by Judy Laing

“Our State Fair is a great state fair
Don’t Miss it don’t even be late”

Editor’s Note: This could be Judy Laing’s theme song! We’re all familiar with the musical featuring songs by Rodgers and Hammerstein, but for Judy the Texas State Fair is part of who she is. Here’s a peek into her State Fair memories. I think she will bring back memories for many of us. Unfortunately, the 2020 Texas State Fair has been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since we can’t visit the State Fair in person . . . Let’s go to the Fair via Judy’s memories!

I have been going to the State Fair for as long as I can remember. When I was in school, we actually received free tickets and school was cancelled for Fair Day. Not having a State Fair this year is very sad for many of us. It is a Fall tradition that we look forward to each year. Among my favorite State Fair traditions are listening to the Marine Corps Band perform and making us all feel so very proud to be an American, watching the Kilgore Rangerettes perform in front of the Hall of State and of course enjoying a mouth-watering Fletcher corny dog!

The Hall of State is one of my most favorite buildings to visit each year. I love the art deco architecture and statues of our Texas heroes. One of the previous most memorable events was a display honoring former Dallas Cowboys Coach Tom Landry and player heroes of the 80s and 90s. It brought out quite a large crowd to remember the “good old days.” It was amazing to see our Super Bowl memorabilia so close that you could almost touch them.

The Daughters of American Revolution (DAR) Building was so much fun to visit, and see the room that was always full of Texas memorabilia. They also had comfortable chairs to rest your feet and have a $1 bottle of water to regroup for the rest of the day!

Of course, for many, one of the very first traditions to revisit is the Fletchers corny dogs stand. I always loved going to the stand right by Big Tex, so when I stood in line to get my corny dog I could hear the 55-foot, Fair Ambassador Big Tex bellow “Howdy Folks! Welcome to the State Fair.”

The anticipation of tasting the new food creations (mostly fried) that would entice your senses is hugely anticipated. Vendors have figured out how to fry almost anything!

One of the saddest events was October 19, 2012 — the day Big Tex burned. I visited some of the remains of Big Tex and saw a display of copies of his belt buckle, boots and hat. A new Big Tex now stands, but for those of us who’ve been going to the Fair for 60+ years it’s still not the same having the old one that had been a Santa Claus before he became Big Tex.

Football and the Texas State Fair have always been linked together. During the Fair, the Cotton Bowl (located on the fairgrounds) hosts the Red River Showdown featuring The University of Texas and University of Oklahoma along with the gridiron meeting of Prairie View A&M-Grambling State games. The Cotton Bowl brings back so many memories of football games. What fun it has been to attend the Red River Showdown and see the Fair full of Texas orange and Oklahoma red.

Visiting the Automobile Building to check out the new cars was always enjoyable. It was fun slipping behind the wheel and dreaming of driving out of the fairgrounds with a new car.

Of course one of the big draws is the agricultural component including the stock show, pig races, dog races and petting zoo.

Many visitors only went to the Fair to experience the Midway with the thrill of countless carnival rides up and down the Midway. One of the pictures included is an aerial view from high in the air. You could get a great view of the State Fair from the Trailblazer Monorail or the huge Texas Star ferris wheel. When I was younger riding the 1913 Windstorm wooden roller coaster followed by a visit to the Horror House were required activities.

Everywhere you look on the Fairgrounds, there is another building to explore. From the Food Building with tons of food samples to the Women’s Building featuring new inventions to make a homemaker’s life easier to and the Southwestern Bell exhibit where you could make free, long distance phone calls to friends and family. These phone calls were always popular because long distance calls were so expensive back then.

A great way to end a long day at the Fair was to watch the Twilight Parade with floats, marching bands and drill teams. Nightly fireworks brought each day to a memorable end.

When the Texas State Fair returns, don’t miss it and don’t be late enjoying everything it has to offer. I promise you’ll make memories!

Judy Laing is a proud, native Texan who has always enjoyed history. She graduated from The University of Texas at Austin with a degree in history. When she and her husband, Doug, were married 50 years ago a family friend encouraged her to buy antique furniture instead of buying new items, and the saga began. She shares her love of antiques through a booth at a local antique mall. Judy loves Texas and the State Fair.

Judy and Doug celebrated a socially distanced 50th wedding anniversary in August 2020. They have two daughters and three grandchildren. One daughter has caught the antique bug and a grandson loves history.

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