(Author’s Note: Much of the information for this article was gleaned from Glorianne Weigand’s book From Roses to Rodeos: History of the Inter-Mountain Fair 1919-1995. Also helpful was an article by George Ingram on the Inter-Mountain Fair published in Shasta County History by the Shasta Historical Society in 1985. In addition, George and his son Robert granted an interview and filled me in on many details. I also want to thank Roderick and Karen McArthur, Elena Albaugh, Skip Willmore, and Heidi Bass for taking time to provide friendly assistance and answers to my questions.)
Birth of the fair 1917 – 1919
For one hundred years, the Inter-Mountain Fair been has central to the life of the Fall River Valley, Eastern Shasta County and neighboring communities. The fair has been the major social event for the community; it has served as a catalyst for improving agricultural methods and rural living conditions; and it has been a center of practical education for young people.
Inter-Mountain Fair Centennial Poster
From the beginning, it has been a family affair. For five generations families worked together to make it a success and participation and enjoyment of the fair has helped to create an Intermountain family spirit.
According to George Ingram’s account in A History of Shasta County published by the Shasta County Historical Society in 1985, the first Inter-Mountain Fair and Rodeo was held in 1917. The rodeo took place in the corrals at the McArthur Ranch. Adults sat on the corral fence and children peaked through to watch cowboys compete as they rode broncs and roped calves.
A major impetus for the establishment the fair was Agricultural Extension in the early 1900’s. Agricultural extension is the application of scientific research and knowledge through farmer education. To promote Agricultural Extension, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Smith-Lever Act in 1914 to foster cooperative Extension amongst the USDA, state land-grant universities, and local counties.
The University of California had already been working to create an agricultural extension system in California. In 1907, a university research farm was opened in Davisville (later UC Davis) and the Citrus Experiment Station in Riverside (later UC Riverside) were established.
Anticipating passage of Smith-Lever, UC officials required each county government that wanted to participate to allocate funding for Extension work. Additionally, it was required that a group of farmers in participating counties organize into a Farm Bureau and hire a farm advisor. Thus, Parker Talbot became Shasta County’s first Farm Advisor in October of 1917.
Parker Talbot was an advocate of fairs. In addition to many other accomplishments, he helped to start two fairs in Shasta County, one in Anderson and the other in McArthur.
Under Talbot’s guidance and leadership, Roderick McArthur, William Albaugh, and James Day were chosen as the committee to organize the Inter-Mountain fair in McArthur. Scott McArthur donated 10 acres of land for the fair in 1918.
According to Glorianne Weigand’s book, From Roses to Rodeos, the first official Inter-Mountain Fair and Rodeo was held October 9-11, 1919. It featured riding and bronc-busting. Local growers and companies proudly showed their fruits, vegetables, flours, cereals, cheese, meats and coops of fowls. The Girls Canning Club of Hat Creek and Glenburn displayed a variety of canned fruits and vegetables. The novelty of an airplane show and rides proved to be a great attraction.
Rodeo events were held in the McArthur ranch corrals. For the first three years, exhibits were held in the Forrester’s Hall built in 1908 for the Forrester’s of America. Later, the building was leased and then purchased in 1937 by the McArthur Grange. In 1977, the McArthur Grange disbanded and sold the hall to the Fall River Lions Club. Since then, it has served as the Lions Hall.
More than 2000 people attended the next fair from September 23-25 in 1920. An estimated 1000 Native Americans came including several outstanding bronc riders.
One popular rider in the early fairs was an adept lady rider named Annie Ingle. Annie was half-Wintu. She was raised in the Pit River Canyon and learned to ride as a young girl. She rode rodeos in Idaho, Oregon, and Wyoming. Eventually she married a world champion bronc rider named Bob Studnick. Bob’s brother Frank was also a world champion. In 1924, Bob and Frank and other riders went to London England to put on rodeos. Annie was billed as “Shotgun Anne” and later as “Mrs. Bob Bronco.”
The formative years 1920 -1945
The 1920 fair also featured a baseball game in which the Farm Center team defeated Bieber by a score of 14-0.
The rodeo was held on Thursday. Livestock Day was Friday. Ten year-old Evelyn Hollenbeak was awarded a silver cup for first place in canning. Unfortunately, the aeroplane did not show up due to bad weather.
By 1921, the fair was expanding. Scott McArthur had donated 17 acres of land. Roderick McArthur, Glen Fitzwater, and Willis and Rube Albaugh made two trips a day in early September hauling lumber from the Horr Sawmill in Glenburn to build a grandstand, corrals, and fences.
After the first three years, the George Rose Livery Stable was used for exhibits. Later some of the grandstands were torn down to build an exhibit hall.
From 1927 into the early 1930’s, the McArthur Grange assumed management of the fair. The local agriculture teacher began to play an important role in the organization of the fair and agriculture students from Fall River High School helped to set up and care for the fair
Jesse Bequette, agriculture teacher at Fall River High School, was hired as Fair Manager in 1936. He served in that position until late fall 1946.
One of the first things that Bequette did was to meet with a group of local ranchers to talk about the purchase of purebred bulls in Montana to improve local stock. He traveled with three others and purchased 30 bulls which he brought back to Bieber where they were numbered and distributed by lot.
He also got to work repairing the existing grounds and facilities. As Ag teacher, Bequette involved his students in the work of the fair. As premiums increased during his tenure, more 4-H and FFA members entered the fair. High school students that needed a place to harbor their animals were able to keep them at the fairgrounds.
The rodeo continued to one of the popular events and riders came from all around to compete. Some local youngsters rode their first rodeo in McArthur and later went on to become top competitors in the larger circuit.
One young cowboy who began his rodeo career riding in the rodeo at the Inter-Mountain fair was Buster Ivory. Buster was born in Alturas. When he was fourteen years old he came to compete in the McArthur rodeo. In 1940, he hit the rodeo circuit riding bulls and broncs. In the early 1950’s he was one of the top five bronc riders in the country. After injuries limited his role as a contestant, he served as a judge, manager and producer of rodeo events. From 1953-56, he was Secretary-Treasurer of the Rodeo Cowboy Association. For 26 consecutive years, he was livestock superintendent at the National Finals Rodeo and was the NFR chute boss for three years. In 1958, he was livestock superintendent for the World’s Fair American Wild West Show and Rodeo in Brussels, Belgium. In 1967, he was the chute boss and livestock superintendent at the 1967 World’s Fair Rodeo in Montreal. He also served as general manager of the Rodeo Far West, which toured four European countries. In 1978, he was voted rodeo fans’ Man of the Year and he was inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in 1991.This great career all began riding broncs in the McArthur fairgrounds.
In 1933, California voters had approved Proposition 5, legalizing pari-mutuel wagering on horse racing. This became a major source of funding for state fairs. However up to 1940, revenue to the state from horse racing went to a few large fairs while the smaller fairs received little or no funding.
In 1940, Bequette and Asa Doty attended the Western Fairs Association meeting in Stockton for the Northern California Fair Managers and Directors. Bequette was appointed spokesman for the smaller fairs. During the meeting a motion was made and passed that the smaller fairs would receive a just amount. A few weeks later, notice was received that the Inter-Mountain Fair would receive $5,500 for premiums and other items. In 1943 there was no fair because of World War II.
Growth and development 1946 – 1988
By 1946, horse-racing money had increased dramatically. After the Shasta County Board of Supervisors designated the fair in McArthur as the official Shasta County Fair, the “Inter-Mountain Fair of Shasta County” began receiving $65,000 annually. Increased funds helped the fair to grow and diversify.
The fair board purchased 97.776 adjacent acres of land from PG&E. Fair Directors at that time were Willis Albaugh from McArthur, Asa Doty from Cassell, and Hugh Carpenter from Dana. Francis Gassaway was Secretary.
Bequette hired Clair Hill to help develop a master plan for the fairgrounds. The plan envisioned moving the grandstand to a new location with new rodeo chutes and corrals, creating new livestock and horse barns as well as one or two exhibition halls, and putting in modern rest rooms. This plan helped to shape the development of the fairgrounds.
Before retiring, Bequette found a replacement to take over his position as Fair Manager. George Ingram (grandson of George Rose in whose barn early exhibits had been held) had been his student at Fall River High School. After graduating, George enlisted in the military to serve during the war. After the war, Baquette recommended Ingram to succeed him and the Board approved. Ingram was hired in 1946. Bequette continued as manager through the 1947 fair. That year the date of the fair was changed to Labor Day Weekend and a carnival was added on.
Later in the fall, Bequette retired and Ingram took over the management of the fair. He was twenty years old but he was dedicated, enthusiastic and hard-working. Under the strong leadership and guidance of Willis Albaugh, Asa Doty, and Hugh Carpenter, George set to work to implement the master plan developed by Clair Hill and Bequette. He served admirably as Fair Manager for more than four decades.
In 1949, a beef barn, rest rooms, and a cafeteria were built. Construction on Ingram Hall began in the fall and continued in the spring. It was completed by August 1 and a dedication dance was held on August 10, 1950. Mr. Ingram provided a small corsage for each lady that attended and a band came up from Redding to play.
Development of trees and shrubs also began in 1950. Albert Kenyan was the first caretaker of the grounds. Together with George Ingram they planted plants and trees. Because there was no sprinkler system they watered them with the fire hose. Some community members donated and planted trees as as memorials to loved ones. Betty Eldridge and her 4-H group planted the large spruce tree near the front gate. Willis Albaugh also dug up a number of trees along the river and replanted them on the grounds.
In 1951, the sheep and swine barn was built and the construction of the Agriculture building followed in 1952. In that same year, the directory for the Division of Fairs and Expositions listed the Inter-Mountain Fair as paying the largest premium for beef cattle in California and ranked the fair as the largest paying premium fair in the North State.
In 1954, Junior Livestock Exhibitions were started.
Building continued through the rest of the 1950’s with the addition of the weight and scales building, new bleachers and grandstand, a concession building, commercial building, and livestock sales building.
The landscaping of flower gardens also began in the mid-50’s. Visiting the county fair in Crescent City, Mr. Ingram had discovered the idea of having individuals and groups enter into competition as a way to beautify the fairgrounds.
Everett Beck moved to the Fall River area in 1959 and became the first resident California Highway patrol officer. In 1960, he assumed organization of the Inter-Mountain Fair Parade and continued to do so for several decades. Later responsibility for the parade was taken over by Lawrence Agee from the Highway Garage.
In 1962, a new office building was built. It included an office for Sam Thurber who served as Farm advisor for the area. Thurber served in that position from 1960 until 1968. He was succeeded by Walt Spivy who served until 1975. In 1976, Dan Marcum took over the position. Marcum played a leading role in local agricultural development, helping to develop the production of wild rice, strawberries, garlic and mint. He also helped increase grain and hay production.
The Junior Livestock Sale, which began on Labor Day 1966, was a great innovation at the Fair. Young folks have the opportunity to benefit from the hard work that went into raising their prize winning stock. Much of the money earned goes toward their future college education, purchasing more stock, or fulfilling other goals and needs. Dick Nemanic was the chairman of the event for years. He was assisted by Shirley McArthur. Each year, 4-H and FFA youth help to put on a banquet for the generous buyers to show their gratitude.
In 1968, Gail Ashe became the Administrative Secretary of the fair. Her assistance was invaluable. She assisted Manager Ingram in a multitude of ways including making sure that all entrees were properly recorded, finding judges, and many other responsibilities essential to the fair.
The Queens Contest began in 1968. Girls, age 16 through 21, from Fall River, Burney, and Big Valley High Schools could enter, provided that they had never been married. Over the past five decades, the Queen and other royalty help to promote the fair by attending other fairs, riding in the Burney Basin Days Parade and the Intermountain Fair Parade, and appearing at other regional events.
Skip Willmore, who has been a fair director since 1989, noted in a recent interview that the Board eliminated the swimsuit competition in 1994 (before the Miss America Pageant did likewise). He described how competition in the contest has helped generations of young ladies to refine their public speaking and other talents and said that he believes every one of the competitors has deserved a crown.
An annual Destruction Derby was added in 1969 and became one of the most popular events of the fair. The Lions Club has been responsible for the organization of the derby.
In 1970, a covered arena was built. That year was also the first year that Bill and Alexis Johnson hosted their iced tea booth at the fair. They have continued to operate the booth for more than four decades and it has become a cherished tradition.
In 1974, Rose Schneider took over the job of keeping the grounds beautiful and managing the flower competitions. Her selfless dedication, creativity, and organizational efficiency have provided inspiration for all.
The Junior Rodeo Board was also incorporated in 1974. The original board members were Tom Vestal, Bill McCullough, Bud Knoch, Peter Gereg, Charles Kramer, Albert Albaugh, and Andy Babcock. The Junior Rodeo has grown from a local event for children into a successful rodeo with champion saddles awarded to cowboys and cowgirls. In 1985, the Inter-Mountain Junior Rodeo Association became an independent organization and took over running the rodeo. Competition, which originally had been only for students at Fall River and Big Valley High Schools, was opened to all contestants 14 to 18 years of age. Many went on to compete successfully in state and national events. In 1988, Gina O’Connor won Cow Palace all around and in 1989 she competed in the nationals.
In 1979, Old Timer’s Day was modified to include an annual Golden Anniversary Dinner. Everyone who has been married for 50 years shares a wonderful dinner, entertainment and a wedding cake.
By that time, the Art Building had been constructed an annual art show began featuring painting, photography and poetry by professional and amateur artists. Through the years, the Intermountain Artists has played a major role in organizing the art show.
At the 1987 fair, the Inter-Mountain Cattlewoman’s Association sponsored a fashion show in which models displayed apparel worn by women from 1840 to 1940 including wedding dresses from the 1800’s, riding skirts, Camp Fire Girls uniforms, as well and many beautiful gowns and dresses. Children’s and men’s clothes were also included. It was lots of fun. If the bride was present when her gown from the past was shown, she stood as the audience applauded.
The 1987 Fair was also the first year featuring a four wheel truck pull.
Maturation and Flowering 1989 – 2018
George Ingram retired in 1988 and was succeeded as Fair Manager by Dennis Hoffman. Mr. Hoffman served as Fair Manager for 17 years. Once again, Gail Ashe who had served as Secretary under Ingram for two decades played a valuable role helping Mr. Hoffman assume the reins of leadership.
Ms. Ashe retired in 1991. She was succeeded by Valerie Lakey who had been hired in 1990 as Business Assistant.
In the early 1990’s, Ingram Hall was remodeled. This is one of several projects which have been funded through the years by the McConnell Foundation. Others have been the installation of an underground sprinkler system, and the renovation of the fair office. In every grant that the McConnell Foundation approves, volunteerism and community benefit are essential requirements. Skip Willmore said that at one meeting representatives of the McConnell Foundation were impressed that all the IM Board members were private businessmen who were taking time from their businesses to serve the fair. They were also impressed by the number of activities at the fairground that benefited youth and senior citizens.
In 1994, a new RV park was added. This was a result of IM Fair directors participation in the Western Fair Association. Each year, the Western Fair Association holds a convention attended by fair directors and managers. The convention includes workshops and roundtables where ideas are shared. At one such meeting, the benefits of adding an RV park were presented and the Western Fair Association guided the directors through the process of applying for and receiving state funding. The RV park provides accommodation and also generates revenue.
The fair continued to flourish through the late 1990’s into the new century as the many diverse events and shows displayed the skills and talents of every aspect of Intermountain life. Ranchers showed their stock; cowboys and cowgirls competed in the rodeo, equestrians rode their champion horses, farmers displayed their prize fruits and vegetables; gardeners showed the beauty of their flowers; artists shared their creative works; quilters shared their fabulous designs; bakers and cooks brought their delicious cakes, pies, and canned jellies, jams and vegetables; and local craftspeople vended country crafts. Families had fun each year at the carnival. There was lots of good food sold at booths throughout the day, and each evening there was music, dinners, and dancing. It was a true celebration of Intermountain life. Attendance grew into the tens of thousands.
Dennis Hoffman was succeeded as Fair Manager by Bob McFarland in 2005. After he retired, Kourtney Woodward served in that position.
A premium addition to the fairgrounds was the Jennifer Skuce Pavilion. Jennifer is the daughter of Betsy and Dave Skuce, who have a home in the Fall River Valley. Sadly, Jennifer died from breast cancer in the summer of 2005. In her memory, her parents worked together with the Intermountain Junior Rodeo Foundation to create a multi-use facility. Chris McArthur served as project co-manager. Private contributions from foundations and donations from hundreds of people in the Intermountain Area were collected. The grand opening of the Jennifer Skuce Pavillion was held Aug. 1, 2008. Events held at the pavilion include horse shows, rodeo, agriculture, organized sports, social gatherings, and other events.
As the first decade of the 21st century unfolded, financial problems beset the State of California. As the budget crisis intensified, state budget planners began to look for ways to cut costs and redirect funds. One of the options was to cease using horse-racing money for fairs. Local fairs were advised that such a move was coming and that they should look for alternative sources of funding.
At the 2001 Western Fair Association Convention in Reno, Skip Willmore met a director from the Salinas Valley Fair in Kings County. The Salinas Fair had started a non-profit heritage foundation in order to receive money from grants, enable in-kind donations, and increase volunteer participation. Willmore introduced the idea to the IM Fair Board and the idea was discussed for several years.
Elena Albaugh thoroughly researched the idea and wrote articles of incorporation. The Inter-Mountain Fair Heritage Foundation was incorporated in 2009. Mrs. Albaugh is the wife of Stephen Albaugh who is the great grandson of W.J. Albaugh, one of the founding fathers of the fair. William’s son, Willis, served as a director of the fair for 52 years and his son, Albert served as a director for 20 years.
Elena Albaugh has served as President of the foundation since it was formed. Fair Directors appointed by the Shasta County Board of Supervisors were absorbed into the Board of the new foundation and new members were added. There are currently 17 members of the Board who oversee the fairgrounds numerous activates.
By 2011, the budget deficit for the State of California had reached $24.5 billion. In that year, under the budget proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown, the state stopped its distribution of $32 million to 78 fairs around the state. Fortunately, the Foundation was already up and running.
Some employees had to be laid off, but Fair Manager Bob McFarland took the lead in encouraging a spirit of self-sacrifice and encouraging a spirit of volunteerism. He semi-retired and took a half-cut in salary, but still continued to manage the fair. Individuals and familes throughout the Intermountain area responded and the annual fair became a beehive of volunteer activity. In kind donations increased.
The fairgrounds also increased their year round activities and rental of facilities. The grounds and buildings host weddings, banquets, talent shows, reunions, memorials, and a host of other events.
The fairgrounds also serve as the major evacuation center for the region between the Redding area and Alturas in case of fire of or other emergencies. It has room for emergency services to base their equipment, to provide refuge for evacuees, and to harbor and tend livestock. It is a “safe place.”
One helpful idea that the Foundation has implemented was the signing of an agreement in 2014 to lease the Fairgrounds property from the county.
Up to that time, because the County owned the grounds, they did many of the services such as accounting. Funding had come from the state, but the County billed for its services. By leasing the property, the foundation assumed greater autonomy and was able take responsibility for those services at a reduced cost. Volunteers have pitched in to perform many tasks. More than 50 percent of the people who work to make the fair a success are volunteers.
In 2013, a new annual event, the Mountain Jubilee was introduced to help raise funds for maintaining and improving the fairgrounds and supporting the Inter-Mountain Fair. The three day event in late June offers people an opportunity to experience a broad range of intermountain life such as trail rides, barrel racing, team roping, a small animal show and a horseshoe tournament. Past jubilees have included mud races and other fun competitions, a country craft and antique shows, donkey drop bingo, and a big ball tournament. Friday and Saturday both end with a delicious barbecue in the evening and live music till midnight.
Recently, some state funding for the fair has been restored. In 2018, a new Fair Manager, Steve Gagnon, has been hired to ensure a bright future.
Reflecting on the 100 year history of the Inter-Mountain Fair, George Ingram said, “It’s a family affair.”
So many families have participated, so many families have contributed, so many families have enjoyed the benefits. In so doing, all have become a part of the Intermountain family.
Elena Albaugh said, “We want to preserve the heritage of our old fashioned country fair for future generations. We plan to continue to upgrade facilities and increase activity to educate our youth and provide economic benefit for the Intermountain Area.”
A print copy of the this article is also available in the Official Program of the 100th Annual Inter-Mountain Fair published by the Mountain Echo on Tuesday August 28, 2018.
See also A Conversation with George and Robert Ingram Othe History of the Inter-Mountain Fair