The smell of grilled pork floats through the air around participants in the rubber chicken-throwing contest while cows moo from the nearby white wooden barn. Welcome to the Johnson County Fair.
Johnson County has had a fair since Iowa became a state more than 150 years ago, in 1846. The current Johnson County 4H Fair has been held at the Johnson County Fairgrounds since 1950, said Brenda Christner, the fair’s business manager.
For the past 45 years that Mary Wall has been involved in 4H, Montgomery Hall has contained all the exhibits, except for livestock and those to big to fit inside.
“The participants, entries are judged on [July 25], but they don’t know if they’ve won until the fair begins on Monday,” Wall said. “The winners will go and represent Johnson County at the Iowa State Fair in their division.”
Wall said while the Fair and 4H had changed while she has been involved, other things have not.
“I remember you used to have boy clubs and girl clubs, now they’re all coed.” Wall said. “Each year, the kids put a lot of work into each of their projects; it’s always a lot of work.”
Rachel Haugland, who graduated from high school this spring and is in her ninth and final year in 4H, said she has noticed several improvements to the fair over the years.
“It’s been a lot of little improvements,” Haugland said. “They’ve definitely gotten better air conditioning in some of the buildings and put more fans around.”
Haugland said there has been a change in the way participants submits projects to be judged as well.
“In the last four years, a lot more of the enrollment has moved online,” she said. “It used to be you had to fill out a ton of different actual forms.”
David Schmidt, the past president of the fair Board of Directors, said the same volunteer spirit that raised the arches of barn No. 1 also contributed to the newest addition to the Johnson County Fairgrounds.
“The horse arena, which we built last year, would have probably cost $200,000 if we had just paid for it outright,” Schmidt said. “We had a lot of volunteers help out with construction, and we got all the sand for the project from the [University of Iowa].”
Schmidt said they bought sandbags from the UI when the university was getting rid of them after a past flood scare.
The arena, which is roughly the size of a football field, is located on a hill above the main fairgrounds, and it will continue to grow as an important part of the fair, Schmidt said.