The Cleveland County Fair has a long history of serving the people of Cleveland County. While county fairs started as money making ventures, the state of Oklahoma created county free fairs in the early 1900s.
These days, events put on by the Cleveland County Fair Board, including entry to exhibits, livestock shows and other fair board sponsored events, are all free and there is no entry fee at the county fair. Additionally, parking is free at the Cleveland County Fair.
Vendors do sell food and other items, and the carnival, which is also provided by a vendor, charges money for rides and games.
The county fair is the keeper of many traditions and old-fashioned family fun. New in 2022 was the Indian Ceremony highlighting Native American spiritual dances presented free of charge by the Apache Blackfoot Society. Square dancing, 4-H Cloggers, tractor pulls and exhibits that highlight canning and quilting are also part of the cultural preservation featured at the county fair.
The Cleveland County Fair Board receives taxpayer dollars but donate their time to put on the annual fair.
While fairgrounds staff work hard behind the scenes to assist in the Cleveland County fair, fair board members run the fair. The fair board is comprised of nine elected fair board members. Three members each are elected from each of the three county commissioner districts. They meet monthly and planning for each year’s fair starts months in advance. During the fair, they work countless hours coordinating events and serving other duties to make the fair a success.
“The county fair is all about family for me,” said Fair Board Member Christa Spears. “I am proud to work with a board for the Cleveland County Fair and the Cleveland County Fairgrounds where the focus is to provide a safe place for families to come out and enjoy spending time together. It is very satisfying seeing the folks enjoying all the attractions that the fair offers.
2022 Fair Board Members:
Danny Belinson, OKC, District 1
Jerry Calvert, Treasurer, Norman, District 1
Jake Calvert, Norman, District 1
David Spalding, Norman, District 2
John McDaniel, Board President, Norman, District 2
Carol Doner, Norman, District 2
Richard Peters, Vice President, Noble, District 3
Carl Mize, Noble, District 3
Christa Spears, Lexington, District 3
Fairgrounds staffer Sandy McClure serves as Fair Board Secretary
Cleveland County Horse Show
The annual Cleveland County Horse Show, hosted the weekend prior to the county fair, is a favorite for many in the horse community and considered an extended portion of the county fair. Entry to the horse show is free as is attendance. The horse show is great entertainment for spectators or for anyone who wants to know more about the sport. The horse show is considered a part of the yearly fair and serves as a pre-curser to the full fair. Horse show attendance was strong this year with 49 horses entered.
“I work the horse show and it turned out really well this year,” said Fair Board Member Jerry Calvert. “The judge was very efficient. If she judges again next year, I’ll be pleased.”
Amber Spires is the Superintendent of the horse show.
“The show went really well this year,” Spires said. “Our kids feel very supported by the fair board. John McDaniel couldn’t be there that day, but he sent a ton of volunteers who came and helped. That was very much appreciated.”
Spires also commended Sandy McClure who keeps all of the books and showed up this year despite having a broken arm.
“She’s in charge of all the entries, all of the classes and has to keep track of all of the changes,” Spires said. “She ran the check in table and the awards table.”
She said several fair board members help and other county staff in addition to McClure work hard to make it a success including dragging the arena.
“They have the dirt prepped and tilled before the show and then they drag it again several time during the show and level out the dirt,” she said. “All of the staff are wonderful.”
Antique Tractor Show & Children’s Activities
The Canadian River Old Iron Club (CROIC) hosts the tractor pulls and free children’s activities at the annual Cleveland County Free Fair on the north side of the fairgrounds campus. CROIC is part of the National Early Day Gas Engine and Tractor Association. Families can take a step back in time with CROIC’s free, hand’s on, kid-friendly activities including a hayride, trackless train, corn grinder and sheller, washtub, and more. Children and their parents can get first-hand experience shelling and then grinding corn and learning more about how things were done in the “olden days.” These events bring history alive for children all at no cost.
Antique Tractors are on display throughout the fair and are a fair favorite for young and old.
CROIC also puts on Antique Tractor Pulls for three days of the fair. Many of the contestants are using the tractor their fathers or grandfathers used to work the farm and till the fields, keeping the history alive and helping document the evolution of agriculture in Oklahoma.
“Everything went really smoothly with the tractor pulls,” Jerry Calvert said. “Bryan Jenkins did a good job of getting the track ready and the pulls went well.”
Entertainment always includes a lineup of local and regional talent for each of the four days of the fair. This year the John Arnold Band on the stage located on east side of fairgrounds on Thursday. On Friday evening, One-Eyed Jack performed, and Saturday included a full slate of fun, starting at 10 a.m. when the 4-H Cloggers took the stage. Next was Silver Spurs Square Dancing, and later Black Water Bridge performed. Sunday rounded out the musical fair experience with two great bands, Brown Note followed Dale Moser & The Blackhorse Band. Cool lighting and a dance area made for great free entertainment!
The Cloggers and the Square Dancers are part of the cultural heritage that the fair helps preserve. After demonstrating their skills, the Silver Spurs even invited audience members down to join them.
On the other side of the fairgrounds, the Car and Motorcycle Show runs for several hours on Saturday each year, allowing fair visitors to look at their leisure. People’s Choice Awards are given for the top three car and motorcycle entries.
Midway and Carnival
“Oklahoma has mirrored the national evolution of [the amusement] industry; by the early twentieth century most American cities boasted a traditional amusement park, that is, a permanent park with midway, mechanical rides such as roller coasters and carousels, and pavilions that hosted shows and dances. These competed with carnivals, that is, traveling troupes that were composed of rides, shows, and small midways, according to the Oklahoma Historical Society (https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=AM018).
But smaller cities and counties can’t support a full-blown amusement park. It’s no wonder that the carnival and midway games are a big draw at any county fair.
We were excited to have Wade Shows doing the carnival this year and expect to see them again in 2023. The carnival was a big hit with attendees. Fair Board member Jerry Calvert spent a lot of time giving folks free rides from the parking lot to their cars.
“A lot of people couldn’t believe that this was a free ride,” he said.
Because it is provided by a vendor, carnival rides and games are not free but people seem to appreciate it. While transporting people to and from the fair and the parking area, Calvert heard very positive comments on the carnival and on Wade Shows.
“They kept the area very clean and neat and it was a plus for the Cleveland County Fair,” he said.
Wade Shows owns over 100 amusement rides and attractions and services over 15 million people each year, playing more State Fairs than any other carnival in history and working with great events such as the Oklahoma State Fair, the North Carolina State Fair, the Missouri State Fair, the South Florida Fair, the San Antonio Livestock Show and Exhibition, the Alabama State Fair, the Delaware State Fair, the Florida State Fair, and the Alabama National Fair. Wade Shows also works with many large county and regional fairs as well as city and civic sponsored events.
One of America’s premier carnival companies, Wade Shows is consistently ranked as one of the top five amusement companies by our industry’s leading trade publication: CarnivalWarehouse.com. Wade Shows is also the greenest carnival on the road today, having spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on initiatives such as replacing the lighting on rides with LED lighting, purchasing the most fuel-efficient generators available, using bio-diesel when available and initiating midway recycling programs with fair partners.
“Wow, what a carnival!” was a common comment from folks, Jerry Calvert said.
The Baby Crawl and Stick Horse Races are fun events which are open to public participation at no charge. There are fun rules involved such as, “Babies must crawl the entire distance. Babies who try to walk will be disqualified.” Five babies race per heat with the top three finishes getting prizes.
The baby crawl is good family fun as often babies will stop and play with each other rather than crawling to the parent at the other end. Some babies will crawl to complete strangers rather than their own parents! This event is definitely a spectator sport and is completely free.
The Stick Horse race is open to ages 2-6 and immediately follows the Baby Crawl. Kids line up in age groups and take off! The race is to the swift and the glory is great as kids compete for ribbons. All riders must straddle the horse during the entire race or they will be disqualified. Fair Board members will often illustrate, much to the hilarity of the crowd. Free to enter and free to watch, this event is another crowd pleaser and many children look forward to participating.
People sign up for both of these events prior to the competitions, allowing anyone interested to participate. Children do not need to be county residents to participate in the baby crawl or stick horse race. Boys and girls compete against one another.
The Kiddie Pedal Pull on Saturday is also free to enter or to watch and includes age-grouped children pedaling child-sized tractors pulling weighted sleds. Our county fair hosts the Oklahoma State Championship featuring county winners from across the state, as well as the annual Cleveland County competition which is open to entry by any Cleveland County child who is a resident. These events are popular with boys and girls alike.The pedal pull, also known as the Kiddie Tractor Pull is one of Fair Board member Krista Spears.
“I could watch these kids pedal those tractors all day,” Spears said. “It is so exciting watching the kids try their hardest and waiting to hear if they will get a “FULL PULL”!!! I love the County fair and look forward to the next one.”
The Junior Auctioneer Contest has three age groupings with competitors ranging from age five to 19. Proceeds of the auction are donated to the Cleveland County 4-H scholarship fund. Anyone can enter. Participants are not required to be in 4-H or to be county residents. Event organizers such as Dave Spaulding taught the young participants how to auctioneer, as well as giving them a history lesson on what auctioneering is and how it is used to sell items. After they learn auctioneering techniques, the junior auctioneers sell donated items to enthusiastic bidders who happily pay to support our Cleveland County 4-H scholarship fund.
The Celebrity Cow Milking Contest on Friday evening in the Fair Barn is always a crowd pleaser. From the experienced to some who may have never milked a cow before, there’s always plenty of cheers and good times during this event. Elected county officials enlist team members and sometimes participate themselves. County Commissioner Rod Cleveland has won the contest several years in a row with help from his 4-H team which include grandkids of Highway District 1. County Commissioner Darry Stacy was excited to bring home the second-place trophy this year with help from fair board member John McDaniel and Richard Peters.
In addition to teams from the county elected officials, this year we had a judge, celebrities from OEC, and an Oklahoma Home and Community Education (OHCE) team in addition to all three county commissioners, the court clerk and the county clerk.
One of the highlights of this year’s competition was the new OHCE team which was powered by some of our local FFA and agricultural students. Let’s just say they had a load of fun and also fared well on the costume part of the contest!
Adult events open to entry include NASA Powerlifting — competitors compete in the squat, bench press, deadlift and curl — and Arm Wrestling on Saturday. These events are put on by a private vendor and cost to enter but watching is free.
“People come from all over to compete,” Fair Board Member Richard Peters said. “These events harken to the strong man competitions of bygone days.”
The State Championship Wiener Dog Races and Costume Contest on Sunday are very popular. Ten wiener dogs per heat compete for prizes with around 80 dogs competing this year. People come from far and wide to let their dogs compete with sometime hysterical and always entertaining results. Originality counts for a lot at the costume contest.
“They can use any theme they want, but the emphasis is that the costume is for the dog,” said Fair Board member Richard Peters who puts on the event. “The owner can wear a costume that matches with the dog’s costume, but at least 80 percent of the score is on the dog with the other 20 going to how the owner presents the dog.”
With that said, winners often have a theme that coordinates between the dog and the owner.
The costume contest brings out creativity and allows for participation by dogs who may not be great runners, but the wiener races can’t be beat for pure entertainment as dogs don’t always run in straight lines and may run to other owners, stop to play with other dogs or just sit down in the middle of the track.
“The races are hilarious,” Peters said. “It’s a lot of fun and a good time for people and the dogs.”
The Cleveland County Fair Board welcomes all Cleveland County residents young and old to exhibit and attend the Cleveland County Free Fair each year. The fair board’s goal is to have a large number of quality exhibits, plenty of entertainment and a place for people to meet friends.
Exhibits bring entries in three categories: Open, 4-H and Oklahoma Home and Community Education (OHCE). Open entries include youth through adult contests while 4-H and OHCE are for those members only. Entries are turned in on Wednesday prior to the fair launching. Judging starts Thursday morning and is completed before the Exhibition Hall officially opens to the public.
“Many of our OHCE members help with the county fair in many ways,” said Cleveland County OHCE Martha Aughe. “We work to check in exhibits and put them into the appropriate category whether it’s arts, food or food presentation, like canning. We release them on Sunday also. Unless they won Best of Show in their category. Those are released on Saturday to go to the State Fair.”
The Open Youth Participation division is for all Cleveland County youth up to age 19. This division is designed to give any county youth opportunity to display his or her talents.
The Open Adult classes are open to an adult in Cleveland County.Exhibits can be viewed throughout the fair and are released back to their makers on Sunday evening when the fair ends. The exception is OHCE baked goods which are often sold as a fundraiser to support the OHCE scholarship fund. OHCE scholarships are often for universities and community colleges, but are just as often for trade schools which might otherwise be difficult for young people, especially those raised in agriculture, to afford.
Best of Show Winners
Horticulture Patricia Bias, Floral Joyce Collins, Canned Fruit Ashley Hughes, Crocheted Shelby Miller, Photography M. Blevins, Charles Kuster and Ashley Creed, Clothing Kathy Langley, Knitted Sheila Long, Pumpkins Levi Driever, Open - Youth Canning Daniel McCormick, Crafts Gerald Franklin, Arts Anneli Walsh, Quilts Karen Ratzloff, Cakes Sandy McClure, Cookies Amanda Hicks, Dried Foods M. Brockhaus, Confections Cassie McCormick, Jellies Kristia Reed, Youth Bread Madison Kersey, Bread Kristi Brummel, Pickles Laura Anthony, Needlework Maureen Azizian, Scrapbooks Chelcee Holden and Teena Cotham, Canned Vegetables Vickie Loemker, Developmentally Disabled Sharon Sharp, Youth Fairy Gardens Zandra Kloster, Eggs Levi Driever, Cards Chelcee Holden 4-H - Photo Ezekiel Campbell.
OHCE Best of Show: Food Preservation Charleen Daniels, Cake Phillis Tunender, Clothing Rose Anne Jackson, Cookies Nancy Wilson, Fine Arts April Green, Home Furnishings Donna Felty, Needlework Margaret Standridge, Wall Hanging Gerhua Eady, Breads Susan Nelson, Horticulture Ninette Mills, Photography Alma Bumgarner, Candy Karen Ratzloff.
Around the Barn
A free petting zoo in the fair barn is provided by the fair board as entertainment for children and families. A vendor provides a low-cost pony ride for children also in the fair barn. The barn and arena are primarily occupied with the horse and livestock shows and during the fair are a great place to see a variety of show animals and to talk with the FFA and 4-Hers who are showing their animals. Fair attendees are asked not to pet the show animals to prevent spreading disease and to wash their hands after exiting the petting zoo.
One of the biggest jobs at the fair for fair board members is organizing and running the many livestock shows.
Prep work for the fair starts months in advance as board members work to find judges from outside the county to ensure fairness. The Cleveland County Fair is always the first weekend after the Labor Day holiday and the state fair follows next week. That means they are competing with other fairs to retain the best judges.
All Livestock entries are two weeks prior to the start of the fair, and on the evening of Wednesday before the fair opens Thursday, livestock are checked-in and weighed at the Fair Barn. Fair Board member Jake Calvert said unloading cattle after all the vendors have moved in, presents unique challenges.
“There are all kinds of trucks and kids and cattle and everybody is going everywhere,” he said.
Most of the participants are from 4-H and Future Farmers of America (FFA). Livestock shows include: Beef, Swine, Sheep, Meat Goats, Dairy Cattle, Dairy Goats, Rabbits and Poultry.
“The livestock shows are very near and dear to my heart,” said Fair Board Member Christa Spears. “I love the livestock. I know firsthand all the hard work that the families put into these animals. I really apricate the families that bring their livestock to the fair. So many people that I visit with come to the fair to see the animals.”
Different fair board members have different specialties. Calvert’s is Beef Cattle. Fair Board President John McDaniel is in charge of Dairy Cattle and Poultry.
“My first fair was in 1961, and I’ve watched kids with show projects go and come and now their grandkids are showing,” McDaniel said. “You don’t have many new families, we have the families that have been there for years and years. My grandkids are showing now.”
Calvert believes caring for animals builds character.
“When you have to care for living, breathing things it builds a sense of responsibility,” he said.
Fair Board Secretary Sandy McClure said there were 22 entries each in Beef Cattle, 20 in Meat Goats, 44 Sheep, 16 Swine, 34 Dairy Cattle, 41 Dairy Goats and 44 Rabbits, showing this year as well as close to 300 entries in poultry.
Numbers of rabbits and poultry are up, but some of the numbers were down this year, probably due to increases in feed. “I think the challenges to anything right now is feed, and the high price of feed to keep the animal going,” said McDaniel. “It’s difficult for exhibitors to fund their projects.”
Entries come from Moore, Noble, Lexington, Norman/Little Axe/Cleveland County Ag 4-H Club and from the open category. This year there were two open entries, one in meat goats and one in sheep.
The size of the city or town does not necessarily correspond to the number of livestock entries. Lexington, for example, had the highest number of beef cattle entries at 10 with Noble coming in second with seven entries.
Sheep were big in Moore with 19 entries and in the Norman/Little Axe group with 14 entries.
Our Cleveland County Fair vendors are key to putting on a successful fair. While the fair is free, having a variety of food and drink and fun products available for purchase heightens the fair experience for many of our visitors. There are three types of vendors at the fair: Concessions, Inside Vendors and Outside Vendors.
Concession vendors are not to be confused with local groups like the 4-H who operate concessions inside of our buildings as a way to earn money for their clubs, but the concession vendors do sell a variety of food and drink products in addition to those on the midway provided by the carnival producers. The Cleveland County Fair Board carefully reviews and selects concession vendors early each spring. They bring trailers and must provide references. Many of our concession vendors return year after year and become crowd favorites.
Inside vendors sell everything from stainless steel cookware to jewelry, t-shirts, photographs, artwork and more. Even political parties rent booth space to allow their candidates to meet and greet the public. Some groups such as local churches or service providers rent a booth to provide information and raise awareness with the public about what they have to offer. Browsing the wares and speaking with vendors is part of the fun for many fairgoers.
Outside vendors set up in the area around and between the Fair Barn and the Exhibition Hall. Those vendors sell everything from electronic bull rides and character sketches to art, light sabers and leather goods, just to name a few.
Fair Patron and Fair Family
The 2022 fair patron was awarded to two outstanding volunteers by the fair board: Karen Pospisil and Abigail Jenkins. A fair patron is someone who has volunteered with enthusiasm, patience and integrity for the county fair year after year. They are always ready to help in any way they can. They look for ways to help improve the fair and share their knowledge.
The fair board also recognizes a fair family each year. Like the fair patron award, this honors a family in which all members volunteered with enthusiasm, patience and integrity for the county fair year after year. They are always ready to help in any way they can. They look for ways to help improve the fair and share their knowledge. This year’s fair family was Larry, Aimie and Timothy Whitehead.
Plaques are awarded for Breed Champions in each Livestock show.
The Premier Exhibitor recognition is for the best of the best. The Premier Livestock Exhibitor Contest is open to Junior Livestock Exhibitors who are bona fide school-aged members of Cleveland County and must exhibit three or more species at the Cleveland County Free Fair. The species for this contest includes: cattle, swine, sheep, meat goats, dairy cattle, dairy goats, poultry and rabbits. The highest placing entry in each species will be awarded points based on how well their animals placed in the shows. An individual exhibitor will not be eligible to win the Premier Livestock Exhibitor Contest two consecutive years. The Livestock Exhibitor with the highest cumulative points will be named the Premier Livestock Exhibitor for the Cleveland County Free Fair.
Buckles are for Showmanship
A Showmanship Contest among the beef, swine, sheep and goats livestock shows includes the top three exhibitors in each age class. The winner in each age class receives a Buckle. Showmanship winners from these go on to compete for the Master Showman.
Dairy Goats and Dairy Cattle compete for Grand Dairy Showman.
Poultry and Rabbit groups each have their own showmanship awards.
“They take their rabbit or bird and go individually to the judge and are given a verbal exam,” said Amber Spires, this year’s Poultry Showmanship. “The questions are asked about poultry in general and about their bird and part of it is animal handling.”
Spires said since her children did not show in poultry this year, she was happy to serve as a judge. She is also knowledgeable about rabbits and said they are handled in much the same way for the showmanship award.
“We usually have a Junior Buckle and a Senior Buckle,” Spires says. “Everyone who wants to compete for showmanship in Poultry and Rabbits is allowed to compete.”