The Kern County Fair opens this afternoon, the first day of fall, but summer is still in the air with temperatures in the high 90s expected through the week.
While media tour attendees lagged a bit on Tuesday, the National Order of Trench Rats Dugout 159 showed some military-flavored can-do spirit, staffing its concession with a full battalion of volunteers.
The veterans group, so named for the troops who died fighting in the trenches during World War I, runs the only concession that opens the day before the fair.
“No one else is as stupid as we are,” joked Fred Powers, who oversees the operation with Robert Linder and a dedicated volunteer unit of veterans and supporters.
“More than anything, it’s to make sure everything is functional,” Linder said.
It takes about three days to set up the kitchen; crews test the grill and fryers and clean the building, which has sat dormant since the Western Street Rod Nationals in April.
Among the changes for the Trench Rats this year is the addition of breakfast for fair workers and exhibitors.
“We’ll have SOS,” Powers said using the colorful military acronym for a sauced beef served on bread.
Showing the concession competition is in full effect, the men pointed out their breakfast menu runs about $1 less than the one the Bakersfield Lions are serving across Main Street.
Also new this year is a slight price increase. “This is the first year we’ve adjusted prices, because of the drought and meat prices,” Linder said of the average 50-cent bump on the food items.
But like many local concessions, the veterans group is raising money for a good cause. Proceeds support the van service that transports local disabled veterans to and from the VA hospital in West Los Angeles.
And if supporting veterans isn’t enough to sway your interest, Powers said they’ve got an edge over their competition.
“We’ve got the best damn hamburger on the fairgrounds and the coldest beer.”
Speaking of food, three new concessions will make their Kern County debut this year. Fans of the Food Network and Cooking Channel may have seen the trio featured on shows highlighting fair fare throughout the state.
Mariah’s Fair Treats wasn’t open Tuesday but its colorful trailer touting its unique sweet sandwiches was on full display not far from the carnival area. Mariah’s will serve a funnel cake bacon cheeseburger, drizzled with maple syrup, but the real star is the ice cream doughnut sandwich, which stuffs a scoop of vanilla ice cream between two hot cinnamon sugar doughnuts, all drizzled with caramel.
You also won’t be able to miss the PHD & Me trailer near KC Loop, with its giant rotating pretzel touting its giant hand-rolled baked pretzels. Using a fourth-generation Coney Island recipe and flour from back East, the concession serves a variety of flavors, including cinnamon sugar, almond toffee, jalapeno and cheese, garlic and pizza as well as dipping sauces.
The fair isn’t known for many health snacks but Willamette Valley Pie Co. at least offers you a healthy serving of fruit. The concession highlights fruit from Oregon — including the prized marionberry — in pies, turnovers and cobblers. Also on tap is Wild Bill’s Olde Fashioned Soda, offered in nine flavors and served in stainless steel mug, which, starting at $15, are steeper than the average $3 soda but allow for unlimited refills for the day.
Fair CEO Mike Olcott is optimistic that after Friday, cooler temperatures will arrive for the rest of the fair’s run.
“We’re going to have good weather.”
He was equally excited about this year’s attractions, including returning favorites like the butterfly exhibition and turkey stampede, rodeos for both weekends and new goings-on.
“We have a lot of new ground acts,” Olcott said, talking up the duck races near Calico Corner and the Minter Field exhibit adjacent to the Budweiser Pavilion.
The ducks were resting Tuesday but Maj. Gen. James Whitehead, vice chairman of the Minter Field Air Museum, and his team were on hand setting up the display. It will include artifacts, replicas and other items from many of the wars the U.S. has fought, with an emphasis on the world wars.
Among the displayed aircraft is a replica of the Fokker Dr.1, the tri-wing airplane flown by Baron Manfred von Richthofen, aka the Red Baron, a German ace of World War I.
A Vietnam-era Light Observation Helicopter and Jeep, were ready for their close-up. Attendees will be able to pose in either vehicle for $1 photo op, with proceeds going directly to the Shafter museum.
The fair opens today and runs through Oct. 4.