Ohio 4-H’er Brad Sheppard on journey to visit all of the state’s fairs

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A 4-H'er shows off pins on his fair king sash on the midway at a fair.
Brad Sheppard collects pins from fairs he visits to display on his Muskingum County Fair king sash. Here, he shows off the pins he’s collected as fair king so far at the Coshocton County Fair, in Coshocton, Ohio, Oct. 4. (Sarah Donaldson photo)

COSHOCTON, Ohio — Brad Sheppard is known by a couple different names at Ohio fairs: the cowboy hat guy, that guy from down south, the guy that’s been to every fair in Ohio. That last one isn’t completely accurate quite yet. But he’s working on it.

After being chosen as the 2018 junior pork ambassador for the Muskingum County Fair, Sheppard, 19, started visiting more fairs in Ohio.

“In 2019, the beginning of it, I walked into my mom’s room and I said ‘I want to see how many county fairs we can get to,’” Sheppard explained. His mom, Cindy Sheppard, told him to tell her when the first fair would be.

Since then, they’ve been to 180 fairs, as of Oct. 4. They’ve visited 93 of the 95 fairs in Ohio at least once — the Hamilton and Huron county fairs, which both fall during the Muskingum County Fair, are the only two they’ve never seen.

For his final year in 4-H, with the Country Cowboys 4-H club, Sheppard was chosen as the fair king for his home fair. He hopes to visit every county fair in Ohio as the fair king before he gives up his title at the 2022 Muskingum County Fair. He visited 52 fairs before his home fair, as a senior pork ambassador, and another 34 as fair king since then.

Farm and Dairy met Sheppard Oct. 4, at the Coshocton County Fair, Sheppard’s 86th fair of 2021, in Coshocton.

How do you get to more than 80 fairs in a year?

It’s a rigorous schedule at the height of fair season. Brad and Cindy Sheppard put together a calendar of all the fairs in Ohio and started planning in June. The most fairs they’ve ever visited in a day is five. This year, they visited 12 in a week, once.

Sheppard has only stayed over at a hotel once this year, which means a lot of long round trips for him and his mom. Sometimes, they didn’t get home until 1 a.m. or 2 a.m. Then, they would get up early the next day to either go to work or head out to the next fair.

The longest they drove in a day was 499 miles, followed by another 498 miles the next day. Brad Sheppard spends much of the drives sleeping, or posting photos from his fair visits on social media. Cindy Sheppard is the chauffeur, but she enjoys the fair visits almost as much as Brad.

“I’d do it again in a heartbeat,” Cindy Sheppard said. “I am going to miss it … I can’t wait till next June to start again.”

What’s your first priority at fairs?

When Brad Sheppard gets to a fair, the first thing he does is try to find the fair royalty for that county — they can usually be found by the show ring, if there’s a show going on.

Then, he takes a tour of the fair. He usually spends at least an hour or two at each fair. Near the end of the season, with less fairs going on at once, he can take his time.

What’s your favorite fair food?

Milkshakes are Sheppard’s go-to food at fairs. In 2021, he’s had a milkshake at every county fair he visited, adding up to 86 milkshakes as of Oct. 4. His record is 11 milkshakes in a week, in 2019. A lot of fairs will say they have the best milkshakes in Ohio. Sheppard doesn’t disagree, no matter how many other counties tell him the same thing.

“I tell them, ‘you guys do have the best milkshakes,’” Sheppard said.

But the strangest thing he’s eaten at a fair is alligator bites, at the Guernsey County Fair. The taste is hard to describe.

“You ever had chicken before? It doesn’t taste like chicken,” he said. He still isn’t sure if he liked it or not.

The thing he wouldn’t eat? Fried butter, at the Wyandot County Fair.

A 4-H'er with a cowboy hat and fair king sash stands on the midway at a fair.
Brad Sheppard on the midway at the Coshocton County Fair, Oct. 4, in Coshocton, Ohio. (Sarah Donaldson photo)

What’s your fondest fair memory?

The highlight of Sheppard’s fair season has been meeting fair royalty, senior and junior fair board members and other fairgoers who ask him about his travels around Ohio fairs. Sheppard started posting pictures of his fair visits and meetings with other fair royalty and ambassadors in a Facebook group for fairs this year.

At the Carroll County Fair, a woman asked if she could be in his Facebook post. It took him a minute to figure out she was talking to him. Then, when he walked into the Lake County Fair, a clown recognized him and greeted him by name.

“At first, it freaked me out,” Sheppard said. “Who knows me in Carroll County?”

But it’s also led to lasting friendships, and helped him get out of his comfort zone. For each fair he’s been to, he has a memory or story related to the people he met there.

At the Ross County Fair, he knew the 2020 fair queen. He let her know he was coming to the 2021 fair, and she messaged the 2021 fair king, who was sleeping at home. The fair king got up and drove 20 minutes back to the fair to meet Sheppard. At the Geauga County Fair, he went up to the fair queen, who was talking to some other friends.

“They turned around and said, ‘Oh, we were just talking about you,’” he said.

How much do Ohio fairs have in common?

The main thing that’s consistent across all fairs is that they all have something that sets them apart.

“Every fair is unique in their own way,” Sheppard said. Some have different species of livestock — Clark County has a dog barn, Columbiana County has a pocket pet barn. Summit County’s antique barn, with old schoolhouse items and mannequins dressed in old-fashioned attire, stands out to him. Cuyahoga County, which is less rural than some, has fewer hogs and cattle, but some of the livestock come in from neighboring counties.

The thing that stands out about to Sheppard about the Muskingum County Fair is its coliseum. In 2018, an artist painted a quilt on the front of the coliseum. That quilt is based on a real quilt that a relative of Sheppard’s mom made out of blue ribbons she won.

But his favorite thing about his home fair is the people. He’s been showing hogs since he was 2, and he’s been in 4-H for as long as he’s been old enough. Many people at his home fair watched him grow up there, or grew up there with him.

“You have family, and then you also have fair family, too,” Sheppard said.

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Reporter Sarah Donaldson is a former 4-Her and a Mount Union graduate from Columbiana County, Ohio. She enjoys playing and writing music, cooking, and storytelling in many forms. She can be reached at 800-837-3419 or sarah@farmanddairy.com.

1 COMMENT

  1. We started that years ago for visiting the County fairs. We are half way done. Our reason is that my wife’s grandma started the first girls 4-H Club.

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