Never mind the Midway: an Angie's List member's guide to the Indiana State Fair
Long before Angie’s List, folks used to learn about products and services by attending fairs and expositions. Indiana was just the sixth state to hold an agricultural fair at the first State Fair in downtown Indianapolis in 1882. After moving to several Indiana towns, the Fair found a home on East 38th Street in 1892 where it’s been ever since.
Perhaps no one loves the Indiana State Fair more than Angie's List member Nora Spitznogle. Since she was a babe in her mother’s arms in 1961, Spitznogle has attended the Fair every year. As a farm girl, the bright lights of the Midway attracted her like a moth to a light bulb on the porch, though her parents wouldn’t let her go any farther than the Duck Pond game. She loved the baby chicks in the Poultry Barn and puzzled over what to buy with the money she’d earned selling sweet corn.
Known from her music and events column “Buzzing Around Town” in the Broad Ripple Gazette, the “Queen Bee” purchased an Angie’s List membership while visiting the pavilion at the Fair a few years ago. By day, she works as director of programs for the food rescue and culinary training nonprofit Second Helpings, and on weekends you can often find her working as a server at the Red Key Tavern and at the Broad Ripple boutique Marigold.
"I’m a serious Indiana State Fair geek," she confesses. "I can tell you where every single restroom on the Fairgrounds is located and which ones are air-conditioned. I know which buildings were built as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Works Projects Administration, and I can point out which elements from the newly renovated Pepsi Coliseum were salvaged from the original building." Spitznogle hasn't missed a single day of the Fair in almost 10 years, so who better to ask about what to see and do a the Fair?
The Tractor Parade
"The program calls it the Daily Parade, but it's all about the antique tractors for me," she says. Every evening, rain or shine, at 6:30 p.m. the parade begins on Main Street and winds around Trackside Parkway. "You didn’t know these streets had names, did you?" she asks. On August 8, which is Farmer's Day, the start time switches to 3:30 p.m.
According to Spitznogle, though the lineup changes daily, it’s typically a mix of clowns, old automobiles, a police car, motorcycles, mascots, horses and tractors. "As a child, I dreamed of being in the parade," she says. "I’ve been lucky enough to hitch a ride, and I can tell you that it’s as thrilling as I imagined."
"I love Dick Reel," confesses Spitznogle of the State Fair fixture. "I only see him at Fair time, and I’m always happy to spot him behind his bench in Pioneer Village on the first day. He’s one of the many volunteers that reenact old-timey ways of doing things."
According to Spitznogle, Reel has demonstrated woodworking and carving for almost 20 years in the Pioneer Village barn, and he's worked on the Fairgrounds every August since he was 14. He has wonderful stories about working at the Grandstand and taking tickets at the entrance gates. Pioneer Village is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. each day, but it's really active from the late morning to early evening.
Home and Family Arts Building
"I first started taking projects to the Fair as a 12 year-old farm kid, and I’m still hooked on it," she says. Here, you'll find all of the adult projects are entered in the open-show competition: everything from pickled beets to painted gourds. "Look for the antique tools," she recommends. "Check out the Baby-Boomer toys and butter dishes on the main floor, the popular photography competition on the top floor and the pies and candies on the basement level."
Visit the beautifully landscaped Angie's List Gardens for a full schedule of kid's activities, presentations, pets and massages.
Real fair food
Sure, you can dare someone to eat whatever they’re deep frying this year, but Spitznogle recommends supporting Hoosier farmers with your meal choices. "I’m a big fan of the food tents hosted by agricultural associations," she says. Be sure to try the steak sandwiches from the Indiana Beef Cattle Association, pork chops (and applesauce) from the Indiana Pork Producers, lamb on a stick from the Indiana Sheep folks, grilled cheese from the Dairy Barn or a turkey leg from the poultry peeps. "If you’re eating the Lions Club sweet corn right, your cheeks should be smeared with butter," says Spitznogle.
Biodiesel tractor shuttle
"One thin dollar gets you a front-row seat to see the whole Fairgrounds in all its glory," she says. "When I was young, my parents convinced us kids that the tram was a Midway attraction. Turns out they were right: It’s the best ride at the fair." The biodiesel-powered tractors circle the Fairgrounds all day. You can even eat while you ride. For a decadent treat, Spitznogle prescribes grabbing a plate of King’s Taters (fries that are spiral cut with a drill) across from the Main Street east end of the Grandstand and hopping on the tram.
From all 92 counties, 4-H champion kids display their best at the Indiana State Fair. Currently, more than 220,000 Hoosier children are enrolled in 4-H, and the alumni rolls count more than a million. You can find the animals easy enough: Just follow your nose. Various entries, from cake decorating to electrical projects, are displayed on the west side of the Fairgrounds, and flower and garden projects are in the Ag/Hort Building. Spitznogle says, "They display the veggies only during the first weekend. After that, Second Helpings picks up the hundreds of pounds of blue-ribbon produce to prepare thousands of nutritious meals in our kitchen."