Keeper of the Plans

Like the weird stuff? The quirkiest things to do at the State Fair

Bob Briggs gives a chicken-washing demonstration at the Kansas State Fair in Hutchinson.
Bob Briggs gives a chicken-washing demonstration at the Kansas State Fair in Hutchinson. File photo

At every state fair, there are hundreds of things to do that are pretty normal.

Carnival rides, livestock shows, assorted fair foods – all pretty standard.

But you’re a thrill-seeker, aren’t you?

You like to do the weirdest, wackiest things you can find.

No need to fear, because there are plenty of out-there things to do at the Kansas State Fair this year:

Interface with Oscar the Robot

Pops up at various locations across the fairgrounds – all week

Oscar the Robot is one of the celebrities of the fair every year, and only the luckiest of the lucky get a glimpse of the ‘bot himself. Oscar, however, does like to interact with common folk – and occasionally, Oscar will even say hello to curious children, calling them by name. How he can produce such robotic magic is a mystery to children – but adults paying close attention can find out by talking to Oscar’s human “handler,” who accompanies him at all times. It’s fairly random where you’ll find Oscar, so you’ll just have to keep your eyes peeled for this rolling retro robot. He’s even got his own website:

Legislative Showmanship

1:30 p.m. Sat., Sept. 9, Prairie Pavilion building

No, this doesn’t mean debates between legislators jockeying to be the best orator in the state. This means Kansas legislators showing 4-H and FFA kids’ cattle in a special contest. So far, 13 legislators have signed up. Each will be paired with a kid who will then teach the legislator how to properly show off their prized cattle to the judges. Rumor has it Sen. Ed Berger, who will be defending his home turf in Hutchinson, is the legislator to beat this year.

Pig Races

10 a.m., noon, 2:30, 4 and 6 p.m. every day (except no 10 a.m. Fri., Sept. 8), north of Bison Arena

Pig races are always one of the most-popular attractions of the fair, and what’s not to like? A bevy of baby pigs line up in a pen every couple of hours and race each other to the finish line, enticed by the promise of an Oreo cookie, aka a “Pig Newton.” It’s quite the spectator sport, as people pack the stands to watch every race – there’s even an announcer that peppers the race with various pig-themed puns. Some pig champions of past years include Sylvester Sta-loin and Jean Claude Van Ham.

The perennial racing pigs at the Kansas State Fair on September 11, 2015 in slow motion. (video by Jaime Green)

Noxious weed display

All week long, Pride of Kansas Building

First off, this is not what you think it is. This isn’t Colorado. The noxious weed display is a mainstay in the Pride of Kansas Building, typically always found next to the butter sculpture. It’s a celebration of the pesky yard weeds that, for the other 355 days of the year, are much-maligned: we’re talking musk thistle, ragweed, bindweed and quickgrass. I promise you’ll leave this exhibition more well-educated about weeds – that, people, is what the State Fair is all about.

Watch animals take baths

9:30 and 11:30 a.m., 2 and 6:30 p.m. daily, Agriculture Education Exhibition Building

This seemingly voyeuristic State Fair event is a perennial attraction in the Agriculture Education Exhibition Building on the north side of the fairgrounds. It lets you watch as handlers give baths to Grand Champion animals and answer questions about caring for them – hogs, sheep and steer. If you want to travel across the fairgrounds, you can catch perhaps the best show of all: farmer Bob Briggs giving his chickens a bath, promptly at 10:30 a.m. select mornings in the Poultry Building. Fair officials can’t say exactly which mornings the chicken-bathing is going to take place because, well, there’s no telling exactly when chickens are going to need their next bath; however, there’s something inherently hilarious about watching chickens be scrubbed. After all, you did click on an article about quirky things to do.

Bob Briggs demonstrates how to give a chicken a bath at the Kansas State Fair. (Video by Denise Neil/The Wichita Eagle/Sept. 6, 2014)

See the fanciest llamas in the state

8 a.m.-6 p.m. Fri., Sept. 8, Expo II Building

On the first day of the State Fair, one of the best entertainment choices you can make is to check out the Llama Show, which lasts nearly all day in the Expo II building. Llamas of all kinds will be shown throughout the day, and if that doesn’t bring a smile to your face, I don’t know what will.

High-flying steampunk acrobats

11 a.m., 1:30 and 6:30 p.m. daily, Gottschalk Park

This year, there will be no performing dogs, seals or other exotic animals in Hutchinson’s Gottschalk Park. Instead, the fair is supplying an exotic human show. Flippin’ is the latest entertainment act to come to the park – it’s a show featuring a variety of aerialists and acrobats who perform stunts for fairgoers’ amusement. Admission is free.

Touch giant pumpkins

All week long, Pride of Kansas Building

Before I came to the Kansas State Fair, I never imagined I’d see a pumpkin that weighed over 1,000 pounds. Just didn’t ever see it happening in my lifetime. Boy, was I wrong. In the Pride of Kansas Building, you can see the biggest pumpkins this state has to offer. Two years ago, a Garden City grower smashed the record with a 1,034-pound pumpkin. Will there be a new pump-king this year? We’ll just have to wait and see.

Watch butter sculpting

All week long, Pride of Kansas Building (sculpting is typically completed by the end of the first weekend)

Butter sculptures have long been a mainstay at the Kansas State Fair, but last year was the first time the fair afforded views of live butter-sculpting. Sculptor Sarah Pratt, who is well-known for her butter sculptures at the Iowa State Fair, returns to the Kansas State Fair to carve out another butter sculpture in the Pride of Kansas Building. Believe it or not, the butter used in the sculpture is the same butter that’s been used for years now. In the offseason, the butter for the sculpture is stored in a fridge at Dillon’s, and every year the butter is re-used.

The dogs of K9 Kings Flying Dog Show perform tricks at the 2016 California Mid-State Fair in Paso Robles. The show is new to the fair this year. (Video by Danielle Ames / The Tribune)

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