Winter Show memories

Over the past weeks, several area residents have contacted the Times-Record to share their recollections of early Winter Shows. We thought we would share their stories with our readers, and maybe jog some memories of your own.

Calvin Lettenmaier of Sanborn has fond memories of the North Dakota Winter Show, and with good reason. He has attended every Winter Show since its inaugural season in 1938, only missing one year during his military service in 1946.

The Winter Show came about at a time when the country was slowly recovering from the Great Depression, Lettenmaier said.
“Things were just beginning to get into better times from the 1930s,” he said. “Did you ever see anybody smiling in pictures from that era? They were hard times.”

But the nation’s economy eventually improved, and Lettenmaier remembers how the show changed in its 75 years, growing from a small livestock show to include modern farm machinery and agricultural equipment.

“Cattle was the big draw back then,” he said. “That was definitely the focus in the first few years, and it was very competitive. They didn’t have as much machinery - they had just started manufacturing small tractors. Now, everything is so big. Farming has changed, so the Winter Show has changed.”

Lettenmaier’s wife Ilah recalled that the Winter Show held almost holiday status for schoolchildren in the area.

“They used to close all the schools in Barnes County for Winter Show,” she said. “And as we got older, we’d come down just to celebrate.”

Ilah remembers performing in 1939, at the age of 11, with Carol’s School of Dance from Sanborn. “We actually perfomed at the the City Auditorium. When I came to the big auditorium, it made me nervous, but I didn’t miss a step.”

The Elks and Eagles lodges were open to non-members during Winter Show week, Ilah recalled.

“The entertainment was definitely a big part of it, and the fact that we could go to the Elks and Eagles. A lot of it was visiting and greeting people. It was a social outing before spring work began.”

Visits from stars such as Minnie Pearl and Peggy Lee were common, and the shows were always well-attended. Ilah also remembers attending the elaborate Queen’s Luncheon in the basement of the old courthouse with her mother and sister in the early 1940s.

Before the current Winter Show building was constructed in 1963, exhibits were shown at the City Auditorium and the Armory (now the Rec center), and livestock shows were sometimes held in the middle of Valley City’s downtown streets.

“The Winter Show was kind of all over town,” said area resident Olive Olstad, who also attended the first show. “There was nothing up on Granger Hill, everything happened downtown.”

Olstad vividly remembered a parade of livestock up Central Avenue, including a massive Holstein bull with a ring through his nose.

“Our friend Ralph Allgaard, who was not too long from Norway, led that bull up the Central Avenue,” she said. “I don’t know how he got so brave. If you know anything about Holstein bulls, it’s that you don’t do much except stay out of the way. There were people on both sides watching this, and if that thing would’ve got loose, there really would’ve been trouble.”

The bull, Olstad said, was housed in the Pegg Garage, now the site of the Nearly Nu store.

“Way in the back, they put some planks and straw, and that bull was back there,” she said. “They never let him out of the garage. I don’t know who in the world okayed that, but he was the talk of the town among the farmers.”

Olstad also remembered attending her first Winter Show events with the man who would eventually become her husband.

Valley City resident Mark Hill reminisced about attending early Winter Show events as a child, including a tractor show in the basement of the Armory, and helping his mother sell tickets for events.

“I remember running tickets to the crop show downtown, and over to the cattle barns up above where Brothers III is now. Once the show moved up on the hill, I sold tickets at the door.”

Another memory of Hill’s was the blizzard that trapped himself and several others in the Winter Show building in 1966. “We got stormed in for three days in there, nobody could get in or out. All we had to eat was what was in the kitchen, so I cooked pancakes.

“We also had to take care of the cattle, because nobody could get in there to feed while the storm was on.”

Hill said that working the show let him see a behind-the-scenes view of the annual event. “I’ve had people get mad at me back there and try to deck me, I’ve seen directors go into fisticuffs over one thing or another. Back in those days, they were tough guys.

“I also remember a farmer sticking a pitchfork through one of the rodeo horse people up there,” he said. “They got into a fight because he was sticking his horses in the cattlemen’s side. Those guys never got along.”

Do you have an awesome Winter Show memory or story? Were you at one of the first shows? What is your favorite thing about the Winter Show? The Times-Record would like to hear from you! Give us a call at 845-0643 or email your thoughts to