When I was a kid on our western Pennsylvania farm during the 1940s, the highlight of every summer (apart from threshing time and being out of school) was going to the Canfield Fair on Labor Day weekend. Though it’s actually the Mahoning County (Ohio) Fair, everyone calls it the Canfield Fair after the town where it’s located.
Mahoning County borders the Ohio-Pennsylvania state line and Saturday was “Pennsylvania Day” at the Fair. On Saturday morning after chores, we’d get dressed up, pack a picnic lunch in the car trunk, and head out for Canfield, a distance of about twenty-five miles. My sister B.G. and I would be in the back seat giggling with excitement and watching for the landmarks that told us we were getting close to Canfield.
The last of these landmarks was a large turkey farm a couple of miles south of the fairgrounds that was our cue to begin craning our necks to be the first to catch a glimpse of the Ferris wheel. We finally arrived, the car was parked, and we were instructed to meet back there at a certain time for lunch. We kids were entrusted with a few dollars each, and me with the care of my younger sister, and we were turned loose.
B.G. mostly just wanted to get to the rides, and while I looked forward to ‘em too, my main interest was all those shiny new tractors on display. So she had to tag along with me while I made the rounds of the dealers exhibits, climbing on every tractor and trying to memorize the controls, shift patterns, and model numbers or letters of each one (I thought the John Deere tractors were the best because they had six speeds forward, which indicated to me that they would go fast, or at least much faster than our 3-speed Ford-Ferguson).
Finally, I would give in to B.G.’s whining and we’d head for the midway. I think we rode other rides, such as the merry-go-round and the wide whirling swings, but the one I remember most, and my favorite, was the Ferris wheel. As we ascended we could hear the little LeRoi engine straining against the governor – today the rides are all electric, but back then each one had its own gas engine.
The breathtaking view from the very top was a big thrill – the whole fairgrounds, with its rows of tractors and machinery, the barns and pavilions, the concession stands, and the tiny people, about the size of B.G.’s dolls, filling every walkway and the midway. Even the roof of the huge grandstand was beneath us.
It was especially fun to be stopped in the very uppermost car while passengers far below were loaded or unloaded, although B.G. remembers that it made her nervous. One had time to peer off in what seemed like miles in all directions, but all too soon the stop and go descent signaled that it would soon be our turn to climb down from our car and walk on land again among the common folk.
We rode the Ferris wheel and the other rides several times and, while we weren’t allowed to visit the side shows (might be too risqué), or to play any game that smacked of gambling, we did spend some time in the penny arcade. I remember the shooting galleries where the bear or duck or whatever would move across in front of you while you carefully aimed your gun at him. If the aim was true, he’d turn jerkily and go the opposite direction. Also, probably for a dime, we got to stamp our names or some witty saying around the edge of an aluminum disc, which we were sure to display in school the following week.
B.G. remembers that we usually got cotton candy, and that she invariably wanted a candy apple which, after she got it, never tasted as good as she’d anticipated.
Before we were ready, it was time to head for home – there were all those chickens to feed, you know. We were tired and happy and almost ready to start another year of school – well, my sister was anyway.
A small Ferris wheel at a local street fair. (Photo by Sam Moore)