HUTCHINSON — Like clockwork, the Kansas State Fair lived up to tradition on Sunday.
A century-old legend has it that every year during the fair, rain will surely fall.
Indeed, on Sunday afternoon, the sky opened up and rain fell along with a little bit of pea-size hail.
At first, fair-goers simply dashed from one building to another.
“I hope it will be raining all day long,” said Joni Showalter of Leon, who was competing in Kansas Ranch Ropers Association events. She was saddled up on her horse, Bud.
“This is my 16th year in a row of attending but my first time ever competing. Honestly, I think this is the biggest crowd I have ever seen,” Showalter said.
Watching the roping competition were first-time fair-goers Keith and Sherri Lairdof Fort Riley.
They came because they won Toby Keith concert tickets – the last night star attraction – but were fascinated by the fair’s rural connections.
“We have never seen farm roping before,” Keith Laird said. “We’ve been watching these guys throw ropes around and try to get a calf.”
The fair’s sights and sounds quickly lassoed the Lairds.
“I’d come again just to see the livestock and everything,” he said.
Pam and Mike Prescottfrom rural Ellinwood were happy watching goat judging.
As a married couple, they have 23 years of perfect attendance at the fair. And, as seasoned fair-goers, they knew the legend.
“Every year during the state fair you are guaranteed it will rain one day. The farmers can plan on it,” Mike Prescott said.
There are other traditions at the state fair, and in the waning hours, the couple made sure they fulfilled them all.
“Absolutely, we have to see what the butter sculpture display is,” Pam Prescott said.
Then it was on to the funnel cakes and Pronto Pups. “In our family, we are dessert-first people,” she said.
Some people took shelter in their own vehicles in the fair parking lots as the rain became heavier. Luke, Cayla and Zach Wester had driven in from Liberal. They huddled in their vehicle.
“We’re staying for the Toby Keith concert,” Luke Wester said.
More than 8,000 people were expected to attend the country-music concert on Sunday.
According to Denny Stoecklein, general manager of the Kansas State Fair, this centennial year of the fair set records.
Stoecklein said the fair audit has yet to be completed, so a final attendance number is still days away, but he felt crowds were up.
“With the cooler temperatures this past weekend, what better way to end a birthday celebration?” he said.
The first weekend was hurt by the heat, Stoecklein said, and crowds were smaller than in past years. But as temperatures fell, people showed up in bigger numbers.
“We have seen very strong numbers. The biggest crowd was on Saturday. That was our biggest overall day,” Stoecklein said. “In fact, it was the biggest second Saturday the carnival has ever had. It was the biggest day period they have ever had. I think that’s a safe statement.”
“We are still going strong after 100 years,” Stoecklein said.