Different Look on Other Side of Show Ring

Hoosier Perspectives

Short time as state fair cattle barn worker produces a different view.

Published on: August 23, 2010

Even when I was young and showed in 4-H, I was always on the exhibitor side of the show ring. I never worked to help put on a show. This past week I played a very small part in helping at the Cattle Barn at the Indiana State Fair as the staff prepared for the 2010 Indiana State fair open dairy show.

My role was supervising a group of FFA kids working in the barn overnight. I was to make sure they swept the four main aisles and empty trash the night before the show, then get them to the show ring with shovels and buckets to literally scoop poop the next morning. Although I had to leave them in the care of some other volunteer adults later that day, I learned later that after the show, they worked until late in the evening helping exhibitors load out the heavy gear that cattle people bring to shows, then helping clean the barn and put it back in order.

We had a great group of kids, six boys and four females. But kids are kids. And if you've ever wondered what it's like to spend a night in the dormitory at the state fair cattle barn, I can tell you. It's not exactly the Hilton. But then the price is right- free if you work there.

If you've ever wondered where it is, look at the small, tower built like a turret on the northeast corner of the building. That's where the boys sleep, on the second floor. Underneath it is a room where the cattle barn manager and helpers sleep. Jeff Hamm, the barn manager, made it plain to my young troops that he could hear every move of the bed or heavy stomping above him. He also made it plain that he didn't expect to get woke up.

Dormitory is a loose description of what we found there. We opened the steel door and found a small, tall, concrete and brick wall room, painted once upon a time in drab colors, about 20 feet long and 12 feet wide- maybe. On the end was a bathroom with one shower stall, and around the corner was literally a 5 –foot wide cubbyhole with a cot in it. Since the boys beat me to the room, naturally they put my stuff on the cot. And naturally, it was around the corner so I was not too close to them. They claimed the three bunk beds.

There were black trash bags, cut to cover more area, taped over the windows with duct tape. Once night came, it was obvious why they were there. Streetlights outside the building threatened to shine right into the eyes of the person in the top bunk.

When it was time to go to 'bed,' I stretched out on the cot, and promptly rolled to one side. Obviously others had slept on it a time or two.

Sleep came and sleep went- by 5:30 am I was up, trying to get ready without turning the lights on. The two sinks were on the wall outside the bathroom. I fumbled for the handle, turned it and nothing happened. Where in the world was the water?

Then it came on, but only for a few seconds. I hit the small knob next to the faucet. Again, water came, but only for a few seconds. What the heck was going on?

I got enough water to do what I needed to do. When the boys woke up, I offered a dollar to anyone who could figure out the faucets. A few minutes later, one industrious lad yelled 'A motion detector that turns it on!"

Then why did it come on when I hit the knob? Likely because I also moved my hand across the detector. I didn't feel so bad when just before he announced his discovery, the young hot shots also struggled trying to get water.

I paid the buck. Then it dawned on me. In the middle of an antiquated room, which probably looked like it did in 1950, were two sinks with motion detector faucets. How weird was that?

The faucets got the last laugh. When I returned later to get my stuff, I stuck my hand under to wash it, then pulled it out. The water stayed on, as if to say 'gotcha sucker.' It shut off before I freaked.

As for the boys, they did a great job. It was an interesting if somewhat unusual experience on the other side of the show ring, so to speak.