Fair manager Jeremy Parsons promised the people who attended the Clay County Fair in Spencer, Iowa "bushels of fun."
If the success of the fair is any measure, he must have kept his promise.
It was a year for records in this city in northwest Iowa, not far south of the South Dakota state line. Fair admission was $8 for adults and $5 for children from 5 to 12 years old. Monday was Vets day, and veterans were admitted free. Senior citizens got a discount on Tuesday. And on Friday, kids and students, including college students, were admitted free.
Attendance this year was a record-breaking 334,575, more people than ever before in the fair,s 96-year history. The top attendance prior to that was in 2011, when 327,917 people came through the gates.
Some of the biggest numbers came on Thank a Farmer Day, Sept. 12.
The fair ran for a total of nine days, from Sept. 7 through Sept. 15. The weather was wonderful, said Parsons. "We had nine good days of weather," he said, "not even a threat of rain."
The fair that is billed as "the world,s greatest county fair" may have even set one for the Guinness World Record Book in the largest practical science lesson. The event was a partnership between Iowa Lakes Community College, the governor,s STEM initiative. and the fair. The record attempt began with a 30-minute lesson and ended with 774 fair goers participating in a science experiment.
Although official certifications hasn,t yet come through from Guinness, the 774 participants did break the previous record of 744 set in Norway in 2012.
There was a record 525 vendors who had exhibits at the fair this year, featuring the "latest and greatest" products for the home and the farm.
There was plenty of new food for the fairgoers to try this year. "If it was fried, or it was on a stick, we had it," Parsons said. New to the fair this year was Jamaican cuisine, flavored corndogs, bacon tenderloin, deep fried s'mores and cookie dough desserts.
Thousands of exhibitors vying for blue ribbons and more than $95,000 in premium money came through. There were three new breeds of beef cattle - mini Hereford, Lowline and Charolais - and one new breed of sheep - Katahdin, including open class livestock exhibits in cattle, hogs, llama, goats and all kinds of other animals.
Records were also set in the photography contest department. There were 2,444 photographs entered. In the culinary department, there were 1,000 entries in a cinnamon roll contest alone.
More than 800 youth from counties in Iowa and Minnesota exhibited in the 4H and FFA competitions, pushing livestock entry numbers to a 10-year high, said Parsons.
The fair was started in 1917 and is soon to celebrate its 100th anniversary, Parsons said. It,s owned by a private, non-profit organization, the Clay County Fair Association, which has promised over the years to focus on the area,s farms and agricultural communities. The fairgrounds is spread across 222 acres.
The fair, in 1918, drew more than 30,000 people and took in total gate receipts of $16,000. At the 1919 county fair, farmers were urged to exhibit more. 1,200 pork producers responded, 450 more than any county fair in the state. Because of good weather, exhibits and entertainment, the 1919 attendance over four days was estimated at 48,500 people.
By 1920, newspapers were already calling the Clay County Fair "Iowa,s Greatest County Fair." In 1923, the slogan was officially printed on the premium books. It was only after 110,105 people attended the 1928 Clay County Fair that it officially became the world,s greatest county fair. All official references since that time have carried that slogan.
The grandstand, still being used today, was built in 1931 at a cost of $45,000. It seats 5,000 people. The Commercial Exhibits building was constructed at a cost of $174,498, in 1954.
In 2003, the Clay County Regional Events Center was opened on the fairgrounds, adding over 30,000 square feet of meeting and exhibit space.
The Clay County Fair is accepted not only as one of the largest county fairs in America, but has the added honor of being considered as one of the most rural-oriented fairs still in operation.
The enlargement of the agribusiness/farm machinery display area to thirty-five acres made it the largest such display of any fair in the United States or Canada.
Gold Star Amusements provided the midway. There were 32 rides for all ages, Parsons said. And the company set another Clay County Fair record this year for all-time gross sales.
Parsons said this is the company,s third straight year for breaking the rides record. The company had wrist band promotions on the weekends.
There was plenty of agricultural education for those attending the fair. There was Grandpa,s Barn, the Awesome Ag Show and the Ag Learning Center. There were special days that focused on different aspects of agriculture and rural life like wind energy, corn, soybeans, pork and dairy.
A total of 746 school children visited the fair on field trips as part of the AgCiting Program. That number surpassed the 654 who attended similar programs in 2012. Another record broken.
As for general entertainment, there was plenty of that, too.
The Eli Young Band rocked on Sept. 7, with a ticket cost of $35.
Bridgit Mendler, with special guest Leon Thomas III, were on the grandstand on Sept. 8. The cost was $30.
Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers came in on Sept. 9 for $25. And the World,s Greatest Teen Idols, at a cost of $25, took the stage on Sept. 10 with David Cassidy, Peter Noone of Herman,s Hermits and Mickey Dolenz of The Monkees.
American Idol great Scotty McCreery, entertained on Sept. 14 and was one of the most popular acts, said Parsons. The concert, with tickets priced at $35, was nearly sold out. Finally, on Sept. 15, Theory of a Deadman, at $28, entertained.
The fair was advertised in a of radio, television, billboards and social media within a 100 mile radius of Spencer, Parsons said. More than 300,000 brochures were printed for the fair.
The 2014 Clay County Fair will be held from Sept. 6 through Sept. 14.