The ‘greatest days’ of Range summer nearly here (and gone)

One summer a few years back I was in the Noon Rotary Club in Hibbing, Minnesota, and along with my colleagues was tasked with taking tickets at the St. Louis County Fair in the nearby town of Chisholm. It was a fundraiser for the club and an opportunity for service at the biggest single summer event on the Iron Range.

In my early 20s, my appearance in the blue Rotary shirt must surely have confused me with the area youth hired by older or vacationing Rotarians to take their place on the lines. Nevertheless, steeled by several months behind the editor’s desk of an unpopular local newspaper, I was ready to collect money from people averse to giving it to me. Make no bones, that was the job.

You have to understand how it used to be. Before this time. Things were cheaper. Things were located in other places, places where things used to be located. The gates were closer to the lots. People who used to be well-liked and respected were alive, unlike now, when they were dead. Those people never would have allowed this to happen, that is, all the things that had recently happened.

Never mind the details. If you don’t already know them I can’t in good conscious recommend you learn them. And anyway, the details aren’t what matters when you work the pedestrian gate.

The pedestrian gate was the one gate where people weren’t entering from paid parking lots. In other words, the cheapest way to get into the fair was through this gate operated by me and one other guy. With all the aforementioned lamentation of change this was where the white hot reality of the situation encountered the cold muscle of volunteer labor.

There are all kinds of plucky, blue collar county fairs all over this state. I’m not in the business of telling you this one is better than yours or yours or yours. But the St. Louis County Fair, like the very Iron Range region it serves, is the most opulently blue collar fair I’ve seen. It’s expensive, built for the kind of pleasure that comes in bottles or tank tops, loud as hell and perched over a mine pit dug by four generations of our ancestors. They have art and chickens and whatnot, too, but that’s not the thrust. You wouldn’t come here for that. Yet every year, scores of people of all ages, some rarely seen throughout the rest of the year, teem in through the gates to participate in a tradition celebrating the middle age of summer, the last time all of this will happen before the cold end we know is coming.

The St. Louis County Fair opens Wednesday, July 27 in Chisholm and runs through Sunday, July 31. Though a great amount of hot weather awaits us on northern Minnesota’s Iron Range, this event is largely regarded as the practical end of summer. The rest is just waiting — maybe a short vacation with the kids before school starts, a quick stab at the rest of the summer chore list.

It’s coming, though. The end is near. A season of growth always falls to the cold rotation of Earth on its axis. Breathe it in. Hold it tight. Look up at the blue sea of sky, covering the green and red stripes of the Iron Range summer horizon.

To access or print the schedule of events, click here for Page 1 or Page 2. These are PDFs because that’s how this works, friends. That’s how it goes where I’m from.


  1. Thanks for this : )

    The “You have to understand how it used to be …” paragraph is classic.

    The fair is seen as sort of the end to summer. However, it just seems too early this year to me. I wonder when the last year was that there wasn’t even one August date. (That should be a trivia question or something!)

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