight. There was another significant change that year, too. For the first time, people began arriving in cars-Mode T’s, Maxwells, and Buicks were parked next to wagons and horses. The gate admission was still the same, though--25 cents, no matter
what the age or size.
During World War I, the celebrated Fair was sponsored by the
merchants and Town Council, and held on Main Street in Calhan. Then, in the
late 1920’s the Hammerton family donated ten acres jus south of the city to be
used as the Fair’s permanent grounds; several years later, additional acreage
The blizzards of 1926 and 1927 caused staggering financial losses
to the Fair, leaving it $2,500 in debt in 1928. But in a n overwhelming show of
support, the entire community came to the rescue by pooling its shares of
stock, and wiped out the debt.
The Fair board reorganized into a non-profit organization, and was
issued its permanent charter in 1929.
The first exhibit buildings at the Fair were old, abandoned school
houses, with a grandstand built from donated materials.
Since then, those grandstands have been replaced twice: in the
mid-1950’s, glistening, white grandstands were added, along with new rodeo
chutes and the judging booth built over them; this year, they have been
In 1979, the fairground was deeded to El Paso County, and became a
tax-supported event under county supervision.
No longer a simple potato bake, the Fair has grown from those
first, few celebrants to the nearly 40,000 people who came to the Fair in 1984.
Still, that early exuberant, joyful spirit that was the heart of the fair is
very much alive.
That’s why the El Paso County Fair proudly presents its 80th
year-and looks forward to 80 more. So put some fun in your life, and stay a
while-you’ll be glad you did.
From the 1985 El Paso County Fair Souvenir Program
El Paso County Fair: The First 20 Years
By Pat Middleton
Some things every farmer loves: plenty of rain, plenty of sun,
healthy crops, and a good Fair. Even at the turn of the Century, families in
rural El Paso County looked for occasions when they could celebrate good times.
The bumper crop of potatoes in 1905 gave the farming community good reason to
plan a Thanksgiving festival: a potato bake in a school yard near Calhan’s
It was a memorable celebration, with teams that had pulled
wagonloads of Fair-goers being unhitched to become racehorses or bucking
broncos. Local farmers, esteemed by their neighbors, were named officials, and
everyone enjoyed the festivities so much that a community fair was planned for
the following year.
The forty acres now devoted to the Fair was acquired over the
years by donations from individuals and a grant by the county commissioners of
land from county holdings for unpaid taxes. The grounds are now named for
A.L.Peiper who, as treasurer, was instrumental in securing financial stability
for the Fair. Ralph Swink, who as county agent for a number of years, has been
honored by having a building named for him as well.
The second El Paso County Fair was complete with home economics
exhibits and agricultural displays. Local cowboys drove in livestock and
entertained with a rodeo. There were contexts for the children, races,
ballgames, and a barbecue. Before they left, a Fair Board was named to plan the
next annual event.
The first Fair book was printed in 1907, the year George Young
recalls his team won the relay race, changing horses three times in one trip
around the track. An official charter was granted by the State of Colorado in
1909. In 1910 the El Paso County Stock Growers Association considered combining
the Central Colorado Fair with the El Paso County Fair, holding it two days at
Calhan and 3 days immediately following at Colorado Springs.
The 1910 Fair opened with an address by C.S. McGinnigal, followed
by a response by Martin Funk, president of the El Paso County Fair Association.
The first day was devoted to making entries in the different exhibition
classes. A special train ran from Colorado Springs to Calhan over the Rock
Island tracks at a rate of one and one-fifth fare for the round trip.
The October 5, 1910, Gazette reported, “Tomorrow will be a big day
at the Fair, with baseball games, harness races, music by the Calhan band, and
a parachute leap by a lady aeronaut.”
By 1915, with the increasing popularity of automobiles, Fairgoers
were arriving from greater distances and paying 25 cents per person for gate
admission. A recent remodeling of a house in Calhan led to the recovery by Jim
and Goldie Deyess of a 1917 Fair program lost for more than half a Century
behind a wall. More than 100 local businesses, several of which are still in
the community today, advertised in this booklet.
The first day of the Fair in 1917 was devoted to bringing in
entries. The second day included a ballgame with a purse of $25, a Wild West
Carnival, steer bulldogging by Diamond Dick, a potato race of “8 cowboys (2
teams),” and a ½ mile nightshirt race. There were also relay races on horseback
for men and women, a bed race, and an Indian Buried Treasure race with a purse
Exhibits in 1917 included swine, sheep, poultry, horses and mules.
According to the rules, horses has to be “halter-broke and in charge of some
person capable of handling such animal.” The first prize for 10 ears of dent
corn was $7.50 while white potatoes could earn $8.00. Equine exhibits earned
$2.50 to $15.00 in 5 different categories. Baked goods were awarded prizes of
50 cents or $1.00 in 26 categories, and a special by Supply Store of Calhan
offered $5.00 in gold for the best loaf bread from Eagle or Royal flour.
School children could earn prize money for penmanship, drawing,
composition, and maps. Boys and girls clubs of El Paso County were also awarded
premiums in their won crop and craft exhibits.
By 1918, the Fair included booths by local extension and homemaker
groups. The 1918 Fair was, according to the County Agent’s report, “well
attended and the exhibits good considering the war time need of labor on the
By 1921, the El Paso County Fair ranked second in importance only
to the annual Autumn Exposition held in Colorado Springs. The record of the
county agent calls the 1921 Fair “the most successful county Fair which has
ever been held in El Paso County. The livestock department was strong,
particularly in the swine classes, and attendance was between 12,000 and
In spite of minor inconveniences such as bad weather, skunks,
motorcycle gangs and streakers, and major crises such as rustlers, accidents,
and two World Wars, the El Paso County Fair continues to excite children and
bring back happy memories to senior citizens. This year officials expect the
total number of people who attend the Fair to be 50-60,000. Perhaps some of
these will have attended that first Fair back in 1905.
From the 1985 El Paso County Fair Souvenir Program
The Fair Heads Toward The 1940’s
By Cheryl Moats
When the El Paso County Fair started back in 1905 as the Calhan
community potato bake, it was because of a bumper potato crop. In the farming
community in and around Calhan, the most important thing was having a good crop
each year. Having a county fair provided the farmers with an opportunity to
share their knowledge about seed varieties they had grown and to show with
pride their accomplishments of the year. When the first actual county fair was
held in 1906, the tradition of agriculture exhibits began as an important
aspect of the fair. In the early fair days, potatoes were the major crop grown
in the area, followed closely by wheat. By 1915 potatoes were replaced by beans
at the top, with wheat still holding its own as second most important crop.
Since that time, beans have taken the route of potatoes and lost their
prominence, but exhibits of wheat, corn, rye, oats and a small-grain product
called Speltz are still found aplenty at the fair each fall.
Although the agriculture exhibits are important, they are far from
being the only attractions at the fair. Starting all the way back in 1906, the
fair has boasted its very own rodeo. For the kids, games have always been
provided to keep them entertained. The women join in the activities also, and
take great pride in their home economics exhibits. These exhibits show off the
women’s talents and special skills in needlework and food preparation under
such categories as canning and preserving, jelly making, meal planning, food
budgeting, home management, garment construction, hat making and needlecraft.
The fair offered an opportunity for them to swap recipes and patterns, but also
many other ideas for improving and updating their work on their farms and in
In addition to agriculture and home economics, stock exhibits are
also to be found. Showing mostly cattle, sheep and hogs, the 4-H clubs have
been very active in this area. The stock exhibits are also aimed at showing the
best breeds and the best of each breed. 1941 was a good year for 4-H in stock
exhibits, their best up to that time, with twenty-seven head of cattle,
forty-two sheep and nine hogs exhibited. In 1944 an addition was made to the
stock show, that of a judging contest. Contestants were responsible for judging
animals and were in turn judged on their judging ability. Overall, there are
things of interest for just about everyone at the county fair, between the
agriculture, home economics and stock exhibits, the rodeo and all the other
The county fair was originally founded on a profit-sharing basis,
with stock sold to the local people at $5.00 a share. At that time only ribbons
were awarded to exhibits, not cash prizes, and it only cost each person
twenty-five cents to get in the gates. This seemed to be a workable
combination, until the late 1920’s. Early fall blizzards in 1926 and 1927 kept
a lot of people from making it to the fair those years. By 1928, the fair was
$2,500.00 in debt, due in a large part to the low gate receipts from the
previous years. The community voted to pool all the share of stock in order to
clear up all debts. With a clean slate, the fair was issued its permanent
charter as a non-profit corporation in 1929 and has been non-profit ever since;
every year, every penny in the fair fund is spent. In 1930 they ere able to
give away $60.00 in cash prizes. However, in 1931 they were not so lucky; the
closing of the Calhan Bank prevented winners from receiving anything but
ribbons for awards. Despite the light set-back in 1931, the fair has managed to
stay out of debt ever since it became a non-profit organization.
With all the mechanics of the fair, it is important not to
overlook the main ingredient-the people. The people of Calhan getting together
to share good fortune set the spirit for all fairs to follow. The camaraderie,
friendliness and sharing attitude of the people are what make the air have a
heart. Without this, it is no more than a skeleton of exhibits. Without the
pride and enthusiasm behind the exhibits, it is doubtful the fair would have
lasted this long. The people sustain interest and by their efforts keep the
fair alive and returning each year. Going to the fair was a big event, one
looked forward to all year possibly, when it was a time for neighbors who lived
only miles apart to really have time to visit with each other. Once people
could easily get back and forth in cars, the fair was still an important annual
meeting of friends and neighbors.
Women’s clubs play a major role in the fair and in their
communities. The clubs provide exhibits at the fair every year. In between
fairs they serve to keep the women of each community informed and involved.
They hold seminars on all aspect of home making; for instance, they had
workshops to teach women the care and use of sewing machines when they were
first introduced. In 1925 the women’s clubs of Alta Vista, Bijou Basin, Black
Forest, Calhan, Colorado Springs, Fountain Valley and Eastonville all had
exhibits at the fair. Community exhibits also win prizes; in 1939 they went to:
First place-Peyton; second place-Calhan; third place-Palmer Lake; fourth
place-Mountain View Grange of Ellicott, and fifth place-Alta Vista. By 1940
there were twelve community organizations, compared with only six in 1937. In
1940 Calhan took first place, followed by Palmer Lake, Peyton and Alta Vista.
Community involvement has grown tremendously over the years. The small group
that gathered in 1905 would probably be quite amazed at the crowds that now
gather every fall in Calhan to celebrate the El Paso County Fair. That same
atmosphere of celebration and community togetherness still prevails, with all
the communities in El Paso County coming together as one big family to compete
and compare, swap notes and exchange ideas and go home at the end with a happy
grin and memories of fun to last until the next year’s fair.
From the 1985 El Paso County Fair Souvenir Program
By Jan Ralls
When World War II ended, and the boys all came home, the El Paso
County Fair was a great way to celebrate all things American.
In 1946, the fair was held in September and the price of admission
was still only four bits ($1.00) or 50 cents for children. Once inside, there
were all sorts of things to see and do. You could enter your pet pig or prize
mild cow in the Open Livestock show, win two dozen Mason jars in the “Home Ec”
canning competition, or take an outdated garment and restyle it into something
useful in hope of winning a small cash prize.
There was a “floriculture” competition for those with green thumbs
and a special petunia, snapdragon or marigold to show off. Or you could enter
your backyard garden harvest-from plump juicy melons to a peck of your best
Of course, the big events in 1946 were the horse races and rodeo
on Sunday and the big Saturday night dance. Gill Elwood, whose father was the
dance director for 30 years, remembers the dance used to be held indoors at the
Calhan Community Hall on Golden Street. Then, about 1956, the fair board
decided to pour a big slab of concrete near Swink Hall so the dance could be
held outdoors on the fairgrounds.
“If it rained, we went up to St. Mary’s Hall to hold the dance,”
Elwood recalls, “and it was so crowded, people had to take turns dancing.”
He also remembers a shortage of rodeo animals during World War II,
when they used to bring in range cattle for the rodeo events. “ We had a heck
of a time getting them out of the chutes!”
The best thing about those years, Elwood says, was the spirit of
the people-who would volunteer to help whenever a building or barn was needed.
“The guys from the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce and the Lions Club in
Calhan would come out on a couple of Sundays and while their wives cooked the
meals, the men would put the barns up.”
In the 1950 El Paso County Fair Book, a new event was announced.
It was a baseball tournament on Saturday and Sunday morning featuring
outstanding teams of the area…matched in classic games.” And, for the next 13
years, the baseball tournament was one of the biggest drawing cards of the
Elwood remembers that each little town had their own team-Ramah,
Peyton, Alta Vista-and the baseball games were just one more way for them to
compete. Each community, with its own little community school of eight grades,
had their own projects and exhibits, as well. But, with the consolidation of
the school districts, the distinctiveness of individual communities became
blurred and the custom died out.
But Elwood believes it was the Korean War which really ended the
baseball tournament because there were no longer enough participants. And, in
1965 when the rodeo arena was expanded into the former baseball fields, the
games were over for good.
The 50’s and early 60’s were also the heyday of horse racing, says
Don Smith, who was the fair manager for several years. “Before the fairgrounds
were rebuilt, we had horse races every day, usually five races a day. Most of
them were short races-450 yards-that anyone could enter. But we also had a
half-mile thoroughbred race.”
Smith was so captivated by horse racing that, when he was given the
authority to rebuild most of the fairgrounds, he wrote to the American
Quarterhorse Association to get their specifications for a track. “We moved
45,000 yards of dirt to rebuild that race track,” he says. “It was 14 feet
higher on one end and needed to be leveled, so we thought we’d do it right.”
Edward Glaser, who supervised the commercial exhibitors, also
remembers the days before the fairgrounds were rebuilt and the exhibitors had
to pitch their own tents, bring their own buildings or set up out in the open.
These exhibitors ranged from machinery to cotton candy, he said, but were
mostly food booths.
“It wasn’t quite as sanitary then. Now that everything is inside
(in the commercial building under the grandstand), we’re up to snuff as far as
the health department is concerned!”
Living only one block from the front gate of the fairgrounds,
Glaser said he’s watched the fair get bigger and better every year. “Each year
more people get involved and the attendance has been fabulous-it just keeps
Mildred Little, who judged the “Home Ec” competition for several
years in the 60’s, is more nostalgic for the past. She remembers having lots of
viewers watch her judge and ask questions about how she determined a winning
cake or jar of preserves. “Now they rope people out. I liked it better when I
had an audience. It was more fun-and some women just lived to watch us do the
One of the funniest things to happen to her as a judge was getting
her picture taken when she judged dill pickles, because they were trying to
catch her with a “sour” expression on her face. “I had to judge 17 jars of dill
pickles. That was just about the worst thing that happened to me!” she laughed.
Mildred, who “retired” from judging to spend more time with her
grandchildren, says she still loves to go to the fair and look over the Home Ec
“I’d still be judging if my grandchildren didn’t visit me every
year during the fair. I loved every minute of it!”
From the 1985 El Paso County Fair Souvenir Program
History of the Fair 1965-1985
By Rebecca S. Martinsen
Like most county fairs in rural and suburban America, the basis
for the El Paso County Fair is the 4-H groups. In 1965, there were 36 4_H
groups in El Paso County with a total enrollment of 607 children between the
ages of 8 and 19. Slightly under 30 percent of those enrolled in 4-H
participated in 1965’s county fair, livestock show, and $235 in prize money.
The prize money and payment of all other expenses was provided by
a donation of $2,500.00 from the Board of County Commissioners. And the gate
receipts from the fair held August 13-15.
A new livestock shed was built for 1965’s fair, which saw 48
steers sold in the 4-H sale. The champion was 855 lb. Animal owned by Jim
Handle of Ellicott, sold to Simms Supermarket for a price of $1.30/lb. Simms
also bought the champion sheep, owned by Margaret Knapp of Colorado Springs,
for $2.25/lb. Kenneth McClune of Black Forest sold his champion barrow to
Safeway for $.60/lb.
Although there were only 32 4-H clubs in the county in 1966,
enrollment was up. 4-Her’s earned $675 in premiums, with slightly more than
half of that amount shared with 175 Home Economics division entrants. Entries
in livestock divisions numbered about the same as in previous years, while
entries in the field crops divisions were down.
George Schubert won the award for Grand Champion Market steer,
which was bought by Simms, this year for $1.04/lb. The reserve champion brought
$.45/lb. for Chuck Doak. The champion lamb earned $2.10/lb., for Jane Tillman,
and Brian Singer’s champion hog brought $.35/lb.
The 4-H club members, enrolled in the livestock division,
participated in a “rate of gain” contest. It was won by a steer who averaged
$2.55/lb. per day.
The Pikes Peak Cattlemen’s Association sponsored trophies for
champion and reserve champion in three divisions.
In 1968 enrollment in 4-H was at its highest point in several
years, with 776 members in 40 clubs. 4-Her’s earned $616.75 in premiums during
that year’s county fair.
Academy Boulevard Bank bought the champion market steer from Greg
Young for $.64/lb. The reserve champion brought Darleen Ingram $.55/lb. from
Safeway. The champion lamb price was $.70/lb., and champion hog was purchased
The El Paso County Fair Board presented a plan to the county
commissioners proposing development to make the fairgrounds more amenable to
year-around use. Included in the proposed 10 year plan was work that had
already been completed, a new 4-H and community center, fencing and gates. The
master plan, including a low priority swimming pool, was estimated at $398,000
to complete. Association member, Harold Hyse, who donated most of the work done
on the already completed projects, said the plan would cost around $300,000 to
complete. Calhan residents have donated much of the work done on the already
completed projects. One of the projects would replace the grandstand with a
larger one, increasing the capacity from 600 to 3,000.
The advantage of improving the fairgrounds facilities would be
that outside interests could use the facilities year round. With that income,
one association member thought that the fair could stop charging gate admission
and charge only for those events which were held in the new grandstand.
Volunteers are the heart of the fair, and in 1974, as in all other
years, they gave of their time, and even their money (they must buy their own
entry tickets before work) to make the fair a success. Seventeen men from
Colorado Springs, Calhan, Ellicott, Ramah and Monument comprise the Fair Board
Association, doubling at times as department heads.
4-H and F.F.A. participants in the livestock show paid an entry
fee of $.50 per animal. They were limited to two entries per class. Champion
animals in each class would be selected, but no cash prizes were awarded.
Over fifteen events comprised the rodeo, with $100 purses given to
the winners. Edker Wilson of Sanford provided the stock for the rodeo.
The new grandstand planned in 1973 was completed, making room for
2,800 spectators to watch those events held there.
As the fair board had planned in 1973 when the “master plan” for
improving the fair facilities was presented to the county commissioners, 1975’s
fair was a “free fair.” Contrary to their proposed total expenditure of
approximately $300,000, nearly $500,000 had been spent, including $180,000 for
a new livestock arena.
The fair opened with the 4-H horse show. Over 300 entrants
participated in a Class A Quarter Horse Show, and the night rodeo was
illuminated by 3 new 40 ft. light poles.
Kitty Wells was the big name entertainer and there was a special
air show put on by Ron Webster and Jim McKinstry.
4-H and FFA members could earn from $1.00 to $5.00 for their
entries in the livestock classes. The Chamber of Commerce, Pikes Peak
Cattlemen’s Association and the Kiwanis awarded trophies to champions in
several livestock categories. 4-Her’s also got a chance to earn a calf to raise
for a year in the “catch-it-calf” contest revived for the 1975 fair. Fair
manager, Don Smith, told of plans to have those calves entered in a special
judging section in 1976.
Smith, also, said that one of the reasons for the amateur rodeo, a
big crowd pleaser, was the chance for local people to participate.
In March 1977, the board of county commissioners listened to a
proposal from the county fair board that management of the county fair” be
restored “ to the local Calhan people. In previous year, the county lease the
fairgrounds each year. Federal revenue sharing monies provided for improved
facilities during the early 1970’s, but they caused overhead, insurance
utilities and other costs to go up beyond the financial and volunteer resources
of the local community. Except for the several days of the fair each summer,
the fair board had given up responsibility for the fairgrounds. County
Commissioner Chuck Heim and Park Department Director George Hecht, on whose
shoulder had fallen the responsibility for the fairgrounds several years
earlier, agreed that the local people ought to take control back. John Pieper,
a fair board member, agreed. “We feel we can accomplish things better with
people locally (Calhan). We have the people to do the job.”
In May, a new fair board was appointed, their task to “manage and
promote the fair facilities.” Maintenance costs would be covered by use by
outside interests of the equestrian arena. Until that break-even point, the
county would contribute $23,000 per year for “ upkeep and maintenance.”
A new attraction, teams of Clydesdale and Percheron draft horses
(some weighing up to 3,200 lbs. And coming from as far away as Iowa) was added
to the fair in 1978. Awed spectators watched them compete to pull thousands of
pounds on sleds across the finish line.
Fairgoers could also tour the Indian camp of a group called the
Twany Turtle Indian Dancer, who entertained spectators before the rodeos on
Friday and Saturday.
As in the last several years, 4-H members participated in the
“Catch-it Calf” contest, the winners taking their calf home to raise for entry
in 1979’s livestock show. 4-Her’s also participated in classes from
leatherworking to rodeo skills.
Dale Brown, the announcer for the El Paso County Fair rodeo, for
many years, this year led his western band in entertainment at the cowboy
dance. Early fairgoers could also join the cowboys at a special church service
held at the fairgrounds.
The last day of the fair included a cow chip throwing contest: any
sissies among the entrants could wear gloves. Sunday, also, saw the end of duty
for 1978’s Queen Barbara Knaeckle and her aide, Cindi Allmendinger, who greeted
guests each day of the fair.
“Anything Goes”, a popular TV show, inspired a new event sponsored
by the Pikes Peak Community of Firefighters. This obstacle course would
probably be a welcome change to the local serviceman, as teams of contestants
had to get through obstacles as diverse as water balloons and pies in the face.
Old favorites included rodeos, the Catch-It-Calf contest, a draft
horse pull and the market steer sale, as well as exhibits-ranging from quilting
to flowers to goats.
“Friends and neighbors” gathered at the fairgrounds in 1980 to
mark the Diamond Jubilee, the 75th birthday of the El Paso County Fair. The
fair had gone through many changes in its 75 years, from the “first potatoe
bake” in an almost predominately rural society, to a fair which sees
approximately 40,000 visitors, most of whom are urban or suburban dwellers. In
the first years, exhibits reflected the way of skill among cowboys. As the
century progressed and El Paso County grew, Calhan sponsored the fair, and in
the latter part of the 1920’s, the Hammerton family donated land on which to
set up permanent structures. The first grandstand was built from donated
Once again local 4-H members shared the expertise they had gained
through their year long projects, although the emphasis had changed from Home
Economics, livestock and agriculture, to such modern projects as leatherwork
and model rockets.
Colorado native, Frank James and his daughters, were featured
entertainers at the 1981 Fair. James, recently elected to the Colorado Country
Music Hall of Fame, and his family have been singing for many years, and are
regular performers on KLAK radio. The James Family Band also supplied the music
for the popular cowboy dance. The Dale Brown Band once again played their music
for the rodeo dance.
Rodeo spectators were thrilled by the riders in the bucking bronc
and steer contests, and the Pikes Peak Rangerette Drill Team.
Despite a bad start, the crowds at the first three days of the
fair were “rain soaked”, the fair saw a record attendance for the second year
in a row.
4-H livestock competition got a little rougher than usual this
year when “Doc”, a 1,000 lb. steer owned by Michelle Gladden, threw his owner
to the ground as he was being cleaned after Saturday’s competition. Thankfully,
her injuries were not too serious and she was released from Penrose Community
Hospital after being treated for a concussion and wrist injuries.
Amber Bruce, riding her horse Bars, put in a time of 16.33 seconds
in the barrel race. Amber, only 8 years old, had been trained by a former world
champion barrel racer, her grandmother, Ardith Bruce.
Anne Redner, a fifteen-year-old 4-Her who sold her 3 month-old
lamb for $209, summed up the feelings of many of the 4-H participants in the
market sale. “I’m gonna enter again next year but I don’t know if I’m gonna
1983 marked the first year of using the new computer program for
the annual 4-H carcass sale. Digital Corporation of Colorado Springs and the
Mt. Herman Stockman 4-H Club, whose participation was a group project,
developed the program. According to Bill Keck, the El Paso County Extension
Agent for 4-H and agriculture, the project represented direct and indirect,
costs of approximately $25,000 to Digital Corporation, Mr. Keck says the
program works beautifully.”
“Minimules” had a show this year: sponsored by the fair and the
Long Ears Association of Colorado. These mules, weighing under 750 lbs., were
able to pull up to three times their own weight, and showed their ability as
Square dancing and a horseshoe throwing contest were among the
other new events at this year’s fair.
In 1984, local politicians participated in a cow chip throwing
contest. County commissioner candidates, Loren Whittemore, and Lincoln County
candidate, Shelby Back, won first and second prizes. Another El Paso candidate,
Charley Meier won third prize. U.S. Senator Bill Armstrong did not place, which
may or may not reflect his speech-making abilities.
Two hundred ninety-nine senior division cowboys and almost one
hundred juniors participated in the amateur rodeo sponsored and sanctioned by
the Colorado State rodeo Association, which was attended by over 4,000
The Limon Livestock Exchange paid $2.00/lb. to Rhonda Evanioka of
Peyton for her Grand Champion Steer, which weighed in at 1,217. The Exchange,
also, bought much of the other junior livestock entries, paying over $12,000
for the privilege. Although average price for lamb at the market sale was
$2.63/lb., Schuck Corporation paid Jane Boyer $4.24/lb. for her champion.
Projections for attendance in 1984 showed a probable record
attendance of nearly 40,000.
Lynn Hefley’s duties as the mother of the 1983 Queen of the El
Paso County Fair, Janna Hefley, continued this year, as Ann Butler whom Mrs.
Hefley sponsored, won the crown.
The Colorado Rodeo Association presented a plaque to the Fair
Board, having voted the county fair “the best amateur rodeo in the state in
Bill Keck has been the El Paso County Extension Agent for 4-H
livestock and agriculture projects since 1977. He has seen enrollment change as
much as 100 members from one year to the next, and from a high 1973 of 980, to
a low in 1978 of 476. This year there are about 650 youngsters enrolled in the
Mr. Keck says the emphasis in exhibits has changed also: although
the total number of livestock entered has doubled in the past several years,
economics have forced a shift from predominately cattle entries. According to
his records, a lamb can be bought and fed to slaughter weight for under $100,
then sold for $300. A hog will bring $200-$300, with purchase and feed out
costing under $200. A steer, which must weigh 950 pounds or more for inclusion
in the fair classes, typically weighs 500 pounds to start. To support up to a
600 lb. gain, about 3,500 lbs. Of grain and 1,500 lbs. Of hay will be consumed
during the eight month project. Even the champion market steer will bring only
around $2.00 per pound. Because of the massive amounts of feed necessary to
bring a steer to market weight, the rate of return simply is not as great.
Another reason for the shift to the smaller livestock is just that-they are
smaller, and a 10-year-old 4-H member isn’t handling a 1,000 pound animal.
Keck speculated that approximately 70 percent of the 4-H projects
county-wide are entered in the fair this year. In classes, whose popularity has
changed from animals and home economics to leatherwork, woodworking, and model
The El Paso County Fair celebrates its 80th birthday this year. In
a county where most people live in urban and suburban areas, the fair has kept
its rural flavor. There will be about 400 livestock exhibits, the rodeo and
horse shows will be watched by thousands of thrilled spectators, and homemade
cakes, pies, and cookies that will make your mouth water. But in addition to
those old favorites, there will also be entries in a class not even
Imagined at the turn of the century-model rocketry. Perhaps this class, which
has become increasingly popular in the last several years, also reflects the
change in the county’s economics, from farm produce to technological produce.
Perhaps by the fair’s 100th birthday, one of the divisions will be some
adventurer’s report on his stay at the space station.
From the Wednesday, July 30, 1980 Gazette Telegraph - 3B
In the mid 1800's the railroad's iron horse steamed its way across he plains
toward the Rocky Mountains. The camps of the workers gradually grew into a
network of small towns nurtured by farmers and cattlemen who followed he
Calhan, named for a work camp foreman, eventually became a major
center for eastern El Paso County.
By the turn of the century, the agricultural region had become
established and its residents occasionally gathered to celebrate such events as
weddings or good harvests. The first resembling a fair was a
"potato-bake"on Lettermen's Hill, east of town, during which garden
produce was displayed and horses races were held.
The "fair" soon expanded to include exhibits of field
crops and livestock, and occasional cowboy contest to liven up the day, and a
country dance to liven up the evenings.
During World War 1, the celebration was held on Main Street in
Calhan and was sponsored by merchants and the Town Council. In the late 1920's,
the Hammerton family donated 10 acres just south of the city for a fairgrounds
and additional acreage was donated several years later.
The fair association used old abandoned school houses for the
first buildings and gradually added a grandstand from donated materials. In
1974 a major building program was undertaken to modernize the fair facilities.
This included a new grandstand, home economics building, livestock pavilion and
What I Remember About the El Paso County Fair after 1955
by Frank Dickinson
Written in January, 2005
Ralph Swink was the county agent and Forrest McWilliams was his
assistant. Ruth Applethun was Home Demonstration Lady.
Ivan Harrell was furnishing stock for the rodeo in 1956. He told
Edgar Wilson it was too much for him, so Edgar furnished the rodeo stock for
over 40 years. (Southwick supplies the stock now.)
I entered my mare in the horse show and there was only two in the
class, so I got 2nd. I think there was 7 horses entered in the whole show.
Mr. Jim Neel was the show manager and he talked me into taking his
place. We didn’t have many entries in 1957 and 1958.
In 1959 we got the show approved by the American Quarter Horse
Association. At the first show we had about 55 entries. Hugh Bennett judged the
show. The show grew every year for 19 more years.
My wife, Ronda was the secretary and our son Dorol was ring
steward. Our daughter Vicky helped along with a lot of other nice people. The
entries got to over 250 but after 20 years we decided we had to give it up. We
left over $3200 to the El Paso County Quarter Horse Show account.
Beginning in 1956 the Fair Board members were: A.L. Pieper, John
Pieper, Don Hooper, Ed Glaser, Arch Gaddy, George Elwood, Fred Wagner, Hal
Thomason, Cliff Casey, Fred and Elizabeth Vorenberg, Ken Brookhart, Louis Bush,
Tom Watt, Leonard Larpenning, Harold Heyse, Don Smith, George Kochera, Tony
Cucharas, Loren Whittemore, and Charles Casivell.
Mary Lou Doven was timekeeper for the rodeo for many years.
Those people worked so hard to make the El Paso County Fair a
success. None of us received any pay. Mr. A.L. Pieper was secretary and one
year he suggested that all Fair Board members pay to get in the gate. He said
our Fair needs the money that bad. We all agreed and I never heard anyone
complain. We wanted to keep the fair going.
People who ran horses back then were: Art Ellsworth, Allan
Peterson, Ab Harding, Ardith Bruce, Leonard Lorpenning, Fred Murrs, Don Smit,
Bob Grimes, Joel Hefley, Ray Davenport, Frank Dickinson, Wayne Higbee, Al
Simmons, Shimwell Eddie Golding, Larry Wright.
Also thanks to the volunteers that I don’t remember and to the
ones that are working now. I enjoyed working at the Fair for 47 years but just
got too old. Gary Lake is doing the job I did - turning out the cattle for calf
roping, heading and heeling, bull dogging and putting the barrels in the arena,
Now at 87 years old, I just hope the Fair can continue to be one
of the best in the state.
THE GREAT EL PASO COUNTY FAIR AT CALHAN
By PERCY A. CONARROE
(Percy, retired newspaperman now a resident of Longmont, grew up
in Calhan, 1927-1950, and kept an eye on the El Paso County Fair and other exciting
things around town during those years. He started his newspaper career in 1948
as editor of the Calhan News. The following excerpts are from a book on Calhan
he is writing, “Life in a Small Town on the Plains of Eastern Colorado,” soon
to be published.)
The annual El Paso County Fair at Calhan, which my grandfather, J.
R. (Jerry) Allen, a local blacksmith, helped establish in 1905, started as a
potato day celebration. Here’s what the August 25, 1905 edition of the weekly
Calhan News said of the new event:
“The citizens’ meeting was held Aug. 15. It was decided to hold a
potato day with a potato bake and agricultural display the first Wednesday in
October. Prof. A.C. Blair was elected president and N. O. Conger secretary.
Various committees are served by H.H. Schlessman, W.A. Pettey, F.W. Gibbs, John
Carey, A.J. Henbest, D.J. Sheers, S.D. Chase, George Dzuris, Richard Small,
C.J. Brandt, A.C. Blair, A.W. Sparkman, N.O. Conger, J.R. Allen, J.S.
Dillingham, R.P. Wilson, O.F. Dickson and J.T. Lemon.”
The original site of the potato bake was at the north edge of town
across from the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific railroad depot in an open
area between the trackbed and 1st Street. Displays and speeches were held
indoors at the high school, according to my mother, Grace Allen Conarroe, who
was 12 years old at the time. She mentioned in later years of having to walk
across the railroad tracks to get a free baked potato. As reported in a
photo-caption published in the August 17, 1955 edition of the Colorado Springs
Gazette Telegraph marking the 50th anniversary of the El Paso County Fair, she
took first place in the girls foot race held during the 1905 celebration.
The annual event was renamed, stock certificates were issued to
raise money, and eventually moved to the southeast edge of town next to land
which housed the Eastern El Paso County Roads and Bridges maintenance division.
(My dad, Lawrence Conarroe, starting in 1927, worked for this department for 35
years. The “county boys,” as the road crew was called, would voluntarily go out
and install temporary bridge-plank seating at each end of the grandstand on the
Saturday preceding each Fair, then go back the Saturday afterwards to remove
and restack it in the County yards.)
Once the new site for the celebration was established (I do not know the date)
it took several years to develop it. In the meantime some activities were still
held elsewhere, such as foot races, bicycle races and other events for
children, which were downtown. Out at the fairgrounds, a half-mile track was
prepared for horse races and inside the oval a baseball diamond was graded off
and a backstop installed. Permanent buildings began springing up, but still for
a good many years part of the County garage nearby was vacated and scrubbed
clean each fall to make room for home economics displays.
The El Paso County Fair fell on hard times and in 1923 all of the
stockholders surrendered their certificates to cancel a $3,800 debt, allowing
the Fair to continue.
Before rodeos became popular, the main events at Calhan’s two-day
El Paso County Fair, held on Saturday and Sunday, were amateur horse races and
baseball games on both days and a big dance on Saturday night. There was
usually a bucking-horse contest on the program, but since there were no elaborate
rodeo facilities installed yet, the baseball fans could drive their cars right
up behind the backstop to watch the game in comfort, while others parked out
along the first and third baselines for perhaps a better view, risking a broken
windshield. The baseball games attracted large crowds.
In contrast to the site of the potato bake, which had no buildings
suitable for agricultural and home economics displays, various El Paso County
boards of commissioners over the years added permanent structures to the new
site. Since the County was able to budget only limited amounts yearly and
sometimes nothing, adding buildings and other improvements to the Calhan
fairgrounds was a slow and occasionally painful procedure, yet it was all
greatly appreciated not only by the town but by the people of east El Paso
County as well. Most noteworthy of these permanent improvements was the
construction of an upgraded and much roomier grandstand with inside restrooms,
plus a multi-purpose building that serves as a community center for the region.
My earliest recollection of the El Paso County Fair dates possibly
to 1933 when I was 6 years old and in the first grade at Calhan Grade School.
Our classroom was on the south upper level of the old brick building and we
could stand on our tippy-toes to look out the windows to see the fairgrounds
across the road to the south. Nothing much to see ordinarily-until every Fall
when the caravan that supplied the carnival and rides would drive in and start
unloading. Then the fairgrounds sprang to life. What a grand feeling to see the
huge (to us kids) Ferris wheel and the merry-go-round being assembled. The
carnival games of chance (my dad called them “skin games,” he said they would
skin us kids out of our money if we played them) would blossom like a tent-city
offering food, trinkets, gimmicks, throw the ball, win a Kewpie doll, toss a
penny, throw the darts, win big!
A strong attraction during the Fair has always been the Saturday night dance, a
must-attend shindig for people from miles around. For decades this dance was
held at the Calhan Community Hall “on the hill,” a supply store of bygone
years. This large, wooden structure had a roomy, hardwood floor with a basement
underneath and when people would get to swinging during the always crowded Fair
dance, the floor would sway and bow in the middle. Having played music for many
of the Fair dances, as a saxophonist from my vantage point with the combo on
the bandstand I could see the floor heaving and wondered what kept it from
falling in. A concrete slab poured in back of the grandstand at the fairgrounds
in the mid-1950s remedied the bowing-floor problem and became the new,
permanent site for the annual Fair dance. But the ambiance somehow was never
Amateur horse races during the Fair often became unexpectedly
exciting when a riderless horse would come galloping across the finish line
without its jockey, who had either fallen off or been bucked off. The dust on
the racetrack was often so thick the spectators couldn’t see what had happened.
Baseball was once a premier attraction at the Fair, played between
country teams from around the region. Few fans will forget the classic 1-1 tie,
18-inning game between Holtwood and Elbert in the mid-1950s. Holtwood's Bill
Rapp and Elbert's Bill Olkjer pitched the entire 18 innings for their teams.
Holtwood, managed by Roy Cusic, finally won this game. The enthusiasm for
playing country baseball diminished and, for popularity, baseball games lost
out by attrition to rodeos at the Fair.
Promoting the Fair has always been a challenge. The Great
Depression kept a lot of people from attending. When the economiy finally began
to brighten in the late 1930s, Calhan merchants decided they needed to attract
more people from towns around, to the Fair. They formed a motorcade to spread
the Fair message. Each year, several weekends immediately preceding the Fair
were devoted to the motorcade, quite an accomplishment for a town of only 350
people. Some cars would have banners tied to the side and others carried Fair
posters in the windows. It was a lot of fun for a kid like me to get to go on
some of these goodwill publicity trips, and I remember the motorcade leader on
one Sunday was Marion Higgins in his new, sleek Oldsmobile. Other cars were
driven by Fred Wagoner, George Elwood, A.L. Pieper and Lorene “Tiny” Paulson.
Places visited might be Peyton, Eastonville, Elbert, Elizabeth and Kiowa on one
weekend, and Ramah, Simla, Matheson, Limon and maybe Agate on the next. WWII
with the rationing of gasoline and tires halted the Fair motorcades and I do
not believe they were ever restarted.
When I was a freshman in high school, the 4-H club I belonged to,
led by Donald Hillman, decided to make some money by selling cold, bottled soft
drinks at the Fair. We worked hard finding and borrowing a galvanized steel
stock-tank clean enough to use for icing bottles of pop to sell, but we did,
and arranged to buy the pop wholesale, directly off the delivery truck. So, on
the Saturday morning of the Fair that year, we set up our tank on the midway,
with its water and ice to chill the bottles, right behind the grandstand where
we “knew” people would be coming out after a hot afternoon watching the rodeo
and really be thirsty for a cold drink. The trouble was, the weather changed
and the clouds and coolness not only chilled our sales, it killed them. We did
not sell much more than a couple of cases of 24 total for both days, but we had
a lot of fun.
One of the most comical home-made contraptions to ever appear in
the Fair festivities was a clown car built in their spare time one summer by
expert mechanics Henry and Corman Walberg of the Pioneer Garage. Norman Dinkins
of Foster Lumber Company, made up as a clown, was the driver as he and the car
performed in front of the grandstand. The car was geared so it could turn in a
tight circle and stop and lift its front end into the air like a bucking bronco
standing on its hind legs. The magic car lasted for only a single Fair. It
proved too costly to replace the expensive differential gears that made the car
rise, Corman Walberg said.
For a small town to try putting on an annual celebration, such as
the El Paso County Fair, where there’s good, safe, nominally priced fun and
entertainment for the entire family, it takes an enormous amount of volunteer
work and in this aspect Calhan has responded well. Naming all the people who
have given so much of their lives over the years to help keep the Fair going
would be an impossible task, but here are a few:
Albert L. Pieper
John L. Pieper
Glen E. Courter
Mary Hooper Doven
Ralph Swink, County Agent
Ruth Applethun, County Agent
During the 13 years that my wife Carolyn and I published the Pike
View Farmer at Simla, Colorado, 1952-65, we were usually able to take our
children to the El Paso County Fair at Calhan each year.
The following event occurred in 1958 when our daughter Cynthia was
four years old. Our son David had stayed home to play at a friend’s house. We
arrived at the Fair in Calhan early for Sunday’s baseball game so that we could
get across the race track and through the area behind the rodeo grounds before
the cowboys and horses started milling around and practicing. I drove right up
behind the baseball backstop and parked the car. Shortly, I spotted my dad,
Lawrence Conarroe, who was sitting on a bench over along the first-base
sideline watching the game with some friends, so I left our car and went over
to visit him. It wasn’t long until our daughter Cynthia asked and got
permission from her mother to go over and be with her dad and granddad on the
sideline bench. On her way over, by herself, little Cynthia decided to do some
exploring on her own. Carolyn thought Cynthia was with me or playing behind the
bench where we sat, and I had no reason to believe she was not in the car with
Not until Carolyn came hurriedly up, asking me where Cynthia was, did we
realize that she had disappeared right from under our nose.
And where did we find her?
Over on the midway, where the carnival and rides were going full
blast, atop a wooden horse on the merry-go-round, smiling and hanging on for
dear life, as round and round she went. More than once the attendant had
stopped and taken tickets but let Cynthia keep on riding for free. “It was a
safe place for her to be,” he said, “parents always show up.” He refused to
accept any money for our daughter’s extended ride.
In fact, Cynthia was having such a great time, she did not want to
leave her trusty steed. By now, her mom and dad had calmed down, and were
trading comments on the odds of a toddler leaving the ball diamond and making
it safely alone, among the cowboy horses and hooves, across the dusty race
track where more horses were warming up, and through the crowd to reach the
A very personal memory of the wonderful El Paso County Fair.
The annual Fair at Calhan has long been a unique way for the County of El Paso
to celebrate its agricultural environment in a genuinely rural setting. A great
center for family fun, entertainment and, yes, learning, the El Paso County
Fair has done more than anything else to establish and maintain Calhan’s
positive image to the outside world. A win-win situation for both the county
and town, may it continue for another 100 years.
El Paso County Fair & Events Complex
Leta McKee (nee. Bishop) sits in front of produce she raised in
her garden and is showing at the 1937 El Paso County Fair in Calhan. Leta
married Lloyd McKee and they lived in Falcon after a brief time in Calhan.This
photo was submitted June 29, 2005 by Leta's son, Harold and his wife, Zella
McKee of Colorado Springs.
El Paso County Fair – By Byrel Woosley
Submitted July, 2005
My memories of the Fair start in 1930 as a boy. When the fair
reached Calhan, I as well as other kids would always go down from the gate a
ways and crawl under the barbed wire fence. Years later I found out they used
to let the kids in free.
The cow pony races were always a high light of the fair. Pat
Elsworth, Jesse Reed and Gene of the Eisenshaures always had entries. I don’t
remember who the other old timers were.
The old horse barns used to be located at the Southwest corner of
the Fairgrounds at the West fence. It was an interesting place for a kid
interested in horses and in some the fights between the owners-riders. One year
a man from Lincoln County had a stallion rated AAA (triple A) on the racetrack
circuit brought his horse over and entered all the cow pony races. He didn’t
come back the next year.
When Kitty Wells entertained it come up a whopping big rain so
someone brought a semi flatbed trailer into the livestock show building and she
and her husband entertained on it. Clyde Folay Cummings was another favorite
and his grandfather (Clyde (red) Folay) sang, “Peace in the Valley”.
Working for George Elwood for 3 ½ years I was able to get in on
some of the work at the fair and the tickets for the fair dance. It was another
high light of the fair. Charlie Wode and his Band played it for many years.
They were very good.
I miss the cow pony races very much but enjoy the entertainment
(especially people like Jody Adams). Also there have been groups of singers and
dancer that have been very good. The facilities now a days are very modern and
quite a step up from the olden days.
The place for the County Fair is still Calhan as it is the hub of
the agricultural base in El Paso County. Also with out an outlay of millions of
dollars there is no facility adequate for the fair. Also the parents of the 4H
kids would be hesitant to let their kids go and camp out with their animals.
The fair used to be held around the first of September and I
believe the ag displays were some better as the time allowed crops to mature.
Edgar Polders used to make a grass display that would take grand prize
anywhere. One year he got the gramma grass of my ranch. Corn, beans, turnips,
beets, cucumbers tomatoes etc., all mature in late August.
The people running the fair are putting on a great fair and I
appreciate all their efforts. Good luck for the future.
Submitted July, 2005