Who needs Farmersonly.com when love can blossom in the livestock barn.

If it wasn’t for the Kansas State Fair, Kacey Rieger, 22, Powhattan and Clay Toews, 24, Burrton, would never have met four years ago. A mutual friend introduced them while they were both showing livestock. They turned out to be agricultural soulmates and will be getting married next Saturday in Brown County.

Preparing for a wedding would be reason enough to forgo a trip to Hutchinson with a livestock trailer filled with their prize Duroc, Chester, Spot and Yorkshire swine to show.

But neither the bride-to-be nor her fiancé would consider it.

Resting on a bleacher in the Sheep, Swine and Goat Building on Friday morning, they were with her brother, 14-year-old Jake Rieger, and her parents, Lori and Bill Rieger, in between swine shows.

Clay Toews says he grew up at the Kansas State Fair.

“I use to show brown Swiss cows,” he said. His father, Bill Toews, is superintendent at the dairy barn.

“We’re a pretty tight tribe,” Clay said. “The Holling family has been showing swine for 56 years, the Harms family 50 years and the Wehner’s 25. That’s consecutive years.”

Now Clay and Kacey will return next year as husband and wife building their own memories. They have had a head start, showing swine together for the past three.

Next Saturday’s wedding will be in a barn at a pumpkin patch near the Rieger farm. A pit-barbecued pig is on the menu.

— Kathy Hanks

McPherson man shows 180 pigeons

He had made it all the way to the grandstand before the Kansas Highway Patrol caught the culprit that flew the coop.

They returned Dave Orth’s pigeon safely back to its cage.

The McPherson pigeon man was thankful. He came with 180 pigeons, and he wanted to return with them all.

Orth’s success can be seen in the poultry barn. He had a number of placings, including this year’s grand champion and reserve champion pigeons. His granddaughter, Brinley, had the grand champion at last year’s fair. Another granddaughter, Jayden, also received several honors. Someday his toddler grandson, Hudson, will have pigeons at the fair, too.

But for Orth, it’s not about winning a prize.

“People haven’t seen birds like these,” he said. “We want people to know there are more than just pigeons that fly around and crap all over cars.”

No, these aren’t your flying nuisances. These are fancy pigeons – homing pigeons, racing pigeons, Birmingham rollers, helmet pigeons. There are many other breeds in several colors and sizes. One breed has curly feathers. Another is snowy white.

He used to race pigeons at a place near Medora. He goes to a pigeon swap meet in Missouri. He takes his pigeons to shows across the Midwest.

Pigeons are a passion that developed when he was in eighth grade.

“Then you grew up and girls didn’t like pigeons,” he said with a laugh.

Later in life, after he had kids and a place to put them, he began growing his flock.

“I got a couple birds and a couple more birds,” Orth said. Now he has more than 300 birds.

His wife doesn’t mind, he said. He has pigeons. She quilts.

His grandchildren, who entered some of the birds in the fair, come over and help him feed and water them, he said.

Pigeons are a food source in developing countries, he said. They are like eating a turtle dove. In the 1940s and 1950s in the United States, people could buy squab in a can.

During World War II, pigeons were used to carry messages, Orth said.

Orth said these days there is good money in racing and show pigeons. What he earns at the Kansas State Fair pays for his annual feed bill.

These are all things he tells folks when he is in the poultry barn at the fair. It’s like a zoo, he said. He works to educate the public about the state fair flock.

Orth does this every year. He enjoys it.

“People come in ’You know what kind of bird that is?” and I tell them.

— Amy Bickel

Peanut legacy

Ron Allen and his sons Jeremy and Heath, might have the healthiest, affordable and one of the oldest concessions at the Kansas State Fair.

On Friday morning, Mark Statzer stopped at their peanut concession stand to grab a $1 bag of roasted peanuts.

The Wichita resident says he stops at the booth every year.

“I’ve already had enough grease for the day,” Statzer said. “I need something calmer.”

The simple product hasn’t changed in 73 years, except they now sell salted and Cajun spiced bags of peanuts. The Allens keep bags of peanuts warm in a large heated metal barrel. They purchased 550 pounds of peanuts to roast during the 10 days.

“Peanuts sell,” Harold said. Though, he says, it has been a slow year for all the vendors in their neighborhood. “Warm peanuts sell best when the weather is cooler. ”

The Allens purchased the stand from Harold and Dorcas Tate — better known as Mutt and Pie. From 1944 to 1992, the Tate boot with its big barrel and shaded by an assortment of beach umbrellas was always the first booth on Pride of Kansas Avenue.

Mutt and Pie missed the 1993 fair due to health issues. Then in 1995, they sold the stand to the Allens.

“They sold it lock, stock and barrel,” said Jeremy. “Literally.”

Along with the barrel, they even included the original signs with the peanut man.

Both Dorcas and Harold have died, but their memory lives on in the State Fair Museum’s exhibit this year.

In the early days, the Tates sold peanuts for 5 cents a pint and 10 cents a quart; however, by today’s standards, a $1 for a bag of roasted peanuts is cheap. Allens also have a brisk business selling soda pop for $1.50.

The peanut booth is a family affair. While Ron is retired, Jeremy and Heath take vacation days off from their jobs to work the fair. Along with the three men, Ron’s wife, Colleen, helps with the booth. Plus Heath’s daughters, Taylor, 18, and Sydney, 11, help.

“They don’t know it yet, but it will be all theirs,” Heath said.


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