Country singer Chris Ledoux said it best in one of his most famous songs when he wrote, “Ain’t nothing I know of that can make you fall in love, like a night at the county fair.” If there was any truth in that verse it’s possible he was thinking about the Tillamook County Fair.
It’s not that the Tillamook County Fair has a reputation of sending cupid’s arrows flying in every direction, but the unique magic and ambiance it possesses are enough to fill almost any heart with excited butterflies.
“It’s a huge honor to be named by USA Today as one of the top 10 county fairs in the entire country,” said Tillamook County Fair Manager Andy Neal. “We earned a blue ribbon which is a really big deal for a county fair like ours.”
The fair has every thing all fairs should have. There’s the smell of cinnamon and sugarcoated elephant ears and giant sausages covered in all the fixings dancing through the air. Carnival rides decorated in flashing lights and almost unwinable carnival games line the isles while carnival workers taunting and the laughter of children fill your ears.
World famous bands like Lonestar and 38 Special as well as country singer Neal McCoy willl be gracing us with all their greatest hits and hearts will race right along with every beat of the hooves as the horses sprint around the track. All these pieces put together are what makes a county fair so memorable, but the Tillamook County Fair has one more feature that no other fair in the country can claim. For the last 77 years we’ve been honored to watch one of the most original and downhome events any fair can display and this year shouldn’t be any different when the one and only, Pig N Ford Racers take the track.
“It’s one of this county’s greatest traditions,” said Pig N Fords President Punk Dunsworth. “The races have been going on since 1925 and they’re easily one of Tillamook’s greatest and longest lasting events.”
The story of how the race originally came to be varies depending on whom you talk to, but the jist of the origin is consistent. There was a Ford Model T, there were a old time Tillamook residents driving it, and there was a runaway pig on the loose.
“I was always told my grandpa JA Bell and his friend were driving in an old Ford Model T truck down Latimer Road back when it was still just gravel when they saw a pig running along the road they thought belonged to a neighbor,” said long time Cheesemaker Rusty Bell. “Apparently they grabbed the pig, out in under one of their arms, tossed it in the truck, and drove it back to the farm they thought it belonged to,” Bell said. “I guess after they made it back home and were talking about catching and returning the pig over a drink, probably Bourbon knowing my grandpa, they thought it was a funny process and would make a great race.”
Other versions of the story say on their way home after delivering the lost pig they saw another pig and repeated the process while some variations of the story put the entire pig gabbing fiasco somewhere along the Kilchis River instead of Latimer Road. No matter what version of the story you hear, the jist of the story remains the same and the originality of the story and the tradition remain intact.
“This is the only race like it in the country as far as I know,” Dunsworth said. “It’s just one of those little things people here love and look forward to about the fair and our club loves to do it. I personally have been a club member for 49-years and race for 30 of those years.”
The Pig N Ford Club had graced other festivals with their unique race, but it’s mostly for the people of Tillamook County to enjoy.
“Other places we’ve done this we’re just putting on a show, but here there’s some fairly serious competition with big bragging rights on the line in the county fair,” Dunsworth said. “We have 10 total racers, but I’d say our top competitors are Marty Walker, Bob Wassmer, John, Haertel and Jake Martin.”
The Ford Model T cars used in the races are all stock 22 horse powered motors to keep a level playing field, although it is known amongst the racers that keeping them finely tuned gets a little more out of them.
While the local residents make up the majority of the fair patrons, the Pig N Ford races bring people from all over.
“We get dozens of calls and emails from out-of-towners asking about the Pig N Fords,” Neal said. “The turnout for the fair will be big and there will probably be somewhere between 5,000 and 6,000 people in the stands to watch the horse races, but I expect the crowd to get even bigger when it’s time for the Pig N Fords to start.”
Neal optimistic about the turnout at the fair overall, but he takes no credit for the success.
“We have the most dedicated and hardest working volenteer fair board in Tillamook,” Neal said. “Rita Hogan, Doug Doyle, Nick Steiner, Jack DeSwart, and Don Averill have given over 700 hours to the fair this year between them. It’s an impressive board to say the least.”