Carnies of the State Fair of Texas

Meet four people who will take your tickets and one who will get your goat.

photography by Sara Kerens

photography by Sara Kerens

Chris Bagby was at the site of his Pokey O’s stand a month before the fair opened in 2011, constructing his own plywood booth in record-setting summer heat. He is there several weeks later, in a company hat and polo shirt, eagerly serving customers as they arrive in waves. He refreshes the inventory between busy spells or calls loudly to the passing crowds, hawking his standard fare, a tennis ball-size scoop of ice cream sandwiched between two cookies.

A native of Dallas, Bagby has a scratchy voice and boisterous laugh. It is his second year as manager of the Pokey O’s stand. He works at least 65 to 70 hours per week at the fair and about another 20 hours performing home energy audits in the mornings. “Where do you think I get these bags from?” he asks, laughing and tugging at his lower eyelids.

Bagby appreciates the long tradition of keeping fair-goers’ stomachs unhealthily full. His booth is within earshot of Big Tex. “I haven’t been here too long, but I’ve met so many cool people,” he says, gesturing to a nearby stand that has held its spot reservation since 1914. He points to Fletcher’s, the popular corn dog booth. He is almost reverential about being placed among them. “I’m the State Fair Pokey O’s guy,” he says. “I’m pretty happy about it.”

“You’re sizing them all up, the length of body, the loin, the reproduction, the teats.” —Gene Dickerson photography by Sara Kerens


it is goat week inside big blue, the State Fair building where livestock are judged. Dozens of apple-cheeked adolescents in gingham and scuffed boots usher their goats around the pavilion. Meanwhile, Gene Dickerson, a petite woman wearing a plastic tiara, is rushing in the background, sorting paperwork and giving waiting youngsters last-minute instructions. Dickerson is a self-professed tomboy from Garland who now resides in Italy, Texas, and is bashful about her dulcet Texas accent. She spends the week choreographing paperwork, goats, and the persons who show them. The kitschy crown is an annual gift from her goat show co-workers so they can spot her in a crowd when they need her, which is often.

Dickerson equates the process of judging goats to choosing a girlfriend. “You’re sizing them all up, the length of body, the loin, the reproduction, the teats. This is the easiest way to explain it to someone,” she says. Dickerson has volunteered for the State Fair’s one-week goat showcase for 18 years. Her position now is a result of her high regard for the decorum of showing livestock. “If a rule is a rule, you follow it,” she insists. She takes a maternal care in imparting the dignity of the judging process to younger competitors, scuttling around to ensure their punctuality and order. She has seen some entrants grow from 9-year-olds to high school seniors.

Big Blue is Dickerson’s home for one week during every State Fair. “We don’t get out of the barn during this week,” she says. To most fair-goers, the building on the east edge of the fairgrounds falls outside their itinerary. To Dickerson and guileless ranch kids from around the state, it is an experiential touchstone. “I know our buildings are going to be rebuilt,” she says of the imminent renovations to Big Blue, “but this is a part of history here. I’ve known people for 30 years in these barns.”