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 was donated. 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 replaced again.
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 Letterman hill. 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 of $25. 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,farms.” 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 15,000.” 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 needle craft. 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 their homes. 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 entertainment available. 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 were able to award $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 our community. 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 turnips. 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 fair. 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 Quarter Horse 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 going up.”
Mildred Little, who judged the Home Economics 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 judging!” 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 exhibits. “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 for $.65/lb.
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 leather working 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 potato 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 material. 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 leather work 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 sell them.”
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 riding animals. 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 spectators. 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 1983.”
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 4-H program. 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 leather work, woodworking, and model rocketry.
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 railroad. 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 barns.
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, etc. 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 5-16-05
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 the same. 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, Fred Wagoner, Arch Gaddy, Glen E. Courter, Harry Barbee, Fred Williams, Marion Higgins, George Elwood, Edward Glaser, 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 her mother. 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 merry-go-round. 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 4-H 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