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Two heavyweight pumpkins face off at the State Fair

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Saturday, Sep. 8, 2012, at 6:42 p.m.
  • Updated Thursday, Sep. 5, 2013, at 10:30 a.m.

Kansas State Fair timeline

1900 – Central Kansas Fair Association is organized in Hutchinson and host the first fairs in a Hutchinson park on the east side of Main Street to Poplar, from 11th Avenue north to 17th.

1903 – Kansas Legislature recognizes the Central Kansas State Fair, which allows the fair association to unofficially call its event The Kansas State Fair.

1911 – President William Taft speaks to a packed grandstand on Sept. 26. Fair-goers that year celebrate the 50th anniversary of Kansas statehood. Paid admission tops 183,000.

1912 – The fairgrounds expand with 112 acres north of 17th Avenue and east of Main Street. Hutchinson legislator J.P.O. Graber introduces a bill offering this proposal: If Kansas will give Hutchinson’s fair monetary support, the city will give the state the fairgrounds. The bill passes.

1913 – First “official” Kansas State Fair is held Sept. 13-20.

1915 – Ye Old Mill opens. The ride features 1,000 feet of water-filled channels where boats can transport passengers through “gloomy caves of gleesome gladness.”

1917 – House of Capper built, allowing fairgoers a place to rest in rocking chairs on a shaded veranda or visit the public restrooms. The building is named after Arthur Capper, Kansas newspaper publisher, philanthropist, two-term governor and five-term U.S. senator.

1924 – 4-H Clubs are chartered in Kansas. The clubs evolved from the Corn and Canning Clubs of 20 years before. They are initially for rural children, who are thought to lack the social and economic benefits of city children.

1935 – 4-H Encampment Building is dedicated by Gov. Alf Landon and Sen. Capper.

1941-1945 – World War II influences fairgoers. There are booths for buying war bonds and stamps. “Scrap Day” in 1942 brings in more than 32 tons of metal to aid the war effort. The first 1,500 enlistees to staff Hutchinson Naval Air Station sleep in the 4-H building at the fairgrounds while the nearby naval air base is constructed. The building also is used during the end of the war to house German prisoners of war.

1973 – Some fairgoers wear winter coats because the weather is so chilly.

1991-1993 – Garth Brooks performs two sold-out concerts at the fair.

1999 – The fair board considers razing Ye Old Mill, but decides instead to restore it after some fair-goers ask that it be saved.

2001 – Fears about gas explosions and a hepatitis outbreak in Hutchinson – combined with the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks – take a toll. Attendance dips by 20 percent to 282,535, creating a shortfall of more than $600,000 in the fair’s budget.

2004 – The wheel of a sprint car flies off the grandstand track and hits two teens on the midway, sending them to the hospital.

2005 – The state quarter is released into circulation with a celebration that includes Gov. Kathleen Sebelius arriving by stagecoach.

2006 – Garrison Keillor’s live broadcast of "A Prairie Home Companion" draws 9,300 people to the grandstand.

2007 – The fair adds a wine garden and updates its beer garden.

2008 – A $36 million project to create a new food court, air condition buildings and remodel barns is completed.

Tell us your memories of the State Fair

The Wichita Eagle’s Public Insight Network relies on your personal experiences and expertise to guide our news coverage. Everyone is an expert at something. Everyone has life experiences. Our goal is to open a line between you and our journalists to share ideas and help us be better. Share your memories of the State Fair..

Share your memories of the State Fair.

If you go

Kansas State Fair

When: Friday through Sept. 16

Where: Kansas State Fairgrounds, 2000 N. Poplar St. in Hutchinson

Admission: Gate admission is $10 for adults, $6 for seniors, $4 for children 6-12 and free for children 5 and under.

Grandstand tickets and information: www.kansasstatefair.com

The two heavyweights stepped up to the scale.

In one corner, coming in at an astonishing 643.2 pounds, the defending champion and six-time title-holder.

In the other corner, weighing only 376 pounds, the rookie challenger in his first-ever bout.

You can imagine how this fight ended.

Growing giant pumpkins can be a brutal contest.

On Thursday night, inside the Pride of Kansas building on the Kansas State Fairgrounds in Hutchinson, the weigh-in for this year’s giant pumpkin competition took place.

For the second year in a row, drought conditions across the state made growing the behemoth gourds a difficult task. Only two pumpkins were entered. Last year, only one survived the brutal summer heat to make it to the state fair, and that pumpkin weighed only 366.5 pounds.

Of course, that one pumpkin was grown by 64-year-old Doug Heathman of Liberal. He is the undisputed grand master of growing giant pumpkins in Kansas, having won the state fair title six of the last seven years.

Despite his success, the ultimate title still eludes Heathman. The state record for a pumpkin is 976.2 pounds, grown by Brian Stanley in 2007, which also is the only year since 2005 that Heathman hasn’t won the contest. He finished second that year.

“Ol’ Stanley got me pretty good,” Heathman said of the loss.

But this year Heathman faced a surprising challenger: 12-year-old Ryan Grabman of Wichita. This is his third year of growing giant pumpkins, but the first year he’s been successful enough to enter one in the state fair.

Grabman says he was inspired to try it, in part, by seeing giant pumpkins at the state fair when he was “5 or 6 years old.”

“It was 4, 5, maybe 600 pounds, I can’t remember,” Grabman said. “I just kind of thought that’d be cool, so I tried it.”

Heathman won both of those years, growing a 618-pounder in 2005 and a 680-pounder in 2006.

“I think that’s a good deal,” Heathman said of the inspiration offered to Grabman. “I wish more people would do it.”

As the sun set outside of the Pride of Kansas building, the two growers – the one with a bushy mustache that covers his mouth and the one with an “ESPN SportsCenter” shirt – talked pumpkin seed genetics like two people might discuss the weather. Their pumpkins, both sitting on wooden palettes in the back of pickups, were removed by forklift and placed on a scale. A crowd of about 20 people gathered to help and watch.

Grabman’s beaming mother, Shari, shot the whole spectacle on video.

There was never any question about which pumpkin was going to win. Heathman’s pumpkin was clearly larger than Grabman’s.

The question became what the exact weight of each gourd would be. Grabman talked about the other pumpkin in his yard that rotted out last week, estimated to weigh 680 pounds. Heathman showed pictures on his phone of other pumpkins he has grown, some of which suffered splits or rotted out much like Grabman’s.

“This one was 917, but it split out,” Heathman said while showing a picture.

The two pumpkins were carted off to the northwest corner of the Pride of Kansas building, where they will be displayed for the rest of the week, and the Grabmans and Heathman took pictures. Later, the two growers shook hands, and Heathman jumped back in his truck to make the long drive back to Liberal.

Though Grabman came up short in his quest to grow the largest pumpkin in the state this year, he vowed there would be a rematch.

“I’ll do it again.” Grabman said. “Next year.”

Reach Travis Heying at theying@wichitaeagle.com.

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