There was a time, a long while ago, when public schools started their school year after Labor Day.

Not so much anymore. Until recently, schools seemed to be starting earlier and earlier each year.

Besides sticking kids in hot buildings a couple weeks sooner, the earlier opening has also necessitated a change in the Iowa State Fair dates.

Back when I was a kid, the fair would start a few days before my birthday, Aug. 28. It would then run through the first few days of September. It seemed I would always celebrate my birthday at the state fair grounds.

And celebrate we did. Then, as now, there were plenty of big happenings – many that were free. In fact, most of my best state fair memories center around free attractions.

But my old memory isn’t what it used to be, so I decided to check out just what was happening back then. I grabbed the 1949 Slater News files and thumbed my way to the August papers. There I found several state fair ads.

That year, the fair was called Iowa’s Gala Holiday. It started Aug. 26 and ran through Sept. 2. It suggested that Slater news readers join the happy crowds at Iowa’s great show-of-shows. “Thrill to the eight days and nights of entertainment…the 200 acres of inspiring exhibits…the one and only Iowa State Fair!”

Among the happenings at the grandstand were auto races, stock car races, horse races, thrill days, 3-ring circus, fireworks and dancing. A big “Extravaganza” would take place the final night and was called “State Fair Revue” – “a gorgeous night show including beauty chorus, thrilling music, stars of stage and radio. Fun galore!”

Other big fair attractions included a super midway, national livestock show, Iowa corn and grain show, women’s exposition, home show, farm gadget show, 4-H and FFA show, 40 acres of farm equipment, fish and game show, flower show, art salon, hall of science, thousands of exhibits.

A big plus had to be the 125 acres of FREE camping area.

Each ad closed with the following invitation: “Join the Fun … for the Holiday of the Year!”

Judging from the three days of racing excitement, speed and thrills must have been popular attractions back in 1949.

In fact, a story on the front page of the Aug. 18, 1949, Slater News told all about the “famed auto racer” who will be at the fair.

The story goes on, “Joie Chitwood, famed auto racer and Hollywood stunt man, will head a list of 22 of the nation’s top-ranking daredevils in two ‘thrill day’ programs of planned calamity during this year’s Iowa State Fair.

“Chitwood, a full-blooded Cherokee Indian, is a former eastern A.A.A. racing champion and a frequent hot competitor at the Indianapolis speedway’s Memorial Day races.

“Thrill days will be Saturday, Aug. 27 and Friday, Sept. 2.

“The program included 27 high-speed events, climaxed by broad jumping a new 1949 car at high speed over another new car broadsided underneath.

“Also scheduled are such stunts as crashing a regulation stock model sedan end-over-end and side-over-side until the car is completely demolished; crashing stock sedans through flaming plank walls with a stunt man lying on the hood acting as a buttress; a high-speed game of motorcycle leapfrog with the one cycle leaping 75 feet through the air while another cycle passes underneath; daredevils who leap from speeding autos into pools of flaming gasoline, and many other hair-raising stunts.”

Sounds more like a car chase movie than the Iowa State Fair.

Ed Rood is the former publisher of the Tri-County Times. He and his wife, Sharon, live near Cambridge.