Cover story: Your guide to state fair quirk 

in a pool at the kiddy game on the midway at the State Fair. (Mark Hancock)
  • Mark Hancock
  • in a pool at the kiddy game on the midway at the State Fair.

For many, the Oklahoma State Fair is a judgment-free zone.

“It’s a really good opportunity to eat terrible things surrounded by people who don’t make you feel bad about eating terrible things,” said Chelsea Spence, who attended the fair on opening day.

With hundreds of vendors serving up food creations like deep-fried gummy bear on a stick and creamy cran-n-turkey on a croissant, the fair isn’t the place to count calories.

For over a century, the Oklahoma State Fair has offered a uniquely American experience of fatty foods, unwinnable carnival games, cultural exhibits and thrill rides that rock back and forth on the chipped pavement.

“As a kid, the rides were more exciting,” said Jon Spence. “But as you get older, the rides kind of lose their luster and its more about the food.”

In a city that has spent the past several years trying to reinvent itself, the state fair offers a more familiar experience that can evoke memories from years past for even those who are new to the area.

“I used to always go to my state fair back home,” said Alicia Graves, a Lawton resident who grew up in Indiana. “I remember eating all the food and petting animals.”

Graves said she was seeking a pineapple whip, a sorbetlike treat she remembers enjoying when she was younger. Graves’ husband, Cody, was looking for pizza on a stick.

“That looks pretty good to me,” he said.

Running until Sept. 21, fair officials claim they will welcome over one million visitors. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for children, with those under 5 years old granted free admission.

The fair’s website, okstatefair.com, offers a complete guide to the events, contests and attractions that are offered each day. The website also includes an interactive food finder, allowing guests to quickly find the unique culinary creation their hearts desire.

In this Oklahoma Gazette guide, we offer a closer look at some of the cultural oddities that make the Oklahoma State Fair such a unique experience. Our guide offers tips on how to relax after walking up and down the midway, unique food items worth a try and an inside look at the life of a carny.

click to enlarge Charles Bennett helps run the t-shirt booth at the State Fair. (Mark Hancock)
  • Mark Hancock
  • Charles Bennett helps run the t-shirt booth at the State Fair.

Express yourself

Standing out at the Oklahoma State Fair is no easy task, but various t-shirt vendors offer the chance to express your witty thoughts or deeply held political beliefs. There’s a shirt reading “The Second Amendment” over a picture of George Washington holding an AK-47. Another will identify you as the “Twerk Queen.” Then there is the shirt that says “I’d tap that,” referring instead to a keg of beer.

Charles Bennett was working one t-shirt stand on opening day and said the Oklahoma State Fair crowd featured a different taste than other events across the country.

“We do have a pretty intelligent crowd here, so historically, we are going to sell more wordy shirts, ones that have more thought to them,” Bennett said.

When asked for an example of a shirt that appeals to a more “intelligent” state fair guest, Bennett pointed to a bright pink shirt that read, “Classy, sassy and a bit smart-assy.”

— Ben Felder

click to enlarge Carny Jimmy Thompson (Mark Hancock)
  • Mark Hancock
  • Carny Jimmy Thompson

Hitting the road

There are a lot of sights and events to see at the state fair. Across the U.S., each state fair has its own unique take on things, but they also offer similar events and experiences. Chances are Jimmy Thompson has seen most of them, including the ones in Oklahoma. He has been working the carnival and fair circuit longer than many patrons have been alive.

“Forty-nine years,” Thomson said. “Ever since I was 15 years old. I didn’t like going to school. I told my dad I wanted to quit school, and he said,As long as you got a job,’ so the fair came to my hometown and I left.”

Thompson works the games by the rides. The Wacky Wire and the Gun Ball are his favorites to work, but they don’t set up the Gun Ball at the Oklahoma State Fair. The Block Buster is also one he likes. The objective of the game is to knock over three bottles with a ball, but it is rarely as easy as it seems.

The carnivals travel up and down the United States from North to South, depending on the change of the seasons, and although he has traveled as far as Puerto Rico for work, Thompson said Oklahoma City is one of his favorite stops, but mostly because of the money.

“The carnivals are all over the world. I depend on this fair all season long,” he said. “You get some good money here.”

One of the things that might not happen as often at other state fairs is something that is truly an Oklahoma experience, something that might ruin Thompson’s chances to earn more money. But he takes it all in stride.

“This is a good fair. Last year, we had all kinds of tornado warnings and all of that, but it still turned out pretty good,” he said, tapping his can in between words. “Oklahoma has got some good fairs. This fair is good and the Tulsa fair is good.”

Thompson has a telltale lisp, a result of a few missing teeth. He is a bit weathered but can be seen smiling and chatting up passersby around the Wack Wire game by the carnival rides.

— Kory B. Oswald

Paul Boyd takes a bite of a gooey fried large gummy bear. (Shannon Cornman)
  • Shannon Cornman
  • Paul Boyd takes a bite of a gooey fried large gummy bear.

Deep-fried gummy bears

If you love sugar and you sort of like strange fried things, you should try the deep-fried gummy bear from the Sweet Shop booth. It was 90 percent sweet and 10 percent just plain weird, but it was definitely worth the experience you won’t find anywhere but the fair.

Whatever you do, make sure you eat the entire thing in bites that include both the powdered-sugar-sprinkled breading and the hot gummy bear inside before it cools though. It gets a bit chewy if you let it cool off.

Sweet Shop is based in Columbus, Ohio, and starts with a “naked” cherry-flavored gummy bear that it makes by pouring hot gelatin into molds at its home base and transports to the fair in a cooler.

— Brittany Pickering

click to enlarge A couple celebrates its 30th year of coming to the fair together. (Shannon Cornman)
  • Shannon Cornman
  • A couple celebrates its 30th year of coming to the fair together.

Fair of the heart

John and Linda Bennett of Edmond have made opening day of the Oklahoma State Fair for 30 years. As they celebrated their upcoming 37th wedding anniversary, John bought Linda the one thing she looks for each year while here: a caramel apple.

The couple estimates that they spend $200-$300 each year, including tickets, car shows, tech gadgets and more. This year, they also hope to take their granddaughter to see Disney on Ice.

“We’ll also be coming back for senior day and military day,” John said.

As John and Linda walk away from the pink-hued fancy apple stand — it’s hard to miss — owner Lisa Albers talked about the seven years that she has been serving her award-winning treats.

She and husband Rodney, from Newcastle, have made this stand their bread and butter and travel the country full-time, selling their Caramel Apple Pie fancy apple (it has won awards here at the state fair food contests and at the Festival of the Arts) and countless other varieties.

“The biggest seller at the Oklahoma State Fair is usually the Heath candy bar fancy apple,” she said.

Working the fair is often one of the few times Lisa and Rodney get to visit with friends and family.

“This is home to us, so we always have a great time at the fair,” she said. “And the nicest people are here in Oklahoma.”

When asked if it’s difficult to work so closely with her husband, she pointed a finger south.

“No. He’s busy in our second stand, selling Double Stuffed Pizza,” she said, laughing.

— Jennifer Chancellor

click to enlarge Left Karen Jackson and right, Irene Morgan sew. (Shannon Cornman)
  • Shannon Cornman
  • Left Karen Jackson and right, Irene Morgan sew.

Sew much fun

The Oklahoma City chapter of the American Sewing Guild was on hand to answer sewing questions and invite sewers, both novice and expert, to join them at their monthly meetings. While at the fair, the guild was sewing Christmas stockings for U R Special Ministries in Edmond. Each year, members of the guild sew more than 600 stockings to be filled with special items for needy and at-risk children. Other charities they sew for include Bethel Foundation, Hope Pregnancy Center, ConKerr Cancer and The Children’s Center Rehabilitation Hospital in Bethany.

The Creative Arts Building also hosts quilting, lace making, knitting, contemporary pottery, woodturning and cooking demonstrations and contests throughout the remaining days of the fair. This year, it is also home to the Fastest Hook in the West Contest, which takes place Wednesday at 11 a.m. and judges crocheters on speed and quality.

— BP

Diamond Dawgs Wonderboys (Mark Hancock)
  • Mark Hancock
  • Diamond Dawgs Wonderboys

Wiener slingers

Ask anyone who has had the munchies: Salty and sweet are the cornerstone of any winning dish, and many of the fair food slingers have been known to take it to extremes. Some, like the fried butter or fried Twinkies, are widely known staples with an eclectic take on the tradition of salty and sweet. However Diamond Dawgs are the new guys on the food block at the state fair, and they’ve got a take that combines breakfast cereal and meat in a way that is so ingenious it almost hurts when you wonder why you didn’t think of it.

The Captain Crunch Corndog, or The Wonderboy ($6) as it is officially called, is fried to a perfect crisp that makes the sweetened gold of the cereal shimmer and crunch but leaves the inside gooey, salty and hot. It is served with honey mustard that elevates it to another level. This thing, the “golden rod of goodness,” will make a vegetarian eat meat for the first time in years. And the Captain Crunch Chicken Strips ($8) are just as good but are served with packets of real honey.

“My son and I created the Diamond Dawgs concept. I’ve been a baseball freak my whole life,” Buddy Simon said. “Twenty-eight years ago, I put [the Cap’n Crunch batter] on chicken … then my son whipped one of the Wonderboys up and it was just a godsend.”

The father-and-son team and the rest of the “certified wiener slingers” are serving the dishes at the state fair for the first time, but they’ve been in business for two years in Norman and Ardmore and also have a BBQ joint that has been around for much longer.

“We have a place that we’ve had for about 28 years called Budro’s Rib Joint … we moved up to Norman about two and a half years ago and opened [Diamond Dawgs] on Asp Street,” Simon said.

Diamond Dawgs sold around 60,000 of the Wonderdogs in the first 8 months of business in Norman, and there is a reason for that: it is fantastic fare perfect for the state fair.

Now that the Simons are working their first fair, the food trailer and its brand-new paint job can be found across from Jim Norick Arena.

— KO

click to enlarge The world's smallest horse and dog at the Oklahoma State Fair. (Mark Hancock)
  • Mark Hancock
  • The world's smallest horse and dog at the Oklahoma State Fair.

All the small things

When you go to the fair, you probably expect things to be bigger — rides, stuffed animals and calorie counts not the least among them. But you can get a healthy dose of the miniature too, and the Oklahoma State Fair has two of the smallest things of their kind: The World's Smallest Woman and The World's Smallest Horse.

You can't take any pictures of these lovely, fun-sized attractions, but you can catch a glimpse for only $1 (50 cents for the kiddos) each. The two are located near one another, but we weren't able to confirm if the woman rides the horse outside work hours. We're just going to pretend that she does.

— Zach Hale

Good Vibrations (Mark Hancock)
  • Mark Hancock
  • Good Vibrations

Good vibrations

That you will have to walk at the fair is a self-evident truth (it might have actually been in the Declaration of Independence), but all that leisurely strolling can take a toll on your tootsies (er, your feet). If only there were a remedy to keep your feet feeling fresh …

Oh, hey. There is! Do enough walking and you'll stumble upon an automatic foot-massager. The concept is simple: You sit down, insert a quarter into the deposit and put your feet on the metal plate. Then the magic happens. Fair warning, though: These things are intense. It'll make your feet feel like they popped a dozen muscle relaxers — which is pretty awesome if you ask us.

— ZH

click to enlarge Partners in Anomal Health (OVMA) anticipate the arrival of kids (baby goats) this week at the OK State Fair. (Shannon Cornman)
  • Shannon Cornman
  • Partners in Anomal Health (OVMA) anticipate the arrival of kids (baby goats) this week at the OK State Fair.

The miracle of life

In a pickle on how to talk to your young ones about the birds and bees? Why not show them the story of the pigs and the goats and the chickens and the sheep?

Thanks to the Oklahoma Veterinary Medical Association (OKVMA) and a sponsorship by Veterinary Partners of Animal Health, approximately 60 veterinarians from all over the state take care of and answer questions about the pregnant animals in their care. There are four pigs, three sheep and two goats that are due to give birth during this year’s fair.

Dr. Rhys Cole practices veterinary medicine at Piedmont Veterinary Clinic and was on hand to answer numerous questions ranging from How long is a pig’s gestation period? — three months, three weeks and three days — to How big is a goat’s uterus? Answer: They are tiny. He also informed us that while the ladies could go into labor at any time, they usually give birth during the night, when it’s quiet. Who could blame them? The mothers and babies spend the rest of the fair snuggling to the sounds of the “oohs and ahs” of their visitors

There is also an animal surgical suite where OKVMA volunteer veterinarians perform live operations such as spaying and neutering. All dogs that are operated on are from the Oklahoma City Animal Shelter and are available for adoption. As if that’s not enough excitement, several pet rescue groups will be hosting adoption events throughout the day every day. Dr. Cole said that it is one of the most visited attractions at the fair. Probably because there is nothing cuter than a baby goat.

— Devon Green

click to enlarge Two yearlings in the petting zoo at the fair. (Shannon Cornman)
  • Shannon Cornman
  • Two yearlings in the petting zoo at the fair.

Mom! The baby is eating my sweater!

And the alpaca keeps photo-bombing! Just another day at the Great American Petting Zoo — one of the top five attractions at the fair. Stocked with a menagerie ranging from farm chickens to fallow deer, it boasts 50 animals, and every one of them wants your attention.

“These are our pets,” said Sarah Kupelian, the manager of the zoo. “They’re never mistreated, and that’s why they’re naturally sweet and never aggressive.”

They travel the circuit with the managers and handlers, one big family on the road. You can lay hands on a micro pot-bellied pig, if you can catch it. (So tiny! So fast!) There are also ducks, llamas, many goats, and several others wandering around. No wonder it’s one of the most popular attractions; where else are you going to potentially lose your shirt to a goat? They really just nibble anyway.

— DG

(Cover by Christopher Street)
  • Cover by Christopher Street

Print headline: Something for everyone; It’s easy to find a distinct experience at the Oklahoma State Fair, whether it is the same experience for 30 years or something brand-new for 2014.

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