The Illinois State Fair is a tradition for the Lorsbachs of Calhoun County.
Lauren Lorsbach made the 1 1/2-hour trip to Springfield last weekend with seven family members, including her 2-year-old son, Reed Droege. Most wore red Cardinals T-shirts.
“My nephews ride the rides, and (Reed) likes to look at the animals,” said Lauren, 28, a nurse from Hardin. “We come every year. We hang out all day. We don’t usually leave until 8 o’clock.”
On this afternoon, the Lorsbachs were taking a break in the giant Food-A-Rama shelter, surrounded by stands for corn dogs and funnel cakes, turkey legs and snow cones.
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Reed took off his pint-sized cowboy hat and played on the pavement with his new toy tractor. The adults sipped lemon shake-ups and other cold drinks in cups shaped like palm trees.
“(The oldest grandson) is getting more into the history and science stuff,” said Lauren’s father, Butch Lorsbach, 56, of Hardin, an insurance manager. “It’s fun to see their interests change.”
The family’s next stop was the High Dive Show, where muscular young men dived up to 70 feet into a pool. Lauren and her mother, Melissa Lorsbach, took refuge under shade trees while brother C.W., his wife, Christie, and sons Bo and Riley braved the sun on metal bleachers.
“It’s hot,” said C.W., 34, of Hardin, who works at Kraft Foods in Granite City. “But it isn’t the hottest it’s ever been up here.”
The fair runs through Sunday. This year’s theme is “Growing Illinois,” so officials have beefed up agriculture displays and added new events, such as the Illinois Chopped Challenge.
At 5 p.m. each day, two contestants are handed a basket of ingredients raised or produced in Illinois, including peaches from Eckert’s Orchard in Belleville. They have 30 minutes to whip up meals that taste and look good to judges.
“This will help her with her public speaking,” said Sherri Tomhave, 47, of Jacksonville, whose 18-year-old daughter, Abby, was a contestant.
“She is Miss Morgan County, and they have to attend many events to represent the county. And she just loves doing stuff like this in front of a group of people.”
Abby wore her rhinestone crown, as did her competition, Sangamon County Fair Queen Megan Urbas.
Abby and her sister-in-law, Lauren Tomhave, made a wrap with sauteed steak, vegetables and cheese and served it with noodles and a peach-salsa glaze.
“She’s never had to cook on the fly like this,” Abby’s mother said. “She generally has a recipe.”
Megan won the contest with her marinated steak, tomatoes, mushrooms and onions, buttered noodles with cheese and side of mango salsa with chopped peaches.
Sherri’s son, Chase, was showing steers at the fair that day.
“We just love being here,” Sherri said. “The Illinois State Fair is the end of our summer. We see a lot of people we know. And we’re farmers. Anything we can do to promote agriculture, we do it.”
Another hotspot at the fair is a brick barn where children can milk a cow for $1. But lines go fast, as most kids are ready to quit after a squirt or two.
Tonya and Roger Daniels, of Pearl, showed up in the late afternoon with their twin daughters, Shelly and Gentry, 13, and son Kaden, 10.
“We did the rides first, but they’ve been asking all day, ‘When are we going to milk the cow?’” Tonya said.
The milking stand is a fundraiser for the University of Illinois Dairy Club. A volunteer sat on a stool next to the Jersey and gave children instructions on how to squeeze its teats.
Kaden broke out singing “Old MacDonald” while he was milking.
“You had to really squeeze, and then you had to release,” Gentry said. “The cow kept moving on Kaden. I think he was squeezing too hard. It was funny.”
Traditional agriculture-related activities at the fair include the Butter Cow, a life-sized sculpture carved from 500 pounds of butter, as well as 4-H and junior livestock shows.
Two records were set at Tuesday night’s Governor’s Sale of Champions. Buyers paid $76,500 for a barrow exhibited by a Sherman boy and $61,000 for a steer raised by a Clinton girl.
“The junior exhibitors who showed the champion animals receive 80 percent of the sales price,” according to a press release. “The remaining 20 percent will be equally split between the Illinois 4-H and FFA programs.”
Illinois Department of Agriculture spokeswoman Kristi Jones encourages fairgoers to take a new Ag Tour of the grounds and check out antique and modern farm implements on display.
“Not that agriculture has ever gone away (at the fair), but we just want to re-emphasize it,” she said. “Our No. 1 industry in Illinois is agriculture, and these 10 days are really the time to celebrate it.”
At a glance
What: Illinois State Fair
Where: Illinois State Fairgrounds, 801 E. Sangamon in Springfield
When: Fairgrounds open 7 a.m. to midnight daily through Sunday
Activities: Carnival rides, live music, livestock shows, harness racing, contests, high diving, historical programs, dance performances, storytelling, magic, puppets, marionettes, wine tastings and a petting zoo
Arena: Redneck Boat Races on Friday and Championship Demo Derby on Saturday
Grandstand: The Fray with Andy Grammer on Thursday; Hank Williams Jr. with .38 Special on Friday, USAC Silver Crown Series Auto Races and Sportsman Nationals on Saturday, Austin Mahone with Kalin and Myles, Laura Marano and Devin Hayes on Saturday, ARCA Racing Series on Sunday and Brantley Gilbert with Colt Ford and Michael Ray on Sunday
Admission: $7 for ages 13 to 59, $3 for ages 5 to 12 and 60 and older and free for children under 5
Parking: $7 a day
Information: Visit www.illinois.gov/statefair or call 217-782-6661