Sublette County Fair 2015
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Funnel Cakes and Stone Boats
by Terry Allen
July 29, 2015
Perhaps the fair’s name should be changed to The Sublette County Funnel Cake Fair. Funnel cakes were everywhere. Mounds of powdered sugar, capped the peaks of funnel cakes the size of dinner plates. Parades of giddy people balancing funnel cakes, stopped cross-pedestrian traffic as they threaded their way thru the crowds…licking their fingers as they went.
Dozens of funnel cake eaters went to the Cornhole Tournament and settled into the crowd like giant white jelly beans dropped from the heavens. There, they watched hundreds of friends and neighbors throw corn-filled bags toward…and sometimes into funnel cake sized holes which scored them and their team corn points. A serious looking Bobby Hammer of Big Piney who seemed to be in charge, declared, "It’s the fastest growing sport in America. It’s bringing in athletes from horse shoes," he said. According to others in the crowd, the sport migrated up here from somewhere down south.
Grunting and growling noises, and some ooh’s and aah’s, came from the direction of the Royal Bengal Tiger Show. There, seven caged Bengal Tigers paced hungrily, licking their lips at the sight of so many finger licking funnel cake eaters. Tiger tamer Adam Burck said each tiger eats between ten and fifteen pounds of raw beef and chicken every day, but would happily eat as many funnel cakes as they could get their paws on. "Sherkahn weighs 500 pounds and our biggest tiger, Beau weighs 650 pounds," Burck said. Three of the seven tigers are White Bengals tigers. "All white Bengal tigers in the world come from one cub found in India in 1968," he said. "Tigers live about 13 years in the wild, but up to 25 years in captivity. Asked if he has ever had a close call, Adam points to a few small facial and arm scars and said, "The just give me little swipes like an ordinary house cat does," he said. Adam’s father Wade was a tiger tamer for 40 years. "He was hurt bad six times. The worst left him looking like a mummy. He got 270 stitches in his jaw from being dragged around the ring. He also broke his collar bone and three ribs. But, he came back that night and did another show," he said.
The sign said: "No food allowed while riding elephants." So, a small group of people stood at the foot of the elephant stairs holding a funnel cake in each hand, while their friends climbed aboard an elephant for a ride around the ring. Levi Jenkins age 3 of Big Piney thought elephant skin was "a little rough." Levi’s sister Erin Jenkins age 4 thought, "It felt happy. He was waving with his trunk." Brooke Frazier of Big Piney thought, "The hair on his ears was hard."
Captain Wes Johnston of the Sublette County Sheriff’s Department stood at the open door of the Emergency Management yurt and watched people throw baseballs trying to dunk Sheriff Haskell, who was wearing a swim mask, snorkel, and was armed with a water gun. "Come on into the yurt and I’ll give you the tour," said Wes. "This can be used as a command center in the field for things like disasters, fires, searches or other incidents that are expected to take a while. It takes four guys 45 minutes to set it up in the summer; and four guys about twice that time in winter, because we install insulated panels," he said. The dimensions of the yurt are 19’ X 35’ X about 10’ average height. That makes it about a 28,000 funnel cake capacity yurt.
Corky and Ed Marx of Green River sat in the shade of their party umbrella, next to a rich bronze colored 1951 GMC pickup truck. "Dad bought it new for $1575.00, and all us kids learned to drive in it," she said. "We lived in Laramie then, but we used it to haul the whole family to Green River where we live to this day. We bought it from Dad about 15 years ago and started this restoration."
Sofia Goicolea age 5 from Farson, sat with her family and watched Nathan Stewart work his super yo-yo. "I’d like to ride an elephant pretty soon," she said. While she waited for the elephant show, she listened to Seth Stautenberg play his trumpet, then David Rule play his piano and his green mini-horn. She listened to Jessica Nicks of Big Piney sing a nice song, then, classical pianist Aaron Stewart walked onto the stage in a raincoat and opened his umbrella…to play "The Storm", by Frederick Bergmuller. Singer, Sage Albrecht of Pinedale dazzled the crowd with her western stage costume, animated personality and her own music and words. This girl has put in the work and it shows.
Sharon Schell talked about her amazing sculptures. "I used human models in the Lynn Forbes School of Sculpture in Carlsbad," she said. "They are hollow. Their walls are about ¾" thick. I brush on the bronze patina after firing."
Charmian McLellan employed the green theme of the Mixed Media group to produce her trio of horses called, "High on Wyoming Grass."
In a darker corner of the art exhibit building, two crows in Bonnie Nelson’s haunting watercolor pecked at a dripping carcass they had carried into the branches of a bare tree, and it seemed to whisper – nevermore -.
Big Piney Robotics introduced the fairgoers to "Handyman", a robotic forklift capable of lifting up to 50 pounds and stacking differently shaped loads. Pinedale, students Holden and John took their robot, the wild-haired "Athena, Goddess of Knowledge" into the crowd and delicately offered folks suckers.
Miranda Bousman wowed the crowd with her winning pedal tractor pulls. "My secret is I move cows a lot. I also move my legs a lot to keep my legs in shape," she said.
Isaac Hayden was a featured musical guest and brought his Ray LaMontagne flavored American Folk to the stage. Isaac is from Jackson but lives in Nashville now. The next two months he and his girlfriend Samantha will be staying in Jackson with their family, while Isaac plays the local hotels and Hayden’s Post on his very weathered, but beautiful acoustic-electric guitar.
Mckenna Carnahan of Big Piney talked about her "bred and fed" steer Otis. "I started working with him in November," she said. "Steers have a lot of personality. Otis can open a gate, so I have to keep an eye on him. Last year I got second in this event. If he will do what I tell him, my chances are good. But, he thinks it fun to make me drag him," she said.
Hadley Sims who won Grand Champion Market Heifer and Reserve Champion Market Steer talked about what it takes to produce winners. "You have to be dedicated. You have to work all the time to get them gentle," he said. "I work between two and three hours a day. You want to walk them all the time. Training their hair to grow is a big thing. It’s a beauty show."
It is worthy of note that Hadley’s Steer is really a heifer that was fed as a steer, yet beat all the steers. According to his father Tim Sims, it is not all that unusual. "Last year at the state fair and also in 2012 the market heifer beat all the steers," he said.
Hadley’s sister Megan, who won Grand Champion Steer talked about her approach to raising a champion. "Hard work and determination to get a job done, and make an animal the best that it is," she said. "I think there is a trust that you develop with an animal, since you are out there all the time taking care of it. You need to develop a good eye. We are lucky to have a Dad with a good eye. It is important to study up on your particular animal so you know what you are looking for. You should know what a buyer would want…what is desirable." Megan has now graduated from 4-H and will begin study in elementary education at UW this fall.
Long before there was a nice arena for the big horse pulls, there was a street full of sand in front of the library in Pinedale. According to Steve Mitchell of Big Piney, "We’d feed our cattle then load the sleds with salt blocks and weigh them at Stan Murdock’s," he said. "We put together two classes, light and Heavyweights. It was part of what was called the Winter Carnival."
Today, horse pulling is a more professional operation. Horses are bred and trained specifically for the pull and feed sleds have become 2000 pound steel monsters loaded down with around 8000 pounds of solid concrete blocks, and they are called Stone Boats. There are three classes, light, medium and heavy. The heaviest team of horses Saturday night weighed 4730 pounds…with their shoes on.
In a two-step operation, a harnessed team swings by a stationary sled and driver and assistants put a hook from the horse end into a ring on the front of the stone boat. This takes place in a non-stop synchronized pass. At the same time the hook and ring join up an assistant hands the reins to the driver, who gives the reins a good shake and the horses sprint off…with a huge jerk.
Saturday night, a local photographer was invited to ride on a Stone Boat in the competition. The photographer ran to the Stone Boat driven by Joe McKee, took his place in the passenger seat side of the heavily loaded sled, the team hooked up, the driver cracked the reins and the horses jumped so hard against the chained boat that the photographer did an immediate backward summersault over the back of the boat. His hat and camera went flying and bouncing and then the camera pieces did some more bouncing. But it was apparent he was alright when the first thing he did was clean the dirt from his camera, do a test fire of the crowd and then give a graceful bow. Either by grit or foolishness, the photographer took two more rides with Joe, who turned out to be the eventual heavy weight winner.
The competition is over now, the arena is emptying, old friends are saying goodbye and competitors are talking to fans and shaking hands, stragglers are moving to the exits, but Liberty Vrska aged 4 ½ from the Upper Green, still rides her stick bull in dizzying circles to the golden music of the setting sun coming in thru the open door.