This year there will be no California State Fair, so this is a good time for memories of long-ago fairs. Our state fair began in 1854 in San Francisco, and in the following years it moved from city to city. The fair settled down in Sacramento and many readers will remember the fairgrounds at the corner of Stockton Boulevard and Broadway. Ronald Reagan was our governor in 1968 when the fair moved to Cal Expo. And it has been there ever since.

These messages about the State Fair were sent to Louis Silveira for the Elk Grove High School update, and they are memories of the long-ago California State Fairs.

Larkin Morse Penrose (Elk Grove High class of 1971): “I really enjoyed this EGHS Update issue because it sparked so many fun memories of days gone by. It triggered a conversation with my husband (Jim Penrose) and we had fun talking about our state fair experiences. We remember the excitement we had as young children when we would go with our families to the old state fairgrounds with their majestic brick buildings. The first and foremost thing that was drummed into our heads when we stepped onto the fairgrounds was that we were to meet at the Golden Bears if any of us were separated from our parents.

“Jim remembered the little train cars that were strung together like elephants that would transport people from the front to the back of the fair. Each car would hold several people and he and his buddy would run to try and jump on the last car as it drove by.

“One of my favorite exhibits was the Hall of Flowers, the air conditioned misty building with the waterfall and great landscaping displays. My mom and I also enjoyed the flower arranging displays and table settings. I remember getting a little bag of lavender sachet in the Hall of Flowers as my remembrance of the Fair. Jim said that he got one of the chameleons on a string that was safety pinned to his shirt. And who could forget tossing ping pong balls to win a goldfish that you could take home in a plastic bag filled with colored water? I can remember my brother, Michael, proudly winning a set of ruby red stemmed goblets for my mom by throwing dimes in them. Mom went out of her way to serve something in them each Christmas, to his delight.

“We remembered standing in line to try samples of food and ranking them on small pieces of paper. For meals, we would head to the pizza garden to have a big, gooey piece of pepperoni pizza and maybe an Orange Julius, as we listened to piped-in German accordion music. Snow cones were also a big hit on a hot Sacramento day. The commercial building had delicious vanilla ice cream bars dipped in rich chocolate that we looked for each year.

“Jim said that his family would go to the back of the fair to watch the horses race. He remembered how the ground shook as the large steeds would race for the finish line in a flurry.

“As a farmer’s daughter, I also remembered spending a good deal of time in the agricultural barns and watching the pigs and calves being born.  We took a good long look at all the latest and greatest models of tractors and farm equipment. The County Building was always a highlight with all of the animation and the various produce displays stacked precisely together. The next stop was the various sewing, food and industrial art displays to see who won the grand prize.

“At night we would ride the Ferris wheel and when it stopped at the highest point of the ride, we could look out and see most of the fairgrounds with all of the colorful lights and people below. It was at that point that my dad proceeded to rock the car back and forth as I would scream, to his amusement. 

“At the end of the evening, the fireworks would burst in the sky as the glittering silver shower would cascade down as we would sit and watch in amazement.”

 David Sperry (Elk Grove High Class of 1956): “I still remember every detail of the old state fair - especially the freak show on the midway, which was really scary. There is no comparison with the new state fair - old was much better. The old counties building was tops.”

Kay Pudge Barnes (Elk Grove High Class of 1960): “I loved the memories of the old state fair grounds. It is true it was more fun and interesting than the current fair. The Sacramento County Fair was held there too. I spent time in the barns and with the 4-H exhibits. I still love walking among the animals. Before big markets opened in Elk Grove, the family would go to the State Fair Market, just across from the fairgrounds. We would buy our groceries for two weeks.”

Thanks to Larkin, David, and Kay for the Memories!

Note: Mark your calendar – the Elk Grove Historical Society annual Yard Sale will be on Sept. 17-19. It will be a huge yard sale, and I will write all about it next week!


History Happened Here, Book 1 – River, Oaks, Gold

History Happened Here, Book 2 – Fields, Farms, Schools

We the People, a Story of Internment in America

All book proceeds go for student scholarships, and I thank the many purchasers who have made possible the 80 scholarships with each one $1,000  – make your check for books payable to Laguna Publishers and send to me at 9227 Lamprey Drive, Elk Grove, CA 95624.  Books are $20 apiece and California sales tax is included. Add $3 for shipping of one book; $5 for 2-3 books. Call me at (916) 685-0606 or email me at elizabethpink@gmail.com. Books are also available at the Davis Ranch in Sloughhouse.