The scent of cotton candy is in the air. The midway’s going full swing. And kids are using hoses to keep the hogs cool in the 4-H barns.

It’s Jay County Fair time, and the fair prompts its own flood of memories.

Memories like:

•Getting my fingers stuck in what used to be called a “Chinese” finger prison. It had been a prize from the duck pond concession, and at age 6 or so, it had me baffled. It’s a wonder I’m not stuck in the darned thing to this day.

•The caterpillar, a ride on the midway back in the 1950s and early ’60s. Like the Himalaya, it squeezed riders together with centrifugal force as it built up speed. Unlike the Himalaya, it had a curtain or cover that went over the riders, plunging them into the dark.

•Standing with other teenage boys outside the girlie shows while the pitchman barker touted the exotic attractions within. We were too young to get into the tent, and by the time we were old enough the “hoot shows” had vanished. Today it’s hard to believe they were ever there. But they were.

•Winning a huge teddybear at the mouse game and giving it to the first girl I saw. She was thrilled, and I didn’t have to haul the thing around the rest of the night. But her boyfriend, as I recall, was less than enthusiastic about my generosity. Does the mouse game still exist? Or have the anti-gambling and anti-animal cruelty forces pushed it into history?

•Hamburgers at the Tri-Kappa stand Tuesday nights during fair week. Dad was at Rotary, and my mother was working the stand. So it made a perfect spot for dinner.

•My hapless — and hopeless — attempt to show a pig as part of a “celebrity” hog show benefit for 4-H. The threshold for what constituted a celebrity was low, but not as low as my performance in the show ring. Every shred of dignity disappeared a long time ago.

•Riding the double Ferris wheel at the Jay County Fair with my wife. It wasn’t a side-by-side double. It was a vertical double, and you felt you were going to die when it reached certain points on its circuit.

•A creepy sideshow which included, at one point, a midget (today, a little person) lying in a bed of glass while the barker hectored the crowd to “stand on the little man’s chest.” I think I actually did so, very briefly.

•A fair — way, way back — when the second floor of the roundhouse was actually open to the public. There were booths up there, but it was dreadfully hot in addition to being unsafe.

And, finally, memories of years it seemed that the fair was on its last legs. This was back in the 1960s, when it seemed county fairs had run their course. 

That was especially true of Jay County’s. Buildings were in disrepair, the midway was increasing sleazy and leadership had burned out.

But a dedicated group of individuals decided that wasn’t going to happen.

Led by the late Everett May Jr. and centered around members of the Portland Lions Club, new fair board leadership emerged. Guys like Bob Lyons and Clyde Beeler and a dozen others stepped up in the early to mid 1970s. And they were joined by others, folks like Rob Weaver and former Dunkirk banker Bob Wyne, convinced that the fair would not only survive but would thrive.

Ball State University played a pivotal role as well. Architecture students from BSU did one of their one-day workshops with the fair board and community leaders, then drew plans for improvements.

Things like the food court, the north entrance, the central walkway from the north parking to the midway, and the unified color scheme of the buildings were all born during that project.

Mostly of course, it was hard work by the fair board, as dedicated a group of volunteers as any community could hope to find.

Say “thanks” when you see them at the fair this week.