For Linda Spahr, Pa. State Farm Show is a stage full of stories

Bil Bowden

Linda Spahr's long job title is Penn State Extension 4H Science Educator in York County. A heck of a title, but it covers only a bit of Linda Spahr's work history. She's as much a part of the Pennsylvania State Farm Show as anyone. And goodness, can she tell the stories.

Ask her about barn boogers. And Farm Show crud. Very colorful. And if you have half a day, you can be entertained by Spahr's tales of farms, Farm Show, birthing of animals, and the apparent lack of consciousness of parents when it comes to their kids' safety. Her language is colorful, not coarse, but don't step on her toes. She'll probably suggest... Well, never mind.

It's a show she could take on the road. But for now, she's a very likable and friendly 4H educator.

The Show opens officially Saturday, and this year's 100th anniversary event will be bigger and better than any other, it's promised. Epic, you might say.

And Spahr will be in the middle of it again. She showed dairy cows first as a 10-year old in 1969, and hasn't missed again since then. There's not much at The Show that Spahr hasn't seen or been part of. You want to know where to find the best food? Yep, she'll suggest the 4H brisket sandwich (of course). The best show within the Farm Show? Anything at the small arena, which is where you'll find her all next week.

She'll suggest wearing at least a jacket, since the farm show building is huge and sometimes doesn't stay too toasty. Temperatures dropped to zero last year and the furnaces were working on all burners to keep up. The forecast calls for temperatures to dip to 19 on Wednesday of next week, but no snow is forecast. Farm Show Weather is a bit of folklore that has Mother Nature dredging up gawd-awful winter storms constantly this time of year. It's been 10 years since a snowfall has caused show shutdowns, but the legend continues.

Spahr has a feeling that The Show could see some snow "about an inch or so" next week. And who's to argue? She's a farmer with years of practical experience watching the weather. She knows her stuff.

For years here, Spahr was a pig runner. She would steer the hogs to the ring for shows. Then graduated to hog caller. No, not the caller who yells "Soooeee, Soooee!" Although she can, and has. She announces the classes to the far reaches of the barns and the animals are herded in time for the class.

It's this getting the animals to the ring that is sometimes rather frightening. Non-farmers (read: city dwellers) see the animals as large dogs that listen to the owner's commands. That's not going to happen. While pigs and sheep are relatively small, cattle and horses can weigh as much as a small car. Just having your toe stepped on could ruin your whole day.

"A few years ago, a women was pushing a stroller with her kid in it," Spahr explained. She cut right in front of a pig we were trying to get into the ring. Well, the pig caught the back of the stroller, and was pushing it down the aisle.

"I ran up to it, saved the kid and stroller and the mother started screaming at me," says Spahr. "I put my finger in her face and told her she ought to be arrested for child abuse. She walked away with her mouth flapping."

And another time when a runaway pig raced right between a lady's legs and knocked her over.

Of course, Spahr admits farmers are sometimes not the best advocates for the farming community. But people do stupid things.

Like the time a mother pushed her daughter's stroller up to the back of a cow. The cute little girl started playing with the cow's legs and tail. Before the cow could kick-- and send the child and stroller into the next aisle-- the cow's handler said "What's wrong lady? Don't you like your kid or what?"

Spahr understands both sides. "We have to show the public what they are doing wrong," she says. "We have to do a lot of explaining. A lady was complaining that a sheep was held in a stand while it was being sheared. It was getting a haircut, so I asked the lady if she held still when she got her hair cut. And then I explained that at least we're not putting all kinds of chemicals on the sheep like she got at the hairdresser."

"We take care of our animals, they are our bread and butter," Spahr says. "The educational displays give a better understanding of how we care for them, and people can learn about production agriculture."

Spahr chairs the goat committee, is on the junior swine committee and played a big part in getting the always-popular alpaca their own show and sale this year as well. The alpaca show is on Tuesday.

The Farm Show is the largest indoor agriculture exhibit in the country and attracts weekend crowds that are, well, remarkably huge. Week days are better bets.

By the way, barn boogers and Farm Show crud are nasal ailments that are accepted as a matter of course by the farmers. The air here is dry and dusty. But ask Spahr about them when she has a minute free.  It's an entertaining explanation, in a down-home kind of way.