Donna Cronk photo // For The Courier-Times // Magician Marcus Lehmann prepares to "saw" Fayth Koontz in half. But the gag was much more campy than scary, and Koontz reported afterward that she loved it and never misses the magician's return to the fair. She's been attending the show since she was 1.
It happens every August, at the same time the Indiana State Fair is under way, and long after all the county 4-H fairs have wrapped up. It's not 4-H based and there's no corporate sponsor, unless you count the corporate efforts of volunteers on the fair board who run the big show in a seamless manner. These are farmers and retirees, working folks and more than anything, their qualifications are hard work and a love for Mooreland, Indiana and its annual fair.
The Mooreland Free Fair, to be exact, although I often refer to it fondly as The Mooreland World's Fair.
When you enter the fairgrounds on the southern edge of this small northeastern-Henry County town during this festival, you might think you've arrived inside a time capsule and the year is 1952. Oddly, I could get no phone service on my cell from the grounds. Maybe it is 1952 and cellphones have not been invented.
Fairgoers can enter their pumpkins, eggs and other agricultural products. Or, they can enter their kids or grandkids in kiddie pedal pulls or baby contests. You can enjoy the finest bowl of ham and beans with a side of cornbread this side of heaven, prepared by the local Friends Church volunteers. There's a carnival, a building filled with local and state politicians and business people and moms with side jobs selling various goods. There are the Cornfield Cloggers to watch, or the magician, parade or talent shows.
There are queen and princess candidates, tractor and truck pulls. There are couples who appear to have been married for decades walking around holding hands. There are overall-clad farmers right out of central casting filling benches to watch the crowd. People just seem to flat like The Mooreland Free Fair. They like it a lot.
It is a throw-back festival with no sign of dying.
And of course, my newspaper, The Courier-Times, covers the Mooreland Free Fair.
This year I had the opportunity to work two things I have never done before, in 35 years of community reporting. One was an antique tractor pull; the other a family-friendly magic show. I decided to approach it the way I approach anything I cover: Why is this activity important to these people? Why does the community at large care?
So I called the magician early and got some background. He left me a saved seat for the show.
And I talked to the tractor pull guys before it was time to start their engines. What interested me was how they had more to say about the relationships with each other than of boasting of their mutual competitive drives.
Here's the tractor-pull story which ran Wednesday in The Courier-Times.
I'm almost 60 but when you work in community journalism, there's always something new. Even if it's something old and charming such as The Mooreland Free Fair -- no, make that The Mooreland World's Fair.
Antique tractor pull: 'It's a friendly competition'
By DONNA CRONK - firstname.lastname@example.org
MOORELAND — For Ron Peavler, who lives near Mechanicsburg, the antique tractor pull at the Mooreland Fair is not so much about winning as it is about enjoying friends and reliving memories.
“It’s a friendly competition,” he said. “Everybody knows everybody.”
Monday night, he entered his 1953 Oliver Row Crop 88.
“It’s what I grew up with as a kid,” said Ron of the vintage model. “We helped different farmers and we had these kind of tractors.”
The pull brings back memories. “I came here as a kid and watched them (pulls),” he said.
But now he’s making new memories. His son, Ron Peavler Jr., was the team’s driver Monday night.
“I like to be able to hang out with my dad and my brother,” the younger Peavler said of his favorite part of participating in the pull.
Their tractor is 150 horsepower now, a far cry from the 36 to 42 it contained new out of the factory. While he’s participated for several years, the senior Peavler jokes that he’s “still a rookie.”
Definitely not a rookie is Richard Winter, originally from the Sulphur Springs/Middletown area and now of Yorktown. He’s been coming to the Mooreland Fair since he was a little kid.
“The town’s not changed much and the fair’s not changed much either,” said Winter, who’s won a few pulls. In Monday’s show, he entered a 1954 McCormick Farmall 400.
“I’ve been doing this off and on since I got back from Vietnam in the ’70s,” he said of pulling.
He and his brother used to team up but now, “I pull when I feel like it. I bought this thing. It looked terrible,” deadpans Winter, adding that the tractor is “all beefed up” now.
Winter said a stock tractor would “probably never get the sled going.” The sled is what contains the weight that the tractors pull as far as they can.
But the best part of the pull for Winter seems to come in the friendships.
“A lot of it’s just seeing the guys I’ve known all the years,” said Winters, adding that it’s like family. Working with him Monday night was his nephew, Al Winter.
When asked why he enters tractor pulls, Dick Gettinger of Springport said, “It’s in the blood.” Relative Brian Gettinger of Knightstown said, “Our family’s been pulling for 60-plus years.”
The Gettingers brought Dick’s 1957 Minneapolis Moline 445. Dick laughed about it, saying, “It’s a piece of junk. It wasn’t running when we got it. So we tinkered.”
Perhaps the tractor is not junk, after all. The Gettingers said it has placed in the top five many times.
Brian said of working on tractors, “Some of the new stuff’s easier, but I enjoy working on the old stuff more.”
Dale Marling and Delbert Hertel brought tractors from Liberty to enter in the pull.
“It’s just a neat place to pull,” Marling said of the Mooreland venue.
What are you reading this summer?
Just this morning I finished one of those books so delightful that I didn't want it to end. The title caught my eye while headed out of the library: Strangers tend to tell me things.
Hey, that's my story, I thought. As a writer, it's what happens; often they tell me lots of random things. Last week I sat next to a fairly recent resident of New Castle who transplanted from Nebraska while I covered a senior center luncheon for the paper. She unpacked her story so thoroughly and personally, and gave such a splendid shout-out to how much the local senior center means to her, her photo and comments became leads to my resulting story.
But what's interesting about Amy Dickinson's book, mentioned above, and subtitled: A memoir of love, loss, and coming home, is that while I figured that our writing careers would be what we had in common and why I would enjoy her memoir -- that's the least of what drew me in.
She is famous for her Ask Amy syndicated column and I am not famous for anything but, I imagined that she'd talk a lot about her career and life as a columnist.
Turned out though, that the writing experience is a minimal part of the book. We have so much more than writing in common such as our mutual core loves for our tiny hometowns. Hers is even smaller by a lot than mine. She was raised in the boonies of that town on a farm. I was raised in the boonies of my hometown on a farm. Consider even the names of our hometowns: Hers is Freeville. Mine is Liberty, or fictionally honoring the town, I call it Freedom in my novels.
We're both the youngest in our families of origin. We're about a year apart and as kids, had trouble sleeping, wanting our mothers near at night after our grandmothers died. We both grew up in small Methodist churches. We both get the utter goodness and whip-smart insights of rural folk.
Amy, who also works for NPR and appears on the show, "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me," could live anywhere she wants but instead, settled back in her New York-state hometown as soon as she became an empty nester. Becoming an empty nester inspired the theme of returning to a woman's roots in my first novel.
In another oddly ironic moment, when I snooped around the internet for images of Amy, one popped up of her wearing a dress nearly identical to the one I chose for son Sam's wedding.
I also related to Amy's stories of coping with her mother's decline and death, and I swooned with her over her romance with -- get this, for real -- falling for the "boy next door" who had grown at midlife into the man of her dreams and she married him.
You can bet that I'll soon be reading Amy's first book, The Mighty Queens of Freeville.
My small group from church, the Midlife Moms, just finished our study of Priscilla Shirer's book, Fervent, and I'm placing it on the bookshelf today. The new one we'll start a week from tonight is Liz Curtis Higgs' Bad Girls of the Bible: And what we can learn from them.
This summer I read the proof copy of friend Janis Thornton's true-crime book, Too Good A Girl, now available from her or on amazon. And out of the blue, the church sent along Henry Cloud and John Townsend's book, Making Small Groups Work: What Every Small Group Leader Needs to Know.
In a few weeks Bible Study Fellowship resumes and we'll start our journey with Joshua in the year's study, People of the Promised Land. Ovid Church is hosting a satellite group on what I hear will be Thursday mornings, an extension of the New Castle group that meets Tuesday mornings. I attend the Middletown group that meets Monday nights in Middletown. These are women's Bible studies and if you are interested in joining BSF, you are more than welcome to do just that.
Now if you'll excuse me, I've got some summer porch reading to get to.