Craig Harris/Macon County Times The demolition derby was held on the opening night of the 2018 Macon County Fair.

Craig Harris/Macon County Times

The demolition derby was held on the opening night of the 2018 Macon County Fair.

The Macon County Fair is a window to the past for Wynona Clayborne, and she has spent more than 20 years volunteering at the fairgrounds to help community members discover new things about their heritage.

Clayborne serves as department chair for the women's building, where a majority of the fair's contest entries are displayed and judged.

"I think it's an asset ... (that) showcases the community," Clayborne said. "For one thing, we have some wonderful quilters out here, and you look and can't imagine the time that goes into it. But you can also see a small piece of needlework that took just as much effort, or a model of a house built by someone you never knew had that interest or talent."

From gardening and floral arrangements to home cookery and beekeeping, an estimated 400-500 attendees work on projects to enter at the fair, and Clayborne enlists the help of 20-30 volunteers to make sure each one is sorted and displayed.

"For some people its about seeing things they haven't since they were younger," Clayborne said. "But it's also an encouragement of heritage crafts like sewing and canning. A lot of people don't do that anymore, and our hope is that the exhibits will inspire people to try."

Even the women's building itself has history as the first structure acquired by the Macon County Fairgrounds. Community members have become familiar with its name over the years thanks to that long history, but everyone is welcome inside.

"(The somen's building) used to be the National Guard armory," Clayborne said. "After they built the new one, we kept using it for some displays. Seeing all the exhibits gives a real sense of satisfaction, but we immediately start critiquing to figure out how to make it better next year."

Volunteers will look at the number of entrants in each category to distinguish the more popular ones, such as photography, and over the years, the group has also added some charitable competitions.

"We have one for blankets for premature babies," Clayborne said, noting that all entries are donated to a specialized care unit. "And we also do one called Caps for Cancer ... those ideas came from another fair, and we felt like they would be good to have. It's been a real interesting endeavor. People know they won't be able to pick their items up in those categories, but they're happy to participate and help the children."

Although Clayborne's focus has always been the women's building, she has also served on the Macon County Fair Board for approximately 10 years.

"There are times of the year we're basically meeting and planning, and when summer starts up, people do tons of work to get the grounds ready," Clayborne said. "Things are booked a year ahead of time. The jail crew will mow out here, and we have a youth board that's a real asset."

The fair board may spend each year planning, but that does not mean the work is through once the events start.

"A transformer blew up on us one year, and we had to get Tri-County out here the same night," board member Andy Morgan said. "One year, I worked the ground at the rodeo ... one year I brought the tractor and loosened it up for the truck pull. I don't want to get in the middle of the greased pig race though."

Board member Kyle Garmon said that effort pays off once the gates to the fairgrounds open for the week.

"The first kids that come through the gate are super pumped," Garmon said. "It doesn't hit you until the last night because you're super busy, but it's really rewarding."

Morgan and the other board members spend most of fair week working rather than watching events, but he is able to take in a competition he has directed for 10 years, the mule show.

"I used to raise a lot of mules in the 1980s and '90s, probably had 40-50 head," he said. "They got to where they weren't worth much money, but some people wanted a mule show at the fair, and they needed somebody over it."

Morgan had to take last year off from hosting the competition after having open-heart surgery, but he is excited to return to the fairgrounds and see the show.

"The mule show has grown tremendously," Morgan said. "We started out with about 20, and now, it's one of the biggest in the state. When I'm (working it), I get here early in the morning and don't leave until around 10 p.m."

According to Morgan, the mule show now averages approximately 40 participants and 80 mules, numbers comparable to the same event at the Tennessee State Fair. He credits its success to word of mouth and the strength of its judges.

"The first year, it was kind of a pain to get all the trucks and trailers in the right place, but since then it's been no problem," Morgan said. "You have to have the mules over here and the goats over there so they don't get to kicking each other."

Morgan said that he gets the most enjoyment from the fair when it runs smoothly, noting that his family helps set up the mule show and that his sons took charge last year while he was unavailable.

Clayborne's favorite fair memories also involve her family, and they span generations.

"Just going back to the years where I used to bring my kids, I look back on those fondly," Clayborne said. "They're grown now, but I get to experience the nights where I see my grandkids come and enjoy the fair too."