By Jim Magdefrau
The first time I walked around a county fairground as a photographer was as an intern. O’Brien County. I remember getting to know the people. Looking for a few feature photos. The most vivid memory was fun night. The lady playing the organ had a zest and zeal in hitting rhythm keys. I think they were on bongo drum setting. I scratched in my notes, in all caps, “FUN NIGHT!” A colleague from the Primghar Bell saw that note and chuckled. I think she was Shirley Omer.
In the distance one day I saw a kid figuring out his telephoto lens. Years later, after music, conventions and conversations, that kid turned into one my best newspaper friends, Jay Wagner.
They’re both gone now. But each county fair, town celebration, ball game and school concert, I like to think I’m carrying on what they tried to do for their communities.
As I worked the fair in Benton County last month, this time as a semi-retiree, the ice breaker was always a question to me, “Still doing this?”
I reasoned, “Well, it’s like playing an accordion. I should quit, but I can’t.”
It’s nice they allow me a piece of a table in the fair office to use as a makeshift office. My favorite office was a wooden table with umbrella, donated by Ed “Skinny” Becker. I could stay cool, dry, greet people as they passsed by, and get to know the behind-the-scenes work of those manning the pork and dairy food stands.
We had a rainy horse show. As Iowans like to say, it was like a cow going on a flat rock. “Going” is a substituted word. But this phrase brings into question, who could have been in such a position to see the rain hitting a flat rock while also seeing a cow going on a flat rock. It had to be two separate rocks, one outside in the rain, and one rock inside. Otherwise, if they were going on the same rock, then it would be a washout between the rain and the cow.
And if it was REALLY raining, it would be like a cow going on flat rock, with another cow on top, going on the cow who is going on the flat rock. And scaling this up, my conclusion would be, I would not want to be a flat rock. Especially near a cow on a rainy day.
In other words, one has to be imaginative on a rainy day at the fair. As an intern and as a retiree.