Six people you meet at the Indiana State Fair

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Ball State University student Danielle Grady interviewed six people at the fair. Here are their stories!

The food vendor

Vernon Cardinal enjoys the occasional hamburger from a fair booth as much as most visitors to the Indiana State Fair.

He also serves them. Cardinal stocks and prepares the treats thousands of visitors happily consume every day.

A native Canadian and New Mexico resident, Cardinal began moving around to sell concessions about five years ago. His penchant for traveling spurred his decision, which he speculates was influenced by his father's military background.

Photo: Vernon Cardinal poses behind a food counter underneath the Grandstand at the Indiana State Fair on Aug. 9.  Jonathan Miksanek/ BSU Journalism at the Fair

“His lifestyle was always moving, moving, moving. And I think a little bit of that is in me,” he says.

Cardinal has attended the fair a total of four years. He remembers manning a Grandstand food booth in 2011 on the day of the stage collapse that killed seven and injured 58.

When the actual event transpired, Cardinal was at another building searching for ketchup.

“I saw people coming down the stairs like ants,” he says. “It's like somebody got shot or something. You didn't know how to process it. But this time everybody got hurt.”

He supplied ice from his stand to help the injured concertgoers.

“People were coming to the ice stands for bags of ice, and it wasn't for their sodas—it was for their leg, for their neck, for their back,” he says.

The shock of the tragedy took its toll on Cardinal. He describes getting over the event as a slow process.

Despite this, Cardinal returned the next year, and he sees the multiple free stages set up by the fair and appreciates the change.

Change is always positive for Cardinal.

The trolley man

Greg Hertenstein sees it all through his rose-tinted glasses.

He stands on the last car of one of the 12 tractor-drawn trolleys that circle the Indiana State Fairgrounds. His arms, stiff and angular, rest on the handrails placed on either side of him. His eyes travel to one side, then to the other and then straight ahead, always on the lookout for a child darting toward the trolley or a passenger who might unexpectedly leap from their seat.

Greg Hertenstein leans on a rail on one of the tram cars at the Indiana State Fair on Aug. 9. Hertenstein switched from night shifts to day shifts this year as a tram worker. Jonathan Miksanek/ BSU Journalism at the Fair

He's content here.

“I wouldn't want to be driving the tractor. I would be running over people,” he says jokingly.

He collects the money—it's a fee of $1 per ride—and he tries to keep up with the day's events, just in case a passenger asks.

He describes his trolley duties as “grassroots.” A people job. Much different than the 30 years he spent working with phones before retiring.

From the very beginning of his shift at 9 o'clock in the morning to the end at 4 o'clock in the afternoon, he will have passed each fair landmark 21 times.

The experience exhausts him, and each year, Hertenstein says it's his last. But each year, he reapplies.

The livestock competitor

Effie Campbell has never visited the Midway.

For six years, her annual visit to the Indiana State Fair has included countless Go Fish matches, conversations with close friends and excursions to livestock shows, but not a single trip to the gates of the Scrambler.

Campbell is one of the 6,000 competitors who show livestock at the fair each year.

Goat-related milestones have punctuated the majority of her 18 years. At 8, she showed her first, by 10 she had switched from showing Boer goats to dairy goats, and at 12 she entered into her first state fair competition.

Effie Campbell waits in a goat pen during the goat showings on Aug. 9 at the Swine Building at the Indiana State Fair. Campbell shows mostly dairy goats. Jonathan Miksanek/ BSU Journalism at the Fair

This year, Campbell intends to show five goats in Indianapolis. Although she says some competitors take as many as 20, Campbell will still spend a total of five days and 65 hours inhabiting the livestock buildings lining the southern boundaries of the fairgrounds.

“I like coming here to show, but by the end it's a really long time to be down here,” she says. “But it's still fun.”

In the evenings, Campbell, her mother and her little sister leave their pen among the goats and head to a hay-less, manure-less hotel.

Some of the more extreme competitors, like Taylor Armstrong, sleep just a stall away from their livestock.

Armstrong, a mule owner from Greenville, Ohio, began showing mules at age 5 but has only shown at the Indiana State Fair for three years.

During the day, Armstrong, her brother, her cousin and her uncle and his girlfriend sit outside their two stalls in camping chairs, talking.

Similar to Campbell, a visit to the flashing lights and chaos of the Midway is rare for Armstrong. She prefers the quiet of the draft horse barn.

“It's not as crowded,” she says. “You can have your own space.”

Far more often, Armstrong and her family opt out of an evening among strangers and instead lead a late-night trip to the dirt-filled arena normally used for morning competitions and host a round of donkey baseball.

Afterward, they head back to the stalls to inflate their waiting air mattresses in preparation for another evening of sleep among the animals. Silence fills the deserted pavilion; the only noise the occasional but ear-splitting bray of an insomniac donkey.

The happy couple

It might be the rides, games and exhibits that draw the biggest crowds to the Indiana State Fair, but for couple Brittany Yeley and Joe Gillaspy, it's the rows of food vendors with exotic menus that provide the real reason for a trip across the Midway.

Brittany Yeley and Joe Gillaspy say they come to the fair just for the food. Yeley's favorite food is the donut burger, and Gillaspy likes the corn. Rachel Brammer/ BSU Journalism at the Fair

Yeley and Gillaspy both have attended the fair since childhood but didn't start devoting their yearly pilgrimage to a pig-out fest until young adulthood.

This year, their official fair itinerary includes corn dogs, fried macaroni, sweet corn and hopefully a fried combo platter of only the most ridiculously decadent fair delicacies.

“I like everything, and I'll try anything,” says Yeley.

She has even sampled the notorious donut burger: a seemingly innocuous beef patty wedged in between two bona-fide Krispy Kreme donuts. In fact, Yeley cites it has her favorite state-fair food of all time.

Even Gillaspy has to grimace at that one.

“Really?” he says.

The grandkids

Savannah Shivers, 7, and her brother Elijah, 4, have consumed cotton candy, sugar-filled Icees and a hamburger. And it's only two o'clock.

Savannah Shivers, 7, and Elijah Shivers, 4, experience the Indiana State Fair for the first time with their grandparents. The siblings are from Michigan, but they spend two weeks with their grandparents in Indiana. Rachel Brammer / BSU Journalism at the Fair

Today is their first venture to the Indiana State Fair. Guided by their grandmother Marian Mckinnie, they've stopped at attraction after attraction, absorbing what they can of their chaotic and colorful surroundings.

Ordinarily, Savannah and Elijah reside in Michigan. Their yearly trip to Grandma and Grandpa's in Indiana requires a special sort of activity, says Mckinnie. And since she and her husband attend the fair every year anyway, the choice is obvious.

So far the extra company has produced more giggles as well as more breaks and visits to picnic tables for Mckinnie.

Marian Mckinnie brings her grandchildren to the fair for the first time. McKinnie has been coming to the Indiana State Fair for about 10 years. Rachel Brammer / BSU Journalism at the Fair

The first fair exploit Savannah recounts is her trip to Kiddie Land to the ride that “spins you around.”

Elijah hides his head before conceding to talk about his turn “on a track.”

These two first-timers also enjoyed a walk full of petting and wide-eyed stares around one of the animal buildings.

“I saw a mommy pig, I saw a male, and I also saw a baby,” Savannah says.

Danielle Grady is a writer for BSU Journalism at the Fair, a Ball State University immersive-learning project placing 25 student journalists at the heart of the Midway to tell the weird and wonderful stories of the 2014 Indiana State Fair.