Nora Spitznogle might be the only Meridian-Kessler resident with 4-H license plates on her pickup truck. A nine-year 4-H member, she grew up on a farm in Boone County where her family counted a trip to the Indiana State Fair as summer vacation. She still can't believe her luck that she lives in walking distance and rarely misses a day or a meal. Below are her favorite things about the fair, covering the gamut from Dick Reel, nipple suspension and giant colons to tractor parades, bluegrass and tomatoes. Follow Nora throughout the fair on nuvo.net, where she'll be putting her fair obsession and nostalgia to good use, blogging about her daily whereabouts.
10. The restrooms
I'm seriously amazed that over 60 restrooms remain relatively clean for the duration of the fair. The revenue generated from fees collected on riverboats has been well-used on upgrades to the facilities. My favorite is in the cattle barn, where, if you're lucky, you'll find yourself standing next to the grand champion Herford cow as you wait. A you'll-be-sure-to-win-a-bet piece of trivia: 2,506 -- the number of rolls of toilet paper used during the State Fair in 2008. No data available on how many rolls were used last year in the Clarian Healthy Living Pavilion that housed the giant colon.
9. Dick Reel
You can find Dick Reel in the Pioneer Village, where he's demonstrated woodworking and carving for 14 years. Reel has worked on the fairgrounds every August since he was 14 and has wonderful stories about working at the Grandstand and taking tickets at the entrance gates. Check out the fair scene burned onto a bench, featured each year in a Pioneer Village auction.
8. Home and Family Arts Building
This magical (and air-conditioned) building houses the open-class competitions for those of us that are still hooked on the idea of bringing a project to the fair. You can find everything from pickled beets to painted gourds on display. Look for the ugly lamps and Baby Boomer toys on the main floor. The top floor houses the popular photography competition. On your way down the uber-steep ramp to the lower level, check out the portraits of State Fair queens past -- no making fun: Hair and tiaras were bigger in the '80s. A spot to take a little break and watch the cooking competitions (Spam: Aug. 13) and fashion shows.
7. The daily parade
You can catch the parade every evening at 6:30 on Main Street and winding around Trackside Parkway (you thought these streets had no name, didn't you?). The exact parade lineup changes daily, but it's typically a mix of clowns, old automobiles, a police car, motorcycles, horses and tractors -- heavy on the tractors. As a kid, my dream was to ride on a wagon in the State Fair parade. I got to hitch a ride last year and it was as thrilling as I imagined. I'll be the one hanging around the starting point ready to jump on a wagon at a nod of a farmer's seed-hatted head.
6. Sponsored eats
Steak sandwiches from the Indiana Beef Cattle Association, pork chops (and applesauce) from the Indiana Pork Producers, lamb on a stick from the Indiana Sheep folks, grilled cheese from the Dairy Barn and a turkey leg from the poultry peeps. I have to give a special shout-out to the sweet corn from the Jaycees booth outside of the Our Land Pavilion.
5. Bio-diesel tractor shuttle
For only 75 cents you get a front-row seat to see the whole fairgrounds in all its glory. When I was young, my parents had me and my siblings convinced that the tram was a Midway attraction. Now I'm sure that it is the best ride at the fair. The bio-diesel-powered tractors circle the fairgrounds all day. And the choicest part? You can eat while you ride. For a decadent treat, grab a plate of King's Taters -- fries that are spiral cut with a drill -- across from the Main Street east end of the Grandstand and hop on the tram.
4. Bluegrass and nipple suspension
The big name acts play the Grandstand, but there's an elephant's ear's worth of free music sprinkled throughout the fair. The Main Street stage next to the Grandstand features everything from bluegrass to the Blue Monkey Side Show. (If you're like me, your dad will be extra-horrified when he finds out the guy who lifts things with his nipples knows your name.) The stage near the 4-H buildings leans to the country music side of the spectrum. I love the old-timey music on the Pioneer Village building stage. Check out bluegrass/gospel band Reaching Higher (Aug. 8, 10 a.m.-1 p.m.).
3. 4-H projects
4-H kids from all 92 counties will have the best of the best on display at the Indiana State Fair. Animals are spread throughout the barns -- just follow your nose -- and you can find everything from cake decorating to electrical projects in the buildings on the west side of the fairgrounds. There are currently over 220,000 kids enrolled in 4-H in the state and the alumni rolls count over a million. 4-H has been in Indiana for over 100 years. FYI: The four Hs are head, heart, hands and health.
2. Antique tractors
You can find this pocket of farm living on the north side of the fairgrounds. There's always something cool going on. You're sure to run across the butcher, baker and candlestick maker here. I love the old tractors lined up in the back of Pioneer Village, which bring back memories of mowing and pulling wagons on the farm. Linger long enough to listen to the stories you'll overhear from fellow fairgoers. I promise a goose bumpy good time.
1. Year of the [insert food here]
I love a theme and no one does it better than the Indiana State Fair. The gazebo at the end of Main Street is decorated like a giant tomato vine for 2009's Year of the Tomato and there are hundreds of tomato plants around the fairgrounds. Be on the lookout for the Celebrity Tomato Toss (seriously, watch out!) and a salsa dance contest. Did you know that Indiana ranks second in the country in production of tomatoes for processing?