TORRINGTON – It’s 6:05 a.m. in the morning on Thursday, Aug. 8 – Fair Day. A few early risers wander alone through the Goshen County Fair Grounds even before the roosters have stirred.
Inside the Rendezvous Center, the kitchen is an orderly buzz of activity. Volunteers pour batter, stack juice cartons, and stir eggs. Any minute now, people will begin arriving for the Ag Breakfast, and the aluminum tub on the counter is only half filled with pancakes.
Off to the side, a young blonde woman huddles with a trio of men, describing the operating procedure. An elderly couple enters prompting a chorus of “good mornings.” The focus turns immediately to getting food on plates, where it will remain as a 100 more hungry fair-goers file in.
Outside, a different scene unfolds. Theresa Prado whips her motorized cart around to a shed and disappears into the darkness in search of her leaf blower and gas can.
“I’m gonna blow out the Frontier Shelter so by the time my crew comes, they can wipe tables, do all the fun stuff,” she says.
Prado, 62, has on a gray t-shirt and dark sneakers, with brown hair that curls as it approaches her shoulders.
“The flies in here, they were pretty bad yesterday,” Prado recalls, glancing toward the cavernous building.
“We tried some new stuff. Little hanging nets,” she says, poking inside and pointing to the cylindrical yellow and green containers, each trapping dozens of fly carcasses. Some were still moving, still resisting.
Prado’s father was from Mexico and her mother from Nebraska. She says that her family owns La Familia Prado and Garcia’s Mexican Restaurant in Torrington. It’s not the line of work she craves.
“Restaurant business is hard work,” she says. “Sometimes I’m out here at midnight cleaning. But I still think the restaurant’s harder work.”
Prado cranks the leaf blower and methodically cases the floor of the Frontier Shelter, edging the accumulated dirt toward the doorways. Within a few minutes, the gasoline exhaust and loose soil spawn a dirty haze.
“Everybody knows you”
Ten minutes later, a giant yellow dump truck backs up past the shelter. Lurching forward, the truck sprays water from a rusty tank in the truck bed onto the dirt path, looping toward the animal barns.
The cab shakes and jolts despite the low speed. It’s an ancient rig, older than the man driving it. Brent Anderson, 45, is the maintenance supervisor at the Fair Grounds.
He is quiet, spinning the steering wheel with one hand while pulling levers with his other. He has a graying goatee and wears a pair of comfortable silver shorts.
This is Anderson’s third county fair. He grew up in Torrington. After graduating from high school, he joined the Navy. Then came odd jobs doing electrical work, farming, and ranching. Ultimately, he switched to drilling, spending almost 18 years in the oilfield. But, Anderson had to cut that career short.
He pauses for a long moment while the truck trundles forward, staring out the windshield.
“My daughter’s mom committed suicide,” he says. “I had to become a full-time dad.”
I tell him I’m sorry to hear that.
“It’s been for the better, I’m sure,” he shrugs.
He says he gets to spend more time with his daughter, who turns nine this year.
Anderson navigates in a wandering path through the vast, empty parking lot. Each time he swings past the campsite, a man or boy reaches up to wave, and Anderson returns the gesture.
“One of the hardest things is everybody knows you. Everybody calls me by first name, but it’s hard to remember everybody else’s name,” he said.
People say, “‘just get ahold of Brent. He’ll fix it.’ So, boom, they know my name,” he continues. “Then they’ll come talking to me because it’s Wyoming. Everybody knows everybody by first name.”
He says each day is different.
The day before, he thought that the septic system caved in. Board members had to be called to see if there was enough money in the budget to fix it.
Anderson grins and gives a small shake of the head, “We got the blueprints out. We found out that it wasn’t collapsed.”
Anderson flips a switch and a hiss of air loudly escapes, commencing the spraying of the water behind us.
“I was planning on repairing it last night after the event. It would’ve been a late night, early morning,” he says matter-of-factly.
“The thing I struggle with most is: this place was built 27 years ago. At that time and era, we didn’t have these big fancy motor homes,” he says as we pass two oversized, air-conditioned campers dwarfing the smaller mobile homes beside them.
“This facility wasn’t built to handle that kind of stuff.” He flicks the air switch again. “I’m constantly going through breakers. That’s the biggest part of my day.”
Another wave out the window. This time to his brother.
“Make everybody happy,” he says. “Keep everybody calm. Everybody wants their kids to be happy. Making them stress-free and happy is probably the biggest part of the day.”
It’s what he did for his daughter, I point out.
Switching off the ignition, Anderson jumps down from the cab and rolls up the garage door on a shed nearby. A shiny new John Deere Gator lounges in the middle. The motor cart smells like a new car and has air conditioning and a digital display – the polar opposite of the dump truck.
“Stephanie told me if I scratch it, I buy it,” he jokes.
Stephanie is Stephanie Lofink, the Fair Grounds manager. She, Anderson, and Prado are the only full-time, year-round employees.
“I am approached at least 50 times a day,” Lofink says inside the Fair Grounds office. She receives compliments about her two employees, plus Anderson’s part-time assistant.
“People come out of their way to tell me how much they appreciate what they do,” she said. “They do get noticed. They work a lot of hours unseen, but when people do see them, most people are really good to them.”
Still, Lofink wishes that she could hire additional employees at the Fair Grounds.
“We’re wearing out our people,” she says. “We could use some help.”
Anderson idles the Gator in front of the Frontier Shelter. Prado is still there, but is now in the company of her crew – a handful of women who are attacking the tabletops with bleach.
“Do you see how he’s driving mud on there?” she exclaims half-jokingly, as Anderson kicks a few dirt spatters near her newly-cleaned floor with the Gator.
“These are my buildings”
Prado used to live outside of Phoenix, painting airplanes. She operated her own business for seven years, rebuilding muscle cars. Her mother grew older and sicker, so Prado returned to Torrington. Her mother has since passed away.
Prado got a job in town at the biocomposite factory.
“It was pretty nice, but long hours – 12-hour shifts,” she says. When the factory closed, she found her calling at the Fair Grounds. “I got lucky coming out here.”
Like Anderson, she regularly gets to talking with fairgoers.
“You have to,” she says. “A lot of them talk to me outside of here. ‘Hi, Theresa, how are you?’ And I’m like, ‘sorry!’ It’s easier for them to remember me, than for me to remember all of them.”
During fair week, Prado works from 6 a.m. until 10 at night – a 16-hour day, even with her extra crew members. The rest of the year, all of the cleaning falls on her.
“Dances, weddings, quinceañeras – they let the kids throw cake all over, break our flowers up, destructive things like that,” she sighs. “Inside, they do the same thing – break chairs. We have to replace that.”
She breaks into a momentary laugh.
“Me, I’m the cleaning lady, but they say I’m beyond that. These are my buildings.”
By 5:30 p.m., the parking lot is a sea of vehicles. The sun has transformed the dampened earth of the morning into loose, dusty powder.
The trick to finding Anderson and Prado is to look for their motor carts. Green for his and maroon for hers. Even so, searching through the 38-acre campus, amid the afternoon crowds is time consuming.
Prado’s crew is toiling inside the Pavilion bathrooms. Prado herself is just around the corner in the deserted hallway behind the towering bleachers.
“They’re tired,” she says of her crew of women, letting out a high-pitched laugh. “They keep telling me that. ‘We’re tired! We’re tired!’ I told them, ‘I’m 62. Come on. Stop.’”
The boys on her crew had already left. She says they have football practice in the mornings and evenings.
“I told them, ‘how do you think I feel when I do this myself?’”
She wipes sweat from her forehead with her forearm.
“This is the kind of stuff you find,” she mutters, reaching down to reclaim scraps of paper, drinking straws, and Coors cans with her blue Latex gloves. She says a lot of what people leave behind is beer cans.
While spectators stare straight ahead at the horses in the arena, Prado briskly walks 10 feet in front of them, tossing litter in trash cans and wrestling full bags of garbage from the plastic bins.
Around 7:30 p.m., Prado and her crew drift out of the Frontier Shelter to get their own dinner. One by one, the women migrate back to their obscured corner picnic table, the one stocked with their snacks and bottles of water, to take one final break together.
Once finished, they will rise and fan out, eyeing tables for messiness. The smell of bleach will return – just faint enough not to disturb the families munching on hamburgers and hot dogs.
As the sun sets and the parking lot clears, the diehard fairgoers gather on the dance floor. The Shelter is awash in light, while darkness envelops all other structures. Familiar tones blare over the loudspeaker and within a minute, a dozen kids in cowboy hats are dancing the Macarena.
Prado’s crew stands together at their corner table watching silently. Outside, Prado roars up, this time in her own John Deere Gator. She grinds to a halt next to her maroon cart.
“Once I can park those, I’m outta here!” she shouts over the music.
It’s three minutes after nine. There is still a chance she could get eight hours of sleep after it all – before it begins again the next day.