Sunday , August 13, 2017 - 5:00 AM1 comment
OGDEN — After spending Friday afternoon at the Golden Spike Event Center, I was fully prepared to write a melancholy obituary for the traditional county fair.
This year — and I wasn’t the only one who noticed it — the Weber County Fair seemed smaller. Fewer exhibits, fewer livestock and crop entries, even fewer of those commercial vendor booths selling everything from essential oils to burial plots. To be honest, it was all a bit disappointing.
And then I met Bunky Boger.
The 87-year-old Arkansas man sat quietly in front of a carnival tent, squinting out at the hot August afternoon from beneath his straw cowboy hat, a wad of bills in his hand. Occasionally, curiosity would get the better of a fairgoer, who would hand Bunky a dollar and duck inside the tent.
The signs plastered all over the tent told you everything you needed to know about its contents:
• “Big John Giant Horse!”
• “Over a ton of living horsepower!
• “Over 8 feet tall!”
• “Weighs over 2,500 lbs.!”
• “A show for the whole family!”
For just $1, you could step inside the tent and gawk at what promised to be one of the biggest horses you’d ever seen. Bunky let me take a quick peek around the corner of the tent, and the sight was nothing short of startling. I’m 6-foot-5, and Big John’s head was easily a foot above mine.
Next door to the giant horse tent was the big pig tent. For a mere 50 cents, you could get a glimpse of Harley, who looked a lot like Jabba the Hog.
“See the giant pig!” Harley’s tent fairly screamed. “Over 1,000 lbs. and growing every day!”
Of course, if you were really feeling like a Rockefeller, you could drop $5 on a pony ride. But even if you had no money, you could still wander the large petting zoo, with its pigs and goats and cows and all manner of barnyard animals.
All of it — Big John the Giant Horse, Harley the Giant Pig, the pony rides, the petting zoo — is part of Animal Specialties, a Lowell, Arkansas-based company that takes its barnyard menagerie to fairs all over the country.
Bunky and his wife, Connie, run the whole kit and caboodle, traveling to fairs in a small convoy of big trucks. They start in Florida each February, and end up in the state of Washington by October. This was their only Utah stop.
Bunky rodeoed most of his life. After riding bulls and steer wrestling as a teen, he eventually became a bullfighter and rodeo clown, and even worked the barrel at the National Finals Rodeo back in 1975. He’s on the ballot for inclusion in the Rodeo Hall of Fame this October.
Bunky and Connie met 44 years ago at a rodeo in Deadwood, South Dakota. He was fighting bulls at the time.
“I always thought that as long as I had permanent-press shirts and TV dinners I didn’t need to get married,” he recalls. “But I met her on a Friday, and by Sunday I knew I had to marry her.”
The couple had three boys together, and about 20 years ago started Animal Specialties. They live in a 53-foot trailer converted to a home on wheels; Connie drives the semi from town to town. They brought 174 animals with them this year.
The Bogers have eight people on the payroll at the fair — paying them a weekly salary and feeding them two meals a day — but they could use more help. It’s been tough hiring people.
“Trump’s got all the Mexicans scared, so they won’t come out to work,” Bunky says. “And the white guys just won’t work.”
Three years ago, Bunky had triple bypass surgery.
“And I’m not even thinking about retiring,” he quickly adds.
You name the animal, and chances are Bunky and his family have trained them. They’ve taught buffaloes to jump through fire rings. They’ve taught chickens to play basketball.
And this next part is going to sound completely made up, but Bunky says they also have chickens that play tic-tac-toe — against humans.
“We’ve got probably 100 chickens that play tic-tac-toe in casinos,” he says. “The chickens win about half the time.”
And when the chickens get to go first? They’re nearly impossible to beat.
Bunky says their chickens spent 3 ½ years at the Tropicana Atlantic City, running a unique game. If you could beat them at tic-tac-toe, you won $10,000. Not many people collected on that bet.
Their petting zoo has an educational aspect to it — signs posted throughout offer little facts about the animals, and kids even get to milk some of the animals. The Bogers are trying to do their part to keep the farming tradition alive.
“We don’t live in an agricultural society anymore,” Connie says. “Isn’t that sad?”
Bunky agrees; we’ve lost touch with farming. That might explain the smaller county fairs these days.
“You’d be surprised how many people don’t know that eggs and chickens are connected,” he says. “And a lot of people think milk comes from Walmart.”
Contact Mark Saal at 801-625-4272, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @Saalman. Friend him on Facebook at facebook.com/MarkSaal.
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