Yesterday was clean out the closet day. I managed to get rid of a box-and-a-half of stuff. That was below my goal but progress was made. Along the way I found this near-sacred article from the Lincoln Journal-Star. It has somehow become one with my BGSU faculty parking tag.
The best thing about a Nebraska summer is the small town festival. There's a lot of them and they all have their own personality (unlike here in New York where it seems like there is one festival that just moves from town to town). The three must-see festivals are the Seward Fourth of July, the Wilber Czech Festival and the Wayne Chicken Show.
Back in 1987, Jeff and I and several others decided to head up to Wayne to check out the chickens. The article above is a recap of the festival events. The most important sentence in that article is "Inclement weather failed to ruffle the feathers of about 800 people, the largest crowd ever..."
In a story before the festival the Journal-Star added at least one extra zero to the expected attendance. That's a lot of people to be visiting Wayne! Since we wanted to get the full chicken show experience, including the morning omelet feed, it was decided to drive up on Friday afternoon and camp overnight near Wayne. Since this was back in the dark ages before the Web, Jeff called the Chamber of Commerce to see if there was a campground near town. The woman he spoke to, Mrs. Kluck [I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP! THIS IS TRUE!] said there was a camping area in the city park near the edge of town.
It was a hot Friday afternoon when we set out and the driver of the car didn't believe in air conditioning so we mainly suffered until we stopped for dinner in Fremont. Sometimes small towns aren't that welcoming. Seeking local flavor we barely got inside a tavern before being told in no uncertain terms that the grill was closed. A friendlier place was found and we had our dinner.
We got to Wayne without further troubles and went to looking for the campground. The campground turned out to be little more than a circular driveway with a few trees and restrooms. The park was empty, which made us wonder where the several thousand people who would be attending the show were staying. Anyway, we pitched our tents and went to sleep. Or tried to. We soon learned that the park with its restrooms was where all of Wayne's teenagers stopped when they went cruising on a Friday night. That activity died down and we went to sleep. Or tried to. A few hours later we were woken up by bright lights and an otherworldly voice.
"Hey, you people in tents." Said the policeman.
"There's a big storm headed this way. Thought you would like to know."
Then they drove off without telling us how bad the storm was, how soon it would reach us, where we could seek shelter. I forget if we listened to the car radio for more information but we were wide awake for an hour or two afterwards, watching the lightning on the horizon. As fortune had it the storm mostly missed us (I don't remember if it even rained), but the damage to our sleep was done.
Dawn arrives early on the Plains and Jeff and I were awake soon after sunrise. Sometime in the night another car had arrived. It was a little car (Dodge Omni?) but several of the occupants were awake and outside. The humans were an older couple from Iowa. The non-humans were chickens. Lots and lots of chickens. The woman was quite talkative for such an early hour. She was telling us about her chickens. Fancy chickens. Chickens with feathers on their feet. She was very passionate about chickens (which if you travel in a car stuffed with chickens I suppose you have to be). I wish I could say I learned a lot about chickens that morning but I can't. You see, I was mesmerized.
The woman was wearing a chicken-themed shirt and a chicken-themed hat. She was also wearing a chicken. Sitting on this woman's head was a chicken. One end of a length of yarn was tied around the chicken's foot. The other end was tied to the woman (her wrist maybe?). The chicken hopped from the woman's head to her shoulder and back. The chicken, being a chicken and not too good with the bathroom manners, also relieved itself on the woman's head and shoulders. It may have been too much for my sleep-deprived mind to comprehend.
We eventually excused ourselves and made our way to the city park where the chicken show activities were centered. For a very small amount of money we enjoyed an incredible amount of food at the omelet feed. There wasn't any line and there weren't many people in the park. The estimate of thousands of attendees wasn't looking too accurate.
Now, you may be wondering why is there a chicken show in Wayne. The Chicken Show's website explains it well: "The theme of “chickens” was chosen because of 1) the potential for art materials; 2) most people have knowledge and familiarity with chickens; and, 3) chickens can be considered with humor."
The last item is key. Unlike the deadly serious Pella Tulip Festival I went to in Iowa this year, the folks in Wayne have a lot of fun with the event. Each year has a different theme. One time I went it was Chickens in Space, the other time it was Chickens in the Movies. The awesome parade starts soon after breakfast. During the Chickens in Space year it included the Starship Henterprise.
A word about the chicken flying contest. Chickens don't fly of their own volition. They need encouragement. The chickens are placed in a large mailbox at the top of a ten-foot high pole. Encouragement arrives in the form of a man with a plunger. You can imagine what happens next.
A word about the flying abilities of chickens. Some fly better than others. When faced with the sudden lack of solid ground beneath their feet some chickens take the quick route to earth while others, well, let's just say they try their best. 80 feet, 11 inches is pretty good!
Lunch was a sight to behold. Chickens were placed between sections of chain link fence that were perhaps four feet on a side. The fence sections had handles on each end and it took two guys to flip them over. There were maybe six sections of fence cooking at once on the makeshift barbecue pit.
Finally there's the National Cluck-off. Men and women, boys and girls, all acting like chickens. Entertainment doesn't get better than that. Here's the winning performance from 2009.