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At 58, L.A. Fair Shows No Signs of Aging : New Ferris Wheel, Other Attractions May Lure a Record Crowd : It’s Always Fair Weather

Times Staff Writer

Livestock and fireworks and stage shows. Ewe and the night and the music.

It’s that time of year again, the Los Angeles County Fair in Pomona, now in the midst of its annual 18-day run that will last through Sept. 29.

It is said that if a thing is old, it is a sign that it was fit to live. For the 58th time now, fun seekers are gathering within 480 acres to be part of--as this year’s theme says--"Struttin’ America’s Stuff.” By the time the gates close in two weeks, last year’s record attendance of more than 1,405,000 is expected to be broken. Already, on opening day Thursday, the horse-racing betting handle of $2.4 million demolished the fair record for an opening day and for any weekday.

Hog Calling

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A giant new Ferris wheel 120 feet high . . . hog calling and butter churning contests . . . the arts and crafts of China . . . cotton candy and goat’s milk . . . and so many varieties on display in the floral pavilion that the sponsors should be arrested for fragrancy .

This is the largest county fair in the nation and, after all, today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday.

Which means a fun break is in order.

“It is the largest portable Ferris wheel in the world,” Guy Leavitt exulted, craning to see the top of the 120-foot Grand Wheel.

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“The ride took 8 months to manufacture, was manufactured in Holland and is currently making its debut,” Leavitt went on. “It has 24 gondolas, each seating up to 6 persons. It has 18,000 lights that do 21 different sequences.”

Leavitt owns Ray Cammack Shows, which also is making its debut here as the carnival contractor. In addition to cleaner premises, with benches for the weary, the fresh look in this borough of the fair includes 86 rides.

Hand-Painted Horses

The carnival people call it all funbelievable . Also new for this year’s edition is a four-abreast carrousel with 60 hand-painted horses.

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If this is too tame, try the Falling Star, on which 45 people sit. The platform rides 80 feet into the air, then does a free fall--at a speed of 32 feet per second. If your stomach is still up to it, there are wonders with such names as the Wave Swinger, Sea Dragon, Hurricane.

But enough of that. There is more to life than news, weather and queasy stomachs.

Who should know better than Ralph A. Nichols of Pomona?

Nichols has reached age 78 and is a security guard in the fine arts building, where the arts and crafts of China are on display.

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“In 1922, my job was delivering ice,” he remembered. “In October of that year I drove a load of 25-pound and 50-pound blocks in a wooden wagon for the old Pomona Valley Ice Co.

“My destination was 40 minutes away, and I came upon a collection of tents and stock barns. Turned out it (the customer) was the first Los Angeles County Fair.”

Nichols tied his horses to a tree, and, using a hand cart, delivered the blocks of ice to the handful of food and drink concessionaires.

“Since the fair was held in October then, the rain started falling. Everybody ran for shelter under the half-dozen tents. The dirt roads turned to mud.”

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The white-haired old-timer recalled that although there were no thoroughbreds or tote boards on hand, there were races. “The fair staged chariot races, just like the Romans, four horses pulling each cart.” Ben-Hur would have loved it. He probably would have had a mount on closing day. “On the final day each year the fair had what it called the Million Dollar Stock Parade,” Nichols said. “Some people came just for that. All the livestock was paraded in front of thegrandstand--pigs, goats, sheep, cattle.”

The guard glanced behind him. It was 1985 again, and hard at work behind him was one of the participants in the China exhibit.

“I am using the heat from an alcohol lamp to bend the bamboo,” Kim Koga Svenson of Claremont explained, laboring over the framework for a kite.

Visitors inside the air-conditioned building find themselves observing print making, enamel working, parade dragon producing and shadow puppet performances.

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In a nearby commercial structure, another art form was on display, albeit taking into account that the San Diego County town of La Mesa isn’t quite as ancient a culture.

That is the hometown of Jane and Marty Highton, whose specialty is butterfly coffee tables.

“We get the butterflies from West Africa and South America,” the wife explained. “They have a short life cycle. They lay their eggs and die. That is when we have people gather them up for us.”

The Hightons glue the brilliant wings onto parchment, seal the design beneath heavy glass, and make it all part of a solid oak table ($595). “This way the papillons live forever,” the husband said.

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Great moments in commerce have taken place within these particular confines at the annual happening. As a grateful world can attest, it was at our local fair that the Frisbee and the Belgian waffle were first introduced.

It goes without saying that a trip to Pomona during the next two weeks is fat accompli. Gingerbread, strawberry pie, cinnamon rolls, macho nachos (with guacamole), fudge, taffy, Greek souvlakia, Danish aebleskiver , Italian meatballs.

For the horseplayers, not only has the old half-mile bullring been replaced by a wider and more familiar five-eighths oval, but a bettor need not even put in an appearance.

On the midway outside the grandstand is Anthony’s, a classy restaurant where one may sit at a table in air-conditioned comfort, observe the races live on 11 color monitors, and bet by using the new automatic vending machines.

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“Our chef is Holland-trained and our menu includes ragout fin en bouchee and lobster bisque,” said Cindi Miller, catering director of Anthony’s. “We offer a buffet for $8.95.”

Throughout the fairgrounds are booths that proclaim “fair information,” but any horseplayer can tell you that what is needed is good information.

As always the admission price ($6 for adults, $3 for children) includes everything except eating and drinking, the carnival rides, and losses at the races.

There are nightly fireworks and professional acts on five stages.

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Face it, you get moo for your money. One of the displays is a year in the life of a dairy cow, presented by Alta Dena Certified Dairies and Mt. Antonio Community College.

Also on display are ribbon-winning wines. The fair received a record 2,034 entries, which were judged in 242 classes, and an undisclosed number of glasses.

What have we left out?

The game booths. At one, patrons were using levers to flip rubber frogs (three for $1), attempting to win a small prize by landing one of the frogs into a lily cup.

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And folk festival days Saturday and Sunday will feature such presentations as a Scottish pipe band, Balkan dancers, Polish dancers, Polynesian dancers.

Although she has precious few of them, Suzanne Mosesian of Fresno adds a wrinkle to the fair, namely raisins. The 21-year-old is on hand as this year’s National Raisin Queen.

Once again, Los Angeles County throws itself a party.


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