Spinning rides, fried food but no chickens: Big fun at the Tanana Valley Fair

From the top of the Ferris wheel I could see the dog agility demonstration. It was the only spot at the Tanana Valley Fair where you could escape the crowds. Fairs are pretty strange places. It boggles the mind why you’d want to be outdoors amid a thousand other people who are feeling woozy from the spinning rides. The few who can handle losing their equilibrium appear to be almost comatose from high fructose, over-spiced fried fair food.

Kids can handle it. There is always a high percentage of the 8 and younger crowd. They are hauled to the fair by savvy parents who know that a fair, almost any fair, can be used to bribe their children into several days of decent behavior by threatening not to take them to the fair. Teenage boys take girls to the fair because, even though it is expensive, the rides are worth it. The girls will scream and hang on to the guys. Boys like girls hanging on them.

Adults, why do they go? The folks over 30 that were walking around the Tanana Valley Fair were there to eat. There a few yuppies wandering through the vegetable displays, wishing there was a booth that sold broccoli. No such luck. Fried food of various varieties ruled the walkways. Spend a day at the carnival, and it will take a week chasing caribou to burn off the extra pounds.

Who ever heard of a fair without poultry? The Tanana Valley version had no chickens. Seems the powers in charge were worried about monkeypox ... I mean bird flu — tough to keep the pandemics straight these days. There have been a couple cases of bird flu over at Creamer’s Field so maybe that virus would waft over to the fairgrounds a mile distant? The livestock barn had a mess of goats — don’t call a bunch of goats a herd; goats are a mess. There were some really unrecognizable rabbits. If you have never seen an Angora rabbit, they are worth a look.

[Poultry exhibits canceled at Alaska State Fair in Palmer over bird flu concerns]

The merry-go-round is still the most popular ride of all time — good to know I haven’t yet aged out. The Chainsaw, or Zipper, was easily the favorite ride on the Fairbanks fairgrounds. There is not a ton of repeats on that particular ride. It was fun watching grown men hop out of the cars and try to act like they were not about to throw up. Little girls seemed to be unfazed. Either that or they have a sadistic bent. A number of them dragged their dizzy boyfriends back for another go at spinning upside down.

The Ferris wheel, my favorite because of the great view and its ability to rise above the crowds was invented for those very reasons. The forerunner to the wheel we have today was used in 17th century Bulgaria. It was constructed from wood and turned by man-power. The major modification of the Ferris wheel was put together for World Fair in Chicago in 1893. The wheel, the brainchild of George Ferris, was 264 feet tall and had 36 gondolas capable of holding 60 people each. Remember — there were no airplanes back then. So 264 feet in the air was as high as most had ever been. A million and a half souls paid 50 cents each to ride George Ferris’ wheel. This amazing contraption wasn’t around for long. After being disassembled and moved a few times, the wheel was blown up in 1906 with a couple hundred pounds of dynamite and sold for scrap.

In spite of the spinning rides, unhealthy food, suffocating crowds and no chickens, the Tanana Valley Fair was great fun. I say “in spite of,” but maybe it is really “because of?” Where else can one achieve all of those things in the same place and not feel guilty about it?

John Schandelmeier

Outdoor opinion columnist John Schandelmeier is a lifelong Alaskan who lives with his family near Paxson. He is a Bristol Bay commercial fisherman and two-time winner of the Yukon Quest.