Corn, melon, a hillbilly

It might not be a good idea to get between Abby Lawler, 8, of Fort Dodge and the slice of watermelon she was eating at the Webster County Farm Bureau Watermelon Feed at the Webster County Fair.

She can after all, eat an entire one by herself.

While she’s yet to prove that claim, her dad, Joe Lawler, admits she can easily beat him – were it a contest.

“She’ll out-eat me,” he said. “My limit is three slices.”

Farm Bureau board member Denny Heatherington was one of the volunteers helping to slice the 40 melons the group had brought to the fair.

He’s well-practiced in the fine art of watermelon safety.

“You’ve got to be careful with the knife,” he said. “Keep your fingers clear.”

Of course, turning an oblong object into more or less equal slices is part of the craft he’s practicing as well.

“Each slice is a little different,” Heatherington said. “It’s a custom cut.”

He said he enjoys giving the slices away – many people come back for seconds, thirds and even fourths and for a few, fifths.

He’s not sure what, if any record exists of the most consumed by one person.

“We’ve never had a contest,” he said.

Nathanial Madden, 12, of Fort Dodge, was working on it though.

“I just got here,” he said between mouthfuls. “It’s only my third slice.”

While he isn’t giving away food, Bob Hill, who entertains visitors at the fair as Hillbilly Bob, does give away a variety of balloon animals.

He’s got a menagerie of about 15 different animals he can create.

To get air in the balloons, he uses a “Balloon Blowing Goat” mounted on the front fender of the 1929 Ford that he’s decorated with a variety of signs, tools, cooking utensils, animal pelts and stuff best described as, well, stuff.

Like much of what’s hanging off the car, the goat balloon inflator was found in an antique store and used to be something else.

“He was a rocking horse for over 100 years,” Hill said.

When he’s not on the road doing shows at fairs and other events, Hill spends time on his Heritage Farm near Dysart. It’s been in the family since 1853, he said.

It’s had another claim to fame since 1855.

“Everybody that was born on it is buried there,” he said. “That will be my final planting place too.”

Hill continues to add items to the car he’s nicknamed “Old Ruthie.”

“I’m a perfectionist,” he joked. “I’m still working on adding on.”

The old vehicle, which sports a fine coat of rust patina instead of paint, is actually licensed and has current Iowa plates. It was named after a neighbor. He drives it in parades and even took it out on the famous Las Vegas strip, where it turned a few heads and caught the attention of several Las Vegas police officers.

“They looked and just shook their heads,” he said.

It’s even drawn the attention of comedian Jeff Foxworthy who like Hill, has made a career out of the hillbilly theme.

Foxworthy’s reaction?

“He said ‘Bob, can I use you for some material?'” Hill said.

Kaleb Bacon, 9, of Fort Dodge, got to spend some time watching Hill spin yarns and make balloon animals. He ended up with a Texas longhorn hat.

His grandmother, June Brown, didn’t get an animal, or a hat.

“I would have got a monkey climbing a tree,” she said.

They both enjoy the fair, touring the 4-H exhibits is one of their favorite activities as is having a treat or two.

“Now we’re going to enjoy a red velvet funnel cake,” she said.

While they don’t have funnel cakes, the Greater Fort Dodge Growth Alliance does have a lot of corn on the cob available during the annual Sweet Corn Feed.

Dan Lundberg, of Fort Dodge, got one of the hottest jobs available. He stood next to huge propane-fired corn cooker, fishing out a dozen ears of corn at a time with a fish net.

So how does he end up with the hot job of the afternoon?

“I get the short straw every year,” he joked.

Among the list of supplies, the group uses up 20 pounds of butter and has 1,800 ears husked by a group of 35 volunteers.

Linda Cline, Webster County Extension Youth Coordinator, explained the secret to getting them to peel all those husks in about an hour.

“We bribe them with water, cookies and pop, and they’re perfectly happy,” she joked.

Bill Horan, of Knierim, had a rather slippery job – he was rolling the freshly cooked ears of corn in butter.

“It’s all in the wrist,” he said.

There is, of course, a science to it.

“This is the Northern Hemisphere,” he said. “You rotate them clockwise.”

The butter is critical.

“You can’t have too much butter,” Horan said.

While hundreds of visitors to the fair were enjoying their corn, nearby, Betty Stuhrenberg, of Barnum was using an unusual method to heat up a plate of leftover meatloaf for dinner.

She set it on top of a Rock Island 5-horsepower gas engine owned by her husband, Keith. It’s part of his display of old gas engines.

“It’s a multitask machine,” she said. “We thawed hot dogs on it last night.”

The Webster County Fair continues today.