It’s that magical time of year when cattle, cars, carnies and corny dogs coalesce into the 24-day cultural experience known as the State Fair of Texas.

 

 

For most of us, our participation amounts to eating too much, drinking too much, and wasting too many tickets trying to win a stuffed animal for our sweetie.

 

 

But some of our neighbors play a more active role in the seasonal festival that has been voted the best state fair in the country.

 

 

 

 

El Presidente

 

Neighborhood resident Errol McKoy’s ascension to the top post at the State Fair did not happen by chance, although his career in the amusement park industry may have started out that way.

 

 

Raised in Tulsa, he moved to Irving with his parents after high school. As a college student at Northwestern State University in 1961, McKoy took a summer job at the soon-to-be-opened Six Flags Over Texas theme park in Arlington . He was on the first crew hired to work the rides at the park and soon climbed the ladder to become the seasonal supervisor.

 

 

“I graduated from Northwestern in 1965 with a degree in economics. I fully intended to be a stockbroker at Merrill Lynch,” he admits.

 

 

But Six Flags had other plans for McKoy.

 

 

The theme park was planning on unveiling its new ride concept — a water “flume” ride — at the World’s Fair in New York .

 

 

“They asked me if I would manage the log ride and other attractions with Disney. It was Disney’s first foray into animatronics. They had Small World, Lincoln and the GE Carousel in Progress.”

 

 

When he came back in 1966, he still had his mind set on Merrill Lynch, but was offered a job at Six Flags over as the director of human resources.

 

 

“I said I’d do it for awhile,” he says.

 

 

But by 1969, at the age of 26, McKoy was appointed general manger of the park, the youngest person ever to be named to the post. Eventually, he was transferred back to Dallas to revive flagging attendance numbers and rework the park’s marketing strategy.

 

 

In 1980 he took up residence in Preston Hollow, sending his sons to Episcopal Parish Day School, the same year he became vice president over all Six Flags parks. He left in 1983 to work with Silver Dollar City in Branson. It was around that time that he became interested in the water park concept. He was president of White Water from 1984 until 1987, when he oversaw its sale to Wet-N-Wild.

 

 

“The last half of that year, I started working on ride patents. I have , German and Swiss patents for a new roller coaster on water concept,” he says.

 

 

Finally, in 1988 he went to work for the State Fair of Texas.

 

 

“I’ve been here ever since, and I love it. I like the civic aspect of it — being a part of something that’s built into the fabric of Texas life,” McKoy says.

 

 

Initially, he thought the short, 24-day State Fair would be a walk in the park. But then he found out that he would be managing 900 partners from cattle ranchers to automobile makers. Of course, that’s also what makes it such a neat challenge.

 

 

“The interesting thing to me is it’s so multi-dimensional. One week I’m in Norman and Austin getting ready for the Texas/OU football game. The next week, I’m in Detroit at an auto show or overseas looking for new rides. I’ve had an awful lot of fun with it.”

 

 

 

 

Creative Director

 

As the director of Creative Arts and Special Events, Barbara Jones is in charge, at least indirectly, of all of the pickles, pies, jams, jellies, sculptures, knitted items, photographs, paintings and any number of other creations entered into the Creative Arts competitions at the Fair — not to mention many of the shows and the nightly electric light parade.

 

 

A Preston Hollow resident since 1946, Jones has worked at the State Fair, on and off, since 1964, with a couple of interruptions. She says she has been going to the Fair as a customer since she can remember.

 

 

“You know, when you’re raised in Dallas , they give you a Fair ticket every year. And back then, they also gave you a bus ticket. All of my friends and I rode the bus together and spent all day there. There were probably 10 to 15 of us. ”

 

 

As luck would have it, one of her friends’ moms worked at the State Fair in the jams and jellies division, giving them access to additional money for tickets, and a car ride home if they needed it.

 

 

It also helped get a foot in the door for her first job in the Creative Arts department, which at that time was called the Women’s Department and was managed by then-director Leah Jarred. Relegated to the back half of what is now the exhibits building, the “Women’s Department” closed at 5 p.m. every day because, Jones recalls, the powers that be didn’t think “anyone was interested in it.”

 

 

However, that all changed when Jones’ predecessor, Elizabeth Peabody, took over.

 

 

“In 1967, she started leaving the building open later, and people became interested. That’s how the State Fair continues. The Creative Arts entries are passed down in the family from generation to generation. It’s amazing how many people are still doing their own canning and jellies.”

 

 

In 1979, Jones went to New Mexico and started the “Whole Enchilada Fiesta,” and the “July 3rd Electric Light Parade.” The experience she gained there dovetailed nicely with her previous experience at the State Fair of Texas, and in 1991 she became Peabody ’s assistant, taking over as director in 1993.

 

 

She says it takes about 45 days to get the Creative Arts building ready for opening day because all of the judging has to be completed before the Fair begins. Once the gates open, the food demos and cooking contests begin. This year, there will be 25 contests in 24 days.

 

 

Jones says the mainstays will always be the pickles, jams and jellies, but she is focusing on the kids’ divisions, with an eye on the future.

 

 

As she puts it: “Kids raised up at the Fair stay at the Fair,” which is certainly true of Jones.

 

 

“I love everything about it. I love the displays. I love looking at the items when they bring them in. And on the first day of the Fair, I have to have a corny dog. That’s the first thing I do when I smell them cooking.”

 

 

 

 

The Cook

 

No trip to the State Fair of Texas would be complete without a trip to the Food Pavilion. And for many, that means a stop at Bailey’s, which has been a fixture at the indoor food court since 1987.

 

 

Rose Deschenes, the original owner of Bailey’s Café on

Inwood Road

, had two booths at one time. She sold the restaurant in 1993 and dropped the second booth, which was located in the Midway, few years later.

 

, had two booths at one time. She sold the restaurant in 1993 and dropped the second booth, which was located in the Midway, few years later.

 

The menu has changed since the late ’80s. The main attractions are the sausage on a stick and meatball subs, and for dessert, hot fudge pudding cake.

 

 

Deschenes says that at the time, the Fair locations seemed like a logical expansion of her restaurant.

 

 

“We were out there, and we said we should put in an application and we did. We took lots and lots of different food samples and finally an opening came up at the Fair.”

 

 

Since then, she has built up a devoted clientele and forged some lifelong personal and business relationships. One couple who met at the booth eventually were married and named their daughter Bailey. Another couple invited Deschenes to their wedding.

 

 

“We have met so many friends and wonderful people through our booth at the Fair. It’s been the most amazing experience in my life, and I look forward to it every year.”

 

 

The rest of the year, Deschenes works as a real estate agent for Keller Williams. She says she has sold eight to 10 houses to Bailey’s customers; that’s good for Bailey, because the extra income from the booth and State Fair-inspired real estate sales makes it easier to endure the jokes from co-workers.

 

 

“I get teased by people at work. They say I’m a Realtor and a carnie. But that booth put my kids through school by working just 24 days a year, and it will put my grandkids through school.

 

 

“So anyone who wants to have a sausage on a stick and buy a house, come to Bailey’s.”

 

 


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