There are some things that every visitor to the Missouri State Fair should probably experience when they attend the annual event: a walk down the midway, viewing some of the exhibits or livestock competitions and of course getting something to eat that is probably deep-fried.
For many a fair-goer, the food choice may be an obvious one: Dick’s Corn Dogs.
Leo Dick and his family have been hand-dipping the delicacies on a stick for more than 60 years.
“I started working here at the fair when I was 10 years old,” Dick said. “I wrapped taffy, but really I’ve done all kinds of things here from delivering groceries for my Dad, to taking tickets, and collecting the old glass pop and beer bottles and turning them in for the deposit money.
“The Fair was a lot different back then,” Dick added. “I remember as a little boy coming through the old main gate that was all lit with neon lights. They would go in patterns, and all the brightly colored flags waving and the tents. When I walked in the gate I was just thrilled and thought I was at Disneyland.”
Dick recalled a story about how the train used to deliver the circus animals to Sedalia and then they would parade the animals from the depot to the fairgrounds.
“There were all kinds of races back then. Boy I’m glad to see the races back,” Dick said. “But I’m not just talking car races. Back then we had pig, and horse races. Heck, one year they even had ostrich racing.”
For each memory Dick recounted, it seemed a visitor to the corn dog stand would stop by and tell him a story about their memories of eating one of the foot-long corn dogs “painted,” as Dick likes to say, with mustard or ketchup.
The corn dogs came in 1968.
“Everyone here at the fair is so good and works so hard, they always have,” Dick said. “One day my brother (Dick’s twin Frank) and I started talking and we thought corn dogs might be a way that we could help out with a food stand.”
At the time, there were very few options for food at the fair. Many visitors would bring their lunches and eat under the shade trees on the grounds.
“Back then I knew every vendor,” Dick said. “I would go around and talk to them all. I still try to do that.”
Dick seems to be the king of the corn dog vendors judging by the lines of customers waiting to purchase a corn dog from his stand.
“We make them fresh,” Dick said when asked about the secret to his success. “They are handmade, dipped fresh so you can see them as we make them.
“I won’t tell you the secret to the batter,” he said with a smile. “It’s kind of like with the colonel (Col. Saunders and the secret recipe at Kentucky Fried Chicken). I can’t tell you everything.”
Frank Dick and his wife Shirley retired last season form the stand, but Leo has no signs of slowing down.
“I’m here at 6 a.m. each morning and I get to bed around 2:30 a.m. the next morning, he said. “I get here early so I can get it clean for the next day.
“I want it spotless when the people come up,” Dick said. “Everyone at the fair, from the director to the commissioners to all the people who work here and make this place run and the people who come night after night or even if they just visit once a year, they are why I want to do this. I just want to give something back.”
Hope Lecchi can be reached at 660-826-1000 ext. 1484