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'Best Fair Ever' underway in Carlton County

The 4-H buildings sit quietly empty Tuesday, waiting for the kids to bring their animals in to be judged Wednesday. Several kids practice with their horses in the evening light. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal

Bengal tigers, mutton busting and more can be seen at the 127th Carlton County Fair in Barnum this year. This year's theme is "Best Fair Ever 2018."

Gates open at 11 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 16, for the Carlton County Fair. The last day is Sunday, Aug. 19. Adult tickets are $7, children age 12 and under are $3 and children age 5 and under are free.

Mutton busting, a new event Sunday, is where young children try to ride an ewe for about eight seconds. There are two categories, 4 years and under and 5-7 years.

It is not as easy as it sounds; the sheep are not always excited about the idea. Similar to bull riding, the sheep run around in an attempt to buck their passengers. Most kids fall off in the first few seconds. Mutton busting is popular between shows at rodeos.

Also new this year are Bengal tiger shows all four days.

"We're trying to do something out of the ordinary," Fair manager Allysha Sample said.

Sample attempted to retire last year, but her replacement quit, so she agreed to stay on while they continue the search for a replacement.

She said residents may have noticed they did not get a Fair booklet in the mail like in years past. The cost to mail the booklets increased substantially; she estimates it would cost about $2,000 more to mail them this year.

Fair booklets can be picked up in Cloquet at WKLK Radio, the Carlton County Historical Society and the Cloquet Public Library.

The talent show, at 2 p.m. Saturday, has been growing since it began three years ago. There were 36 participants in 2017; this year, there are 49. There are a variety of acts taking the stage, from comedians and magicians, to yo-yo acts and singing. When participants are done at the fair, there are several follow up venues for them to continue their entertaining.

"We are more than a talent show," organizer Mary Rose said. "We create opportunities for entertainers to perform at the fair and beyond."

She said a few acts have been hired after they were heard at a follow-up venue. This year, there will be crowd participation in the form of a People's Choice, Most Entertaining and Most Unique awards.

Sample is excited about the new sheep barn. She estimates the former one was close to 100 years old. Volunteers had been patching the old barn together for many years. The "Build the Barn" fundraiser brought in about $20,000 and the Fair paid another $10,000 for pens in the new barn.

The Fair Committee originally hoped to raise enough money for a new arena,but only raised a small portion of the money necessary.

"I learned why farmers can't afford to be farmers anymore," Sample said.

After 126 years and still going strong, Carlton County has the distinction of being the only county in Minnesota to still offer horse racing. Horse racing fans will fill the stands 1:30 p.m. Saturday, while oval car racing is Friday night, demolition derby is Saturday evening and Figure 8 races are Sunday afternoon, all in the grandstand.

The 4-H program director Marna Butler-Fasteland said 4-H entries are down this year. What they lack in numbers they make up for in quality, variety and a wide range of creativity, she said.

Cindy Darwin, a mechanical science and shop judge, said there are some exciting new entries this year: several different types of circuit boards are on display; a senior 4-H student learned how to do silver work and entered several sterling silver rings she made; a third-grade boy made a dog house; and a seventh-grade boy refurbished his great-great-grandfather's wooden apple press, complete with a vintage barrel.