DES MOINES - The fried scent of corn dogs hovered in the air. The grinding sound of metal on metal drowned out the jubilant screeches and laughter of youth strapped and buckled into the cabins of towering rides. Men in cowboy hats strutted around on horses.
The Iowa State Fair is underway.
Each year, thousands of fairgoers pour into the state fair grounds to enjoy rides, food, activities and presentations of all varieties.
T-R PHOTO BY DAVID ALEXANDER
Fairgoers pour into the Iowa State Fair Thursday afternoon. Thursday was the first day of the fair, which runs through Aug. 19. For the past two years, nearly 100,000 people attend the fair each of its 11 days.
"I love the food," Holly Gehling, 32, of Des Moines, said while she waited for the 11 a.m. Swampmaster's Gator Show to end.
Gehling said she brings her three children, ages 10, 6 and 1, to the fair every year. They love the big yellow slide. The family had never been on the first day, which was Thursday. This year, she said, she thought they would try something different.
Some events, like displays of chain saw artistry, a Bengal tiger encounter and street acrobats, run throughout the week.
Although technically multiple events, the 4-H competitions are almost constantly taking place. Competitors from all over the state turn out to showcase their animals and their skill handling them.
With competitions based on age and animal - mostly sheep, horses, pigs and cows - the combinations are almost endless.
Jessica Hanrahan, 15, of Winterset, had a booth in the horse barn. She and her mother, Amy, 39, littered it with blue ribbons and a photo of her that reads "Cowgirl Queen."
"It's a lot of fun to show off your horse," she said, explaining why she competes in the Cowgirl Queen competition, which takes place Friday.
Her mother said Jessica has a cheering section during the Cowgirl Queen competition, which is a sort of beauty pageant where riding is incorporated.
Still, others events are featured on specific days.
Thursday saw such attractions as duck and turkey calling contests, a grape stomping demonstration and a flower show.
Lisa Duck, 30, of Dupo, Ill., said she used to come to the Iowa State Fair as a girl, but hasn't been in years. This year, her aunt, who does glasswork, is one of many people sitting in kiosks hoping to sell their wares.
"It's a fun place," she said from a bench, fanning herself with a small paper hand-fan.
Not much has changed since the last time she was at the fair, Duck said.
Rich Baker, 57, of Des Moines, agreed with the sentiment.
Baker, a maintenance worker in the animal barns, which had the stinging aroma of bleach mixed with the earthy scent of farm animals, said he hasn't been to the fair in nearly 20 years.
Not much has changed since then, he said.
In fact, several people said the fair has remained unchanged for many years, or at the very least the change has been gradual; the fair offers new attractions without losing any of its panache, they said.
Baker noted how patient the animal handlers were, pointing out how he was previously unaware that handlers spray paint sheep to give the animal's fleece an even color after sheering.
"They know what they are doing," he said.
Everyone said the weather was perfect for opening day.
Which was surprising, Neil Williams, a worker at a toy booth, said. Williams said he and his coworkers got a late start setting up their booths Thursday morning because of the rain Wednesday, but everything managed to work out fine.
His job doesn't feel like work because he sells toys, he said, shooting a plastic gun that propelled bubbles toward passersby.
"Everybody has to be a kid, especially at the fair," he said.
The Iowa State Fair began in 1854 and is the largest event in the state. For the past two years, the fair has seen nearly 100,000 visitors a day.
Kenny Kittle, 68, of Russell, said he brings his family every year. They spend the whole week camping and attend the fair every day.
This year, the fair runs through Aug. 19.
"This is kind of our little vacation," he said. "You meet a lot of different people here."
For a complete list of events and schedules visit iowastatefair.org.