By Barry Dalton
VANDALIA—Slippery pigs. Ice cream. Guitars. Cornholes. Brews. Vietnamese catfish. Saddled horses. Even a Roo. If you couldn’t find a way to have some fun at the Vandalia Area Fair Free Fun Day Saturday, July 11, at the Vandalia Fairgrounds, you probably weren’t trying.
Even though many area fairs have been canceled or postponed this year, Nancy Jennings said the Vandalia Area Fair Association plans to host regular events at the fairgrounds, in partnership with other area groups and residents, this summer.
“We plan to have more,” Jennings said. “We just decided to have some one-day events rather than a week-long fair.”
The day’s events began in the morning with a Rotary Club tractor cruise, a washer throwing tournament and a cornhole tournament. The rest of the events took place mostly in the afternoon and early evening with entertainment provided by area singers Erin and Casey Johnson of Montgomery City followed by Jayson Orr. The Tri-County Saddle Club hosted a horse show during the day that featured a number of competitive events that showcased riding ability, speed and agility. And, of course, a fair is not a fair without at least one bouncy house.
A new business serving the Vandalia area, Jump-A-Roo’s Bounce House Rentals LLC, provided the inflatables.
“We started the business in February and the coronavirus pushed us back a little bit, but it’s doing a lot better now,” said owner Geordie Sumner. “This is our fifth event in July. So, we decided to take a little leap and see what happens,” Geordie’s husband, Roger Preston, added.
In addition to a concession stand, an ice cream social fundraiser was held inside the air-conditioned Alethea Clubhouse. Logboat Brewing Co. out of Columbia sent their Vandalia staff to run a beer and wine booth. Lorie Sutton, a Vandalia native, served craft beers with fun themes, such as “space” and “dinosaurs.”
Nancy Nation, of Vandalia, was one of the volunteers piloting a golf cart to assist anyone who wanted a ride to and from the concession area, entertainment pavilion and parking lot during the hot, but otherwise, pleasant day. Her husband, Larry Nation, and local business owner, Bob Giltner, both of Vandalia, also braved the heat to fry scrumptious Vietnamese catfish— Vandalia style—$5 for a sandwich, $10 for a plate dinner.
The fair also featured a number of area businesses selling locally made products. One of the vendors was Big Gun Kettle Corn of Laddonia.
“My husband’s dad was in World War II and his CB handle was Big Gun,” owner Becky Garnett explained. “So when my husband, Gary, and I decided to do our business, we wanted to name it after him. We do a lot of stuff with veterans.”
Another vendor, Amana Fisher, was selling humorous and inspirational signs that she painted as part of her local business Handy Mandy’s, a home decor shop.
“I got into making these signs as a hobby,” Fisher said. “That hobby turned into having way too much around my home, and that turned into a business.”
Connie Uhey, of Vandalia, sat crocheting a baby blue scrunchie as she displayed the crafts she makes by hand. She started off by making wreaths and then expanded while stuck at home.
“I like to stay busy,” Uhey said. “I made just anything I could make while I couldn’t get out.”
The biggest attraction of the fair was arguably the Mud Pig Catch. The stands were full as community members watched area youth take their turns trying to wrangle a slippery swine into a small coral in the center of a mud pit.
Allan Wright of Vandalia is one of the volunteers who helped organize the raucous spectacle this year.
“I think this is the third year, and I kind of got conned into doing it,” Wright joked. “But the kids have a blast. When I was a kid, we always had it, and I remember it was fun then, too.”
Even while having a good time, the young contestants wore their game faces. In addition to some of the two-person teams sporting matching T-shirts, their coaches—family, friends and volunteers—were busily duct taping their ankles and waists.
“So the mud tries to suck your shoes off and tries to suck your pants down,” Kassi Barclay of Vandalia explained. “Duct tape helps you catch the pig, because you don’t have to worry about pulling stuff back on—you can concentrate on getting the pig.”
Barclay’s taped-up contestant Kaden Whiteaker, who boasted sarcastically about his extra shiny tape.
“Everybody’s got regular duct tape,” Whiteaker said. “I’ve got bling duct tape.”
“It’s all Dollar General had left,” Barclay said matter-of-factly. Just a few moments later, the event emcee joked that all of the stores in Vandalia were probably sold out of duct tape thanks to this event.
Although some caught a pig and others didn’t, nobody had to go home with mud on their faces. Local firefighters Scott Otis and Bobby Hunn, among others, were on the scene to hose them down as parents helped. Freshly drenched contestant, Sylas Finley, smiled as he posed for a photo with his teammate then pleaded with his parents. “I want to go again. Can we try again?”