Saratoga County Fair Preserves Ag History at Antiques Show

8/2/2014 7:00 AM
By Paul Post N.Y. Correspondent

BALLSTON SPA, N.Y. — Don Erlenbusch doesn’t mind bringing his extensive toy circus, train and carnival exhibit to Saratoga County Fair in Ballston Spa, N.Y., because he knows how much people like it — especially kids.

His exhibit was one of the main attractions at the fair’s Antiques Pavilion, which has a wide variety of items each year, from old farm implements to furniture, glassware and handmade apparel.

Some pieces in Erlenbusch’s display date to the 1930s, when his great uncle started collecting circus memorabilia.

“My father took it over from him and I’ve been adding to it myself since 1950,” the Ballston Spa resident said. “My favorite piece? The big-top circus tent. It takes a lot of work to get everything into it. The more you add to it, the more realistic it is.”

This was his ninth year setting up at the fair, which ran from July 22-27.

“What makes it worthwhile is the appreciation kids show, and the appreciation has gotten greater every year,” Erlenbusch said. “I let them run the trains. They love that.”

He’s visited just about every circus museum there is throughout the country.

Tiny trapeze performers, a moving Ferris wheel and speeding Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus train are just some of the items he displays. His collection also includes numerous circus posters and promotional advertisements.

“It’s a nice hobby,” Erlenbusch said. “It’s not something you have to do every day or even every month. You can leave it and come back whenever you want. I guarantee you one thing — you never get bored.”

A career Air Force veteran, he held many positions in the service including communications electronics technician, an experience that proves valuable with his model train sets.

As a kid growing up in Decatur, Ill., Erlenbusch said he got the “circus bug” from his father who took him to his first production when he was just able to walk.

“If it was within 100 miles, we went to the circus,” he said. “If there was a circus, everyone knew I wouldn’t be in school.”

His exhibit contains literally hundreds of pieces. How does he get it to the fair?

“Two trips in an SUV,” Erlenbusch said, smiling.

Saratoga County Fair is the first fair of the season in eastern New York. The Antiques Pavilion is an important element of the fair’s mission of preserving agricultural traditions and American history.

An old sleigh, cultivator, shingle maker and hay rakes are just some of the things typical of rural life in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Crocks, milk bottles and glassware were also exhibited.

“My grandmother’s baby sister came from England in that cradle,” said Jean Lamondo of Rexford, N.Y. “A platter that my sister now has came packed in the bottom end. I know because that story has been passed down by the family.”

An avid collector, Lamondo entered 98 pieces in the fair’s antiques judging competition, winning 28 blue ribbons, 41 red ribbons and more than $100 in prize money in the process.

She enters items in numerous classes and captured two blue ribbons in the iron category alone — one for a pilgrim figurine and another for a doorstop shaped like an early English cottage.

“I love looking at all this stuff,” she said, admiring the many display cases on hand. “Look at all this beautiful china. It’s absolutely beautiful.”

A pink vase in the shape of a swan and a pair of white satin shoes also caught her attention.

“I bet they were wedding shoes,” she said.

A short distance away, someone won a blue ribbon for a 50-year-old handmade wedding dress.

One display case featured nothing but stuffed animals, china dolls and advertising collectibles such as salt-and-pepper shakers shaped like kitchen help.

There were also lamps, railroad lanterns, silver service and embroidered doilies.

Lamondo said she collects antiques strictly as a hobby, picking up whatever catches her fancy. It might be a tiny baby bottle or a vintage Hires Root Beer bottle

“Anything that appeals to me,” she said. “This winter I was visiting my nieces and nephews in Florida and we went antiquing one day. I found this toy mariachi band member. Look at the black outfit he’s wearing with white embroidery. He’s gorgeous. He’s got a blue ribbon on him, too.”

Lamondo said she exhibits at Saratoga County Fair each year, planning weeks ahead of time the pieces she wants to enter.

“You can only enter the same thing two years in a row,” she said. “Then you have to leave it out for a year.”

Owners brought things to the fairgrounds on Saturday, July 19. Antiques judging took place the next day so that visitors could see which items had won prizes when the fair opened on Tuesday, July 22.

“They primarily judge things based on condition and age,” Lamondo said.

She has one rule when it comes to antiques.

“I don’t sell stuff, I buy,” Lamondo said. “Sometimes I give away.”

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