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Cactus Jim’s laughter will echo forever

I knew him as Cactus Jim when I was a kid. I would watch him on Quincy television and even had a Cactus Jim Prairie Farm’s red plastic cowboy boot cup for my milk.

Dick Moore, from El Paso, is Superintendent of the Dairy Products Building at the Illinois State Fair. Dick and his wife Lois were honored by the Illinois State Fair prior to the fair for the 34 years they have spent operating this building. Humbled, he told me “I came in with a size 7 ¼ hat and I’m going out with an 8 ½.”

“If these walls could talk,” he says “you wouldn’t believe the stories they would tell.” He did share the story of finding a brown shopping bag carrying $3,000 in cash sitting beside a picnic table in the Dairy Products Building. Turns out it was a woman’s Las Vegas money. Moore’s face lights up when I ask about the butter cow. He holds his head high as he tells the story that I’m sure he’s told many times before:

“The butter cow goes back to 1922 when a man named J.E. Wallace came up from Tennessee on the train and made one. It was very primitive art. In 1970 Norma Lyons started making it. 2 years ago a lady from Madison, Wisconsin and her husband began making it when Norma had to stop due to health reasons. Nancy is a cheese carver, and quite good. When you carve cheese, you take the product off. When you carve butter, you put the product on the frame. 475 pounds of unsalted butter make the cow. It’s unsalted so she won’t sweat. So, it looks real good.”

Dick’s hearty laugh proceeds his next comment. “After the fair I have to butcher the cow.” He tells me that he would like to take a rope and lead her out into the sunshine to melt, but it doesn’t happen that way. “I warm up the cooler, let it plop down into some huge photo trays, and we scoop it up into 14 or 15 five-gallon buckets. It’s then taken to Decatur to the Prairie Farms ice cream plant and frozen until next year.” Dick tells me the butter can be used for 3 or 4 years before being destroyed. “As the butter ages,” he says, “it gets more plastic and pliable and is easier for the sculptor’s to use.”

The Dairy Products building features several displays, concessions, and games for children. Moore loves the children. His face again lights up as he describes the games that children can play and if they win, they get a free cup of white or chocolate milk.

The ice cream cone is 100 years old. You can choose from 8 flavors at the Dairy Products Building. He recites the story of it’s birth in St. Louis. Then he tells me “Do you realize I’m almost half as old as this building?” He laughs and says he looks in the mirror and says “Get out of the way you old geezer! I want to see that young boy I know is there.”

There are people who have given life over these many years to every building at the Illinois State Fair. Paid and unpaid volunteers who have made this fair one of the greatest in the country. We’ll miss Dick Moore in the Dairy Products Building, but the foundation he built is solid and I’m sure I’ll still hear his hearty laughter echoing from those talking walls for many, many years to come.

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