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'If we have decent weather we'll have the best fair ever'

Bill Minnehan served five years on the Dakota County Agricultural Society, the board that runs the Dakota County Fair. His children showed at the fair for 30-some years before that.

In other words, Minnehan was a guy who knew his way around the fairgrounds.

But Minnehan, who is getting set to kick of his third fair as the operation's manager, said he didn't really know anything about the fair until he took over the top job.

"It's true for just about every single (agricultural society) director," Minnehan said. "There is so much more you figure out once you become a director and then when you become a manager it's like you've never been here before."

Minnehan knows a whole lot more about the fair now, and one week before the 2009 edition kicks off he's confident that it's going to be a good one. We sat down with Minnehan Monday to talk about fair food, balancing the new and the old and something called a portable diaper.

What's been your biggest discovery since taking over? What do you find out?

Just how much effort it takes to put it on, how far ahead you have to plan, and all the stuff that has to go together. I mean, we go from five (employees) in April to 500 people that week, in one week, and that's a dramatic growth.

How do you find all those people?

Well, the good thing is a lot of them keep coming back. A lot of the people that work here started when they were kids. We've got two of them here debating whether they've been working here 22 or 32 years. They don't remember. There's a lot of them that are coming back, their kids are coming back, or they bring friends back. This year we didn't have to do any advertising at all for it.

We have three people that basically do nothing but hire people. It's their job to fill it up and they do a pretty good job at it.

What is it, do you think, that brings people back so much?

It's fun. They have fun working. We want to have them have fun. Particularly the people that are working. If they're having fun, they're going to spread it across to other people. You know what it's like, you go meet somebody, you go into a movie and there's a real grouch, and he's just, you know, it kind of spoils the whole movie. But if you've got people who are really friendly and helpful and nice, with a smile on their face, it makes the movie better.

What do you like about the fair?

It's a constant challenge to beat last year, to grow, to make it different. Everybody wants different but ... you still have to have that same feel that it's a fair, not a carnival or that.

How do you find that balance between the new stuff and keeping it the familiar fair?

Well, you've got to have cattle and livestock here, that's a given. You've got to have a Ferris wheel. We don't have to change as much in the carnival, but you know, we have to have a Ferris wheel, and we have to have one new item. This year we're bringing in the inflatables. You've got to have a pony ride....

It's not a fair without the pony ride?

I guess not. You've got to have a children's barnyard, and then anything you can get from there. We really do look for something that's new. And we could have a whole fairgrounds full of all new stuff, none of which we've ever seen before. That would be ideal. It's not going to happen, but, you know.

What's the process when you're looking for something new? How do you say, okay, this looks like a good thing for the Dakota County Fair?

One thing we passed up on is ... it was the portable diaper.

Portable diaper?


I can't even imagine what that would be.

I don't even want to describe it. But it met the criteria of being different, attention getting. But practical? That's just, you know, too far out of place.

The biggest thing about a fair is you've got to have a lot of food, and different. You've got to have funnel cakes, elephant ears, cheese curds

And you're adding some new food this year, right?

Quite a few. we're going to have Scotch eggs there this year, which, since I first tried it at the State Fair a few years ago, that's the first place I go at the State Fair, is go get my Scotch egg. We got some New Zealand pies. We got some food coming from Kenya. That guy says I'll like that goat. I'll try it. I don't know if I'll like it. He's going to have some lamb with it, too.

Do you try most of the food that comes here?

I've tried most of the kinds of food that come here. There'll be some new ones this year.

What do you think is the biggest addition this year?

The inflatables. Another nice addition, i think, is going to be the horse pulling on Saturday. With the kids' rodeo, they're going to have mutton busting and catch-a-calf. That should be pretty good audience. Draws a lot of people. The demo derbies are just absolutely amazing with the people they draw, the crowd they bring. Year after year after year they draw and they're doing darn good.... Nintendo Wii is having their national introduction

Introduction of what?

One of their Wii products. I don't know what it is. We're the only spot in Minnesota that's going to have one. They want a 50 by 50 area. That's a big area.

Are you enjoying being the guy in charge?

Depends on which day it is.

Sunday at 7 p.m., you really enjoy it.

Yeah, Sunday at 7.

Does it get stressful this time of year as things are coming together?

Not really right now. It's more stressful a week and two weeks before this.

At this point you sort of have all the details.

Well, you either got it or you don't

So, you got it this year?


It's going to be a good fair?

If we have halfway decent weather, we'll have the best fair we've ever had as far as content, programing, everything that goes into it. Yeah, we got it, we got a good fair.