Bartholomew County hosts some pretty big events, such as Ethnic Expo, Hope Heritage Days and the Mill Race Marathon.

But nothing comes close in terms of sheer attendance to the annual Bartholomew County 4-H Fair, which opens for the 59th time at 5 p.m. Friday.

More than 100,000 people converge each July to the fairgrounds south of Garden City. The midway, grandstand attractions and the weather have always had the largest impact on daily attendance, Fair Board president Larry Fisher said.

The National Weather Service calls for a chance to rain through the weekend, ranging from 20 percent to 30 percent each day and evening.

In addition to forecasts about rain dropping down on the fair, local observers also monitor the odds of Tony Stewart dropping in for a visit.

It appears fairgoers are more likely to see the three-time Sprint Cup champion this year than they are raindrops.

“Tony always shows up,” Fisher said. “But sometimes, nobody knows he’s there.”

A good chance to catch the Columbus native in his hometown could be Tuesday, when proceeds from that night’s Midwest Three-Quarter Race will go to the Tony Stewart Foundation, the fair board president said.

“I would anticipate (Stewart) will show up, but I don’t know if he’ll race,” Fisher said.

Two years ago, the Columbus native returned to the track where he started his racing career in karts to run with the Midwest TQ Midget Racing League. He won his heat race that year, but mechanical troubles sidelined him in the feature.

There has been no official confirmation of a Stewart appearance this year, although the driver/owner prefers to slip in with as little attention as possible.

Visitors won’t miss another type of local royalty, as fair queen Caitlyn Williams reigns during the nine-day event with members of her court: Courtney Williams, her sister; sisters Mallory and Bailey Meyer; and Elisabeth Waddle, who was named Miss Congeniality at the June 28 pageant.

New offerings, long traditions

For the first time, several exhibitions and demonstrations that reflect 19th century life in Columbus will be displayed in the former Commercial Building 6, next to the conservation building.

“We’ve also had a lot of interest expressed in our Heritage Building, with its blacksmith shop,” Fisher said.

Despite a state-imposed ban on birds this year due to a concern about the avian influenza virus, that has not had any impact on the 106 4-H’ers enrolled in the local poultry program who plan to make presentations without their chickens, geese and ducks, according to extension educator Kris Medic said.

The number and quality of non-perishable open class exhibits brought in Tuesday for the upcoming competitions appeared to be about the same volume as in past years, Medic said.

While the fair gives 4-H club members a chance to display their projects or skills, other kids and teens head straight for the midway rides and carnival games, Fisher said.

Many adults talk longingly about unique food offerings such as pork burgers, steak kabobs, lemon shake-ups, funnel cakes, elephant ears and cotton candy during fair week.

Others get excited about all the free items that exhibitors offer in the commercial buildings. Some even bring ink stamps to efficiently enter their names for prize drawings.

Traditional fair competitions and attractions involving child pageants, watermelon seed spitting, frog jumping, rabbit racing and greased pigs are always well received by the public.

“The pedal tractor pull has become very popular,” Fisher said of the 2 p.m. event Wednesday east of the Farm Bureau building. The event features contestants from 2 to 10 years old hauling weight with a pedal tractor.

Many are drawn to the David Boll Theatre or Farm Bureau Building by different styles of live music, as well as talent shows and other performing arts. There’s also no shortage of people eager to check out unique animals or displays of new agricultural equipment.

But in today’s modern world of social media, an increasing number of fairgoers have recently cited the opportunity for good, old-fashioned social interaction — in person — as a popular reason for attending the fair.

“A lot of families bring their own lawn chairs and picnic tables to get together,” Fisher said.

Midway schedule

Midway ticket prices: $1 each, 20 for $18, and 60 for $50.

The following dates and times represent discounted midway prices.

Saturday: $12 wristbands from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m.

Sunday: $23 wristband from 5 p.m. until close.

Monday: $1 per ride from 5 p.m. until close. 

Tuesday: Midway closed to public from 2 to 4 p.m., so handicapped, disadvantaged and those considered at-risk can ride for free during those hours. From 5 p.m. until close, a $23 wristband, or one free ticket per donated canned good, available from 5 p.m. until close. 

Wednesday: $15 wristband from noon until close.

July 16: $18 wristband from 5 p.m. until close.

July 17: $12 wristband from 10 p.m. until close.

July 18: $23 wristbands from 5 p.m. until close.   

Grandstand events

The following are grandstand events for the Bartholomew County 4-H Fair.  All starting times are 7 p.m. until stated otherwise.

Friday: Lucas Oil Pro Pulling Series, truck and tractor; $10 for adults, $5 for children 3 to 12; pit passes $15 for all ages.

Saturday: Demolition Derby and Auto Cross; $10 for adults, $5 for children 12 and under; pit passes $15 (must be 16 or accompanied by an adult).

Sunday: Antique Tractor Pull, 1 p.m. Farm Stock Tractor Pull, 6:30 p.m. Tickets for either event are $5 for adults and $3 for children 4 to 12; children 3 and younger are admitted free.  

Monday: Truck Drags: Side by Side Dirt Drags; $5 for adults and $3 for children 4 to 12; children 3 and younger are admitted free. 

Tuesday: Midwest Three-Quarter Racing League. Ticket and pit pass prices will be announced.

Wednesday: Battle of the Badges. Admission is free, but donations to either the Columbus Firemen’s Cheer Fund or Shop with a Cop are encouraged.

July 16: Mud Bog; $5 for adults and $3 for children 4 to 12; children 3 and younger are admitted free. 

July 17: Greased Pig Contest begins at 8 p.m. Admission, $3; children 3 and younger are admitted free. 

July 18: Demolition Derby II; $10 for adults, $5 for children 12 and under.

Parking information

The Bartholomew County 4-H Fair is at 750 W. County Road 200S, Garden City.

Admission to the fair is free, although fees apply for midway rides and grandstand entertainment.

Parking fees will be collected starting at 10 a.m. on Kids Day and 1 p.m. on the remaining days.

VIP parking will be provided at Southside Elementary School by the Columbus FFA.  Parking is $5 per day while space is available.  The Southside parking lot will not be available for paid parking on Sunday, as it will be utilized for the Little Miss & Mister and Jack & Jill contest participants.

A $15 general parking pass that allows weekly entrance through Gate C is available for purchase at the fair office. 

Handicapped parking is available for vehicles with a state-issued handicapped parking pass, located near Southside Elementary School off County Road 200S.   

Free parking will be provided by Columbus Regional Health to the first 1,000 cars, beginning at 5 p.m. Wednesday, through the main gate.

Saturday is Military Appreciation Day. Anyone with a military ID can park for free. 

Information:, 812-372-6133

Fair shuttle

What ColumBUS Transit System fair shuttle to the Bartholomew County 4-H Fair

When: Shuttle runs from noon to 4:30 p.m. Saturday and noon until 6:30 p.m. Monday through July 17. Shuttle service will leave the Mill Race Station Depot at Eighth and Lindsey streets on the hour starting at noon each day. The final shuttle leaves the depot at 4 p.m. Saturday and at 6 p.m. from Monday through July 17. Rides back to downtown leave the fairgrounds on the half hour.

Service availability: The Call-A-Bus service will be available to transport eligible riders who are unable to use the ColumBUS fixed routes to the fair shuttle, which is accessible for all persons. Scheduling in advance for the Call-A-Bus service is required by calling 812-376-2507.

For more information: Visit

Author photo
Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at or 812-379-5636.