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Fair’s off, running in new digs

Variety reigns; Event Center speeches kick off festivities

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Loose pig!

It's Wednesday, the first day of the Salt Lake County Fair, and a 250-pound porker is trying to escape its inevitable bath.

Baths, it goes without saying, are desirable things for swine to undertake before judging. But this particular swine is having none of it.

Grunting and snuffling, the black-and-pink pig keeps escaping the two or three people who are trying to herd it toward the hoses at one end of the pens. Other sympathetic pig owners join in. Soon there are five people slapping and whooping and blocking the pig, which by this time is running hard, squealing loudly and knocking over a barricade in its frantic attempt to escape.

Bonita Nielsen, whose 11-year-old son, Scott, is showing two pigs of his own, joins the fray and is immediately rewarded with a slip and a skinned knee on the concrete floor. Undaunted, she collects herself and stands bravely, if foolishly, directly in front of the charging hog, which responds by knocking her flat.

"Ours walked right down and walked right in" to the bathing pens, Nielsen said after recovering. "Seems like they'd want to, in this heat. Pigs can't sweat, you know."

County Commissioner Brent Overson and South Jordan Mayor Dix McMullin can sweat, but they're not. They are giving speeches, officially opening the fair, in the brand-new, 81,000-square-foot Events Center.

"We are in air-conditioned comfort," Overson said, gesturing to the horticulture, floriculture, fine arts and photography displays, alongside the food and commercial booths ($395 each), all of them indoors. "We have the best conditions of any county fair in the state."

Outside the Freon-aided comfort of the Events Center, employees of the City of Fun midway are scurrying about shirtless in the 95-degree heat, setting up the Zipper and the ferris wheel and the merry-go-round. Purveyors of cinnamon almonds and snow cones are placing their wares on counters. A few early patrons are wandering about, smelling the smells and taking advantage of the free samples of popcorn.

Jim Westrich, a burly member of the Great American Wild West Show, performing Wednesday and Thursday, is sitting atop a huge Texas longhorn steer by name of Beau Jack. Beau Jack has horns that measure more than 9 feet tip to tip. He looks dangerous.

"Nah," Westrich said. "We've had thousands of people ride on his back."

Gene Fullmer, the former champion boxer from West Jordan whose namesake recreation center opened last week in his hometown of West Jordan, is watching the magic act of Timothy Riggs on the indoor stage. Riggs is working hard — juggling, joking, jumping about the stage.

"He was good," Fullmer said, arising from his folding chair. "The kids liked him."

Fullmer, though, is more enthused about a new attraction this year: boxing. Friday night a ring will be set up, and amateur boxers (all of whom possess an American Boxing Federation card — this isn't a brawl) will go at it.

"They've done this for years at the Washington County Fair, and they get huge crowds every night," Fullmer said.

He's speaking around a gulp of Winder Farms strawberry milk (reduced fat) his brother, Jay, has brought him.

"Not too bad," Jay said. "I've had chocolate milk. Never had strawberry, though."

The fair runs through Saturday at the Salt Lake County Fairgrounds, 11400 S. 2200 West, South Jordan. Call 253-9372.