Merrill’s Michael J. Caylor, Jr. shared a unique childhood memory of the Lincoln County Fair to win the 2015 “Every Person Has a Fair Story” contest, sponsored by the Wisconsin Association of Fairs. Caylor’s tale took first place in District 1 before moving on to claim the statewide title.
Here is Caylor’s fair story:
Every child loved the fair, but even better than the fair itself I loved to race down after the fair left town Saturday morning and see what got left behind. The morning after the fair was always busy. Men worked on bringing down tents, rides and stands were packed up, and what was once a bustling midway bulging at the seams was now a large work zone as people cleaned and packed and got ready to head off to the next town.
The carnival that came to Merrill every year was known as Belle City Amusements. To say Belle City was a little less glamorous than their title would be an understatement. The rides were not the cleanest, nor were the people working them.
As I was making my way down what used to be a midway I would often look in the numerous metal trash cans that were spread throughout. Here sitting on top of a pile in a garbage can was a pile of ride tickets. None of them torn, none of them worn, none of them stamped with any date. They were just there, right there!
I looked around; this had to be a trick. Someone had to be filming me, waiting for me to grab the tickets before they jumped out and said, “HEY KID, those aren’t yours.” Maybe it was a trick, maybe this was how they lured young boys to run off with the carnival.
Either way, I had to find out.
I quickly grabbed up the stack of tickets which more closely resembled two bricks stacked next to each other. I placed them in my backpack and biked home as quickly as I could.
Then I waited.
Summer turned to fall, winter came and went. Al l the time I kept those tickets in a warm, dry place. Not too much light and don’t touch them too much and wear them out. Always making sure they were there when I checked. They were my little investment for the future.
Then it came. Opening day of the Lincoln County Fair. I didn’t want to seem too confident. I didn’t want to bring down the fortune the first day. What if I was caught? What if someone saw the supply I had? I slowly strolled up to the bumper cars as if I was an old professional. I handed the ticket taker my three tickets and waited with the fullest breath of air in my lungs… and he took them. He took them. He ripped them in half and motioned me onto the ride. It worked, it really worked.
My fun lasted until Friday night. Relatives and friends I had not seen in years all wanted to talk to me. I was the most popular kid on the midway, hearing from all sides, “Hey Gus, I heard you got tickets.” I did have tickets, and a memory that will last a lifetime of the summer I ran the midway.
It should be noted that Belle City Amusements has grown into one of the premier carnivals in the United States, playing big events like the Ohio and Iowa State Fairs. A much grown up version compared to what we saw as children.
The Wisconsin Association of Fairs is again seeking stories for “Every Person Has a Fair Story.” Anyone who wants to share their fair story about a fair in Wisconsin is welcome to enter. Share your fair story in 200-400 words and include the name of the Wisconsin Fair you are referring to. Submit to WAF by Oct. 1, 2016 via e-mail or hard copy. Entries submitted in prior years, are not eligible to be resubmitted. By submitting an entry, the author transfers to the Wisconsin Association of Fairs ownership of the fair story.
The Wisconsin Association of Fairs is divided into four districts. You do not need to know which district the fair you are speaking of is from, simply include the name of the fair. Entries will be judged against entries from within the same district and a winner selected. The winner from each district will win a cash prize of $50. The four district winners will then be judged and the first place entry will receive a cash prize of $250 and a plaque; second place entry will receive $150 and a plaque. The winners will be announced at the annual Wisconsin Association of Fairs Convention at the Chula Vista Resort in Wisconsin Dells on Monday, Jan. 9, 2017 at our opening session. Winners will be notified by December 15. Winners do not need to be present to win, but will be invited to attend.