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Workers Scramble to Ready County Fair for Opening


Sweating and sighing, Wolfgang Wirthgen, 72, quickly assembled his bratwurst stand Tuesday morning in preparation for today's opening of the Ventura County Fair.

Like many fair vendors, Wirthgen and his Original Bratwurst trailer recently finished a stint at the fair in Orange County, and he had just a few days to break it down, drive up the coast and put it back together. This year marks Wirthgen's 16th visit to the Ventura event.

"I wish it would go up by itself," Wirthgen said, sharing the sentiments of several fair workers. "But the setting up is still exciting. Tearing down the fair is the depressing part."

The county fair opens at Seaside Park at 11 a.m. today, although the carnival rides won't be ready until Friday. As many as 250,000 visitors are expected to file through the gates before the fair ends Aug. 13.

They will come from all over the county to ride the Ferris wheel, eat corn dogs, watch the rodeo and marvel at the nightly fireworks show.

The local fair started as a small community festival in Ventura in 1874 and landed at Seaside Park in 1914. More than eight decades later, it hasn't changed much.

Despite the occasional new attraction or addition, the fair is still a time for friends and neighbors to share their handicrafts and hobbies. It's still a chance for folks to compete in contests: telling jokes, calling hogs, tossing water balloons, eating pies.

It's still a place for farmers to showcase the fruits of their labor and listen to some good old-fashioned country music.

Ventura residents Annie Gill and daughter Jamie, 3, dropped by the fairgrounds Tuesday to buy ride tickets. Although Jamie can't wait to get on the roller coasters, her mom is looking forward to the junk food.

"All the bumpy, fast-moving rides give me a headache," Gill said.

Inside the gates, maintenance workers and volunteers traversed the grounds, equipped with screwdrivers, sponges and buckets.

But it wasn't easy. Ladders and crates blocked walkways. Tractors and trucks created a traffic jam. Crowds of fair employees unloaded boxes wherever they could.

Publicist Devlin Raley said the mood around the fairgrounds the day before opening is similar every year: "It's a buzz of excitement, tempered with marginal panic."

Forklift operator Richard Elia arrived at the fairgrounds at 4:30 a.m. Tuesday to spread sawdust in the floriculture halls, where judges will decide on the best flower and plant displays. "It's hectic today, but it will all come together," Elia said. "It always does."

Courtney Barham, 22, peeked into her family's "Hot Dog on a Stick" stand and spotted the floor caked with grease and dirt. "I can't wait to dive in there," Barham said sarcastically.

Inside a youth hall, Terri Thomas arranged trivia cards for the Pollution Prevention House, a colorful exhibit where kids can learn about keeping the air clean. Thomas said the set suffered from recent visits to schools and cities, so she and her staff were doing some touch-up painting and fix-it work.

For many of the folks on the fair circuit, every event is a reunion. And Ventura County's fair is one of the best, they say, because the grounds are on the beach, the weather is mild, and the fairgoers are friendly.

After cleaning their red-and-white confection trailer, Dee White and her son, Mark, planned to start dipping apples, spinning cotton candy and making fresh caramel corn.

"My kids were raised on this fairground," said White, who has been making the county fair rounds for 19 years. "It's our favorite one."


Correspondent Bill Locey contributed to this report.

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