Iowa is Known for Its Quirky Fair Events – Here Are My 5 Favorites
It's cold and icy, and I'm well past sick of it. I've been dreaming of the warm days of corndogs, Ferris wheels, and only the best mullets around! That's right I'm talking about Iowa Fairs. Whether it be the almost 2-week long Iowa State Fair or one of my favorite and local county fairs, a trip down the midway is always fun and entertaining.
Iowa fairs are truly celebrations that showcase our rich agricultural heritage, community spirit, and some of the "hillbilliest" events known to man (yes, I made up a word). At the heart of Iowa fairs are always agricultural exhibits, featuring impressive displays of livestock, crops, and farm equipment. But here's where the fun comes in, attendees can also enjoy traditional competitions, such as pie-baking contests and livestock judging, indulge in a wide array of fair food, take in carnival rides, live music performances, and local craft exhibitions.
That's all fine and dandy, but what about the more obscure and goofy contests and events. Well, the fairs provide an opportunity for communities to get silly as well! Come celebrate hillbilly culture with 5 obscure fair events you have to see to believe. And hey, you could create memories that last a lifetime in the midst of the vibrant and festive atmosphere.
5) Outhouse Races
An outhouse race is a quirky and entertaining event that takes place at the Iowa State Fair. The race involves teams of four individuals pushing custom-built outhouses uphill. And there is usually a weight limit in place. One team member sits inside the outhouse, and their task is to burst out of the outhouse and wipe clean a toilet seat smeared in chocolate using only their fully clothed posterior.
After completing this task, the team member runs to a tank filled with a mixture containing animal feed, water, zucchini, cucumbers, celery, and other vegetables. The goal is to fish out a single corn cob from this concoction. Subsequently, the team rushes to the end of the track to change a toilet paper roll before getting back into the outhouse to be pushed to the finish line. The race is not only about speed but also to incorporate amusing tasks and challenges which add to the overall fun and excitement.
4) Mutton Bustin'
Let me be the first to say I have done this and competed at the Great Jones County Fair when I was probably around 6 or 7 years-old (funny the things you'll remember). As you've probably guessed it, mutton bustin' is a rodeo style event that involves young children riding sheep.
It is often featured as entertainment during rodeos, fairs, and similar events. In this activity, a child, usually between the ages of 4 and 7, wears a protective helmet and attempts to ride a sheep for a short duration, typically around six seconds. Think of it like bull riding for babes. The goal is for the child to hold on to the sheep as long as possible while the sheep tries to buck and run. It's just good old-fashioned fun, that provides entertainment for both participants and spectators.
3) Cow Chip Toss
I'm not sure if tossing turds is something I want to be good at. I mean, I grew up on a farm and I always just used a shovel, but I guess that would take away from what can only be described of as the majestic art form of cow chip tossing.
Cow chip tossing is the recreational activity in which participants compete to see who can throw a dried and flattened cow dung pie (cow chip) the farthest. The cow chips used in these competitions are typically sourced from dried cow dung, and participants aim to throw them as far as possible within certain rules and guidelines. It's a lighthearted, humorous, and slightly gross activity that is often featured as part of country fairs. Remember, a man throwing poo always has the last laugh (hopefully you're not in his way).
2) The Unusual or Strange Veggie Contest
We've all seen them. The less than desirable veggie abominations that haunt your yearly garden. Well, they now have a special place of honor at the state fair and several county fairs.
A "strange veggie contest" typically refers to a competition or event where participants showcase and compete with unusual or uncommon vegetables. People may grow or find unique and bizarre-looking vegetables, and these are often judged based on their size, shape, color, or any other unusual characteristics and abnormalities. These contests are a fun way to celebrate the diversity and creativity found in the world of vegetables. Participants can cultivate vegetables with quirky shapes, colors, or growth patterns, and the contest is a fun way to appreciate the variety that nature produces.
1) Combine Demo Derby
When I was younger one of my favorite things to do was attend the demolition derby at the Great Jones County Fair. For several years when I was younger, my father and I would leave straight from church and enjoy an afternoon of smashed cars, flying mud, and loud burning exhausts. If only there was a way to take the visceral carnage of vehicle smashing and make it... well, bigger.
Enter the combine demolition derby! A combine demolition derby is an event where modified combines, typically used for harvesting crops, engage in a demolition derby-style competition. Participants modify these agricultural machines to make them suitable for the derby arena. The combines are driven by participants who aim to disable or knock out opponents by crashing into them. The last functioning combine is declared the winner.
These events are often held at agricultural fairs, festivals, or dedicated derby competitions. The combines used in these derbies are equipped with safety features to protect the drivers, and the events are organized with rules and regulations to ensure a level playing field and maintain safety standards.
When fair season is back in swing, just take a chance at these wild, zany, and weird events. Often these events provide you with nothing more than a little laughter, but now-a-days taking things a little less seriously is a good change.
2023 Great Jones County Fair Sneak-a-Peek Night
Gallery Credit: Tom Ehlers
The First Day of the 70th Annual Dubuque County Fair
Gallery Credit: Steve Pulaski