10 things to watch at the DuPage County Fair

  • Even the champion steers will want to take a bite out of the prizes awarded during judging competitions beginning with 4-H sheep Wednesday morning at the DuPage County Fair in Wheaton.

      Even the champion steers will want to take a bite out of the prizes awarded during judging competitions beginning with 4-H sheep Wednesday morning at the DuPage County Fair in Wheaton. Daniel White | Staff Photographer, July 2014

  • Livestock -- dairy cows, swine, poultry -- will be exhibited and judged at the DuPage County Fair. The winning handlers are awarded "premiums," or prize money.

      Livestock -- dairy cows, swine, poultry -- will be exhibited and judged at the DuPage County Fair. The winning handlers are awarded "premiums," or prize money. Daniel White | Staff Photographer, July 2014

  • No, these pigs aren't running from the smell of bacon. They're competing in races, a must-see at the fair.

      No, these pigs aren't running from the smell of bacon. They're competing in races, a must-see at the fair. Mark Black | Staff Photographer, July 2011

  • The Willis Clan will perform "kind of a real variety show" on the expo center's renovated stage Thursday night, fair organizers say.

    The Willis Clan will perform "kind of a real variety show" on the expo center's renovated stage Thursday night, fair organizers say. Courtesy of the DuPage County Fair Association

  • Alissa Harper, the founder of the Axe Women Loggers of Maine, competes with a hotsaw (a modified chain saw) as it's known to lumberjacks and jills. The group of world champions in the sport will stage 30-minute shows at the fair.

    Alissa Harper, the founder of the Axe Women Loggers of Maine, competes with a hotsaw (a modified chain saw) as it's known to lumberjacks and jills. The group of world champions in the sport will stage 30-minute shows at the fair. Courtesy of Mark Bell Presents/Steve Remich

  • The Axe Women Loggers of Maine will divide into two teams and the audience into cheering sections while they throw axes and saw cottonwood. "Everything that we do is a head-to-head battle," says the group's founder, Alissa Harper.

    The Axe Women Loggers of Maine will divide into two teams and the audience into cheering sections while they throw axes and saw cottonwood. "Everything that we do is a head-to-head battle," says the group's founder, Alissa Harper. Courtesy of Mark Bell Presents

 
 
Updated 7/22/2015 10:08 AM

Your voice takes on a twang.

You're craving corn dogs and corn on the cob dipped in butter.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The barns no longer wrinkle your nose.

The shorts and flip-flops give way to overalls and boots.

And by day five of the DuPage County Fair, you're ready to trade in the Toyota for the tractor, the subdivision for the farm.

All right, maybe you haven't quite turned into a bareback-riding, steer-wrestling cowboy.

But the county fair, at the very least, stirs up our rural past and that sense of pride in working the land.

And, oh, there's a whole lotta ol' timey fun.

So looky here for 10 things to watch -- and help leave the suburbs behind -- at this year's fair, which runs from Wednesday through Sunday at the fairgrounds along Manchester Road in Wheaton.

New layout

"We're flipping a lot of things around on the grounds this year," says Jim McGuire, manager of the nonprofit DuPage County Fair Association.

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The expo center, for example, will become more of an entertainment venue instead of merely a shortcut for crowds. With new doors, glass windows, acoustic panels and air conditioning, the interior looks polished and feels inviting, McGuire says.

Businesses that usually set up promotional displays in the expo center are moving out to buildings No. 2 and 3 (also now air-conditioned and repainted), and home economics displays -- "what the fair is all about," McGuire says -- are moving in. Ditto for a talent show at 2 p.m. Saturday and award ceremonies. The refurbished stage, previously unused, will host an a cappella quartet, the Blend, among other acts.

Many of the improvements came after the city of Wheaton cited code violations on the decades-old buildings in an inspection sought by the county.

Throw -- and chop -- like a girl

Alissa Harper swears she never gets the least bit nervous around souped-up chain saws. Carpentry tools on the other hand ... "I can't watch anyone use a table saw," Harper, 35, says. "But I'll run a chain saw between my toes all day long."

Harper, in fact, competes with saws and axes around the globe in lumberjill competitions. About five years ago, she formed the Axe Women Loggers of Maine to showcase the sport and add a little sex appeal (see: pinup calendar).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The women -- all world champions -- will pull up to the county fairgrounds in a 30-foot-trailer. Harper is used to the head scratching. "You're a full-time lumberjill?" "Shouldn't you be more, um, burly?"

"We're more athletic than anything else," Harper says.

The women will split into two teams and the audience into two cheering sections for 30-minute shows at noon, 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. daily east of the fair's beer tent. They will race each other in underhand and standing block chopping and cutting cottonwood with chain and crosscut saws. And in a pool of water, they will try to knock their opponents off rolling logs.

Then you'll probably find them socializing in the beer tent or around the carnival rides, because being a lumberjill takes a lot of work and "you have to blow off steam." Take, for instance, setting up 40 to 50 logs and sweeping all that sawdust.

It's no chore for Harper.

"I love the traveling. I love the sport. I love the fact that we're girls."

Speaking of beer …

The fair's beer tent will be devoted to the craft variety all five days of the fair. To name a few of the 25 to 30 breweries offering pours: Goose Island of Chicago, Founder's of Grand Rapids and 3 Sheeps of Sheboygan, Wisconsin.

More beer -- and wine

The Spirits of DuPage, a beer and wine tasting that doubles as a fundraiser for upkeep of the fairgrounds, will relocate from near the grandstand to the expo center. Sample from about 15 suburban restaurants, plus 40 breweries and wineries from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Friday. Tickets are $50.

Where's Wilbur

You'd think there was a whiff of bacon in the air at the sight of these hasty hogs. The popular pig races return south of buildings No. 2 and 3 at 11 a.m., 1, 2:30, 4:30 and 6:30 p.m. daily.

Homegrown talent

Michael Lynch, the St. Francis High School alum and Wheaton native coached by Christina Aguilera on NBC's singing competition "The Voice," will headline the fair's opening night with a 7 p.m. concert near the grandstand.

Do-re-mi

If there was a county fair version of the von Trapp family, it's the The Willis Clan, a Nashville-area family of 12 (!) kids who sing (sometimes bluegrass), Irish dance and have a reality show on TLC. They perform "kind of a real variety show," McGuire says, on the expo center's stage 6 p.m. Thursday.

For the pint-size farmer

The fair's AgVentureland will get a bigger tent filled with hands-on activities for kids: sheep shearing, a petting zoo, rope making and corn grinding. "The county fairs, the agricultural fairs are a really good starting point for people to not only have fun, but to learn a little bit, spark some interest in the careers," McGuire says. It's open 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.

Going, going, gone

Hear the motormouths of the fair at livestock auctions at 7 p.m. Saturday. Not shopping for a blue-ribbon dairy cow? It's worth a visit just to try to decipher the auctioneer.

Giving back

Satisfy those fair cravings while supporting fundraisers for the DuPage County Marines, who will be selling roasted corn and sweet potatoes, and for the Knights of Columbus, who will set up a cream puff stand. And bring along canned goods for a drive for suburban food pantries.

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