On the fair, tall timber and Thomas the Tank Engine

PHOTO: screenshot via YouTube video by Will Rain

PHOTO: screenshot via YouTube video by Will Rain

In a quiet summer reverie I hear the chuffing of a steam engine around the tracks of a country bend. What could it be? Why, it’s a train with a face, of course.

Our boys are officially too old for Thomas the Tank Engine and his Island of Sodor; Sir Topham Hatt and all the steamies and diesels. I know this because they told me. And they’d know.

To follow Thomas the Tank Engine’s world is to explore an illogical, inefficient, disconcertingly polite world in which a wealthy businessman controls an entire island, its economy based on sentient trains moving around flatbeds sometimes loaded with as little as a single box of balloons or a pair of clown shoes. The cities are caked in coal dust and the countryside is guarded by an eccentric farmer who appears to produce the island’s entire food supply by himself, at least 10 percent of which is eaten by Sir Topham Hatt himself.

Still, I miss the trains. And even though it was a thunder run through crazytown, I kind of miss taking the boys down to Duluth to see Thomas the Tank Engine at the Depot. He’ll be there again the next two weekends for those of you still doing time on Sodor.

Find out more about Thomas the Tank Engine on the North Shore Scenic Railroad, Aug. 1, 2 and 3 and 8, 9 and 10 in Duluth.

One of the places you can imagine talking trains delivering obscure three-dimensional objects would be Tall Timber Days in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. This is another of the Iron Range region’s classic summer events, and one that marks the nearing of the end. Friday, Aug. 1 and Saturday, Aug. 2 both feature street dances in downtown Grand Rapids, including a full weekend of family-friendly Tall Timber Days events. The Parade is Sunday, Aug. 3, at 1 p.m.

Every county has its fair, and every county thinks its fair is the best, the most culturally relevant, the “purest of heart” of all the fairs anywhere on Earth. They’re all wrong and they’re all right. But let the record state, we’ve got a good ones here on the Iron Range. The most Iron Range-y county fair of all, is the St. Louis County Fair which opens next Wednesday, Aug. 6, and runs through Sunday, Aug. 10.

Meantime, running concurrently with the St. Louis County Fair is Doc “Moonlight” Graham Days in the host city of Chisholm. And just up the highway is Merritt Days in Mt. Iron, where on Saturday, Aug. 9, the 1990s chart-topper “Live” will perform a free show. There’s been a lot of back-and-forth on this show, and it appears that the city has confirmed that this concert will feature the original “Live” lead singer, a guy with a name that you either know or that you can look up yourself, because that’s about as far as I’m willing to invest myself in all this.

After that, the Itasca County Fair from Aug. 13-17 in Grand Rapids. Plus county fairs and gatherings in small towns all over Minnesota. Feel free to share them in the comments.

I’ll be traveling off and on the next few weeks. I’m not saying I won’t be posting here and I’m not saying I will. But I’ll probably only post some. I may have something over at my Up North Report blog at the Star Tribune. I’ll have my Sunday columns and maybe a few nuggets from the road. But when I’m back off the road, I’ll be prepping fall classes and plotting my Sept. 27 Great Northern Radio Show. Summer will be over. So do me a favor and enjoy every last minute of it. That’s my goal.

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