WHEATON, Minn. – The Deal brothers – John and Jerry – put on a fantastic Saturday night fireworks show at the Traverse County Fair.
This year’s event begins on Saturday, Aug. 24 around 9 p.m.
“Bring lawn chairs,” said John, who has all of the pyrotechnic licenses and designs/choreographs the 45-minute show. He also sells crop insurance, and he grows corn and soybeans.
His brother, Jerry, is an electrician, president of the Traverse County Fair Board, and also has his pyrotechnics licenses. He raises corn and soybeans too.
The fireworks show draws thousands to the west central Minnesota town of Wheaton.
To get an idea of what the show is like, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i8Q5x8iEzOk.
About halfway through that YouTube video, you’ll see how the Deal brothers send up red, white and blue flares in time to “The Star Spangled Banner,” and then as those fireworks fade, the Deal brothers start right up with the main show.
Fireworks tap dance across the sky – the Deals shoot off fireworks at low altitudes of up to 100 feet, then it turns into a shooting range with shells rattling off at 300-500 feet skyward. Showstoppers include big shells that soar up over 1,000 feet into the air. Twin giant peonies explode across the sky. The booms come after the lights, and the crowd cheers.
The show goes on with music, smoke, noise, color, waterfalls and squiggles. Toward the end, the noise is so intense you feel it in your chest.
“We put on a wild song and then we have a sign that lights up with fireworks, and it says, ‘R U Ready?’ Of course, by now the crowd knows what that means – that all heck is going to break loose,” said Jerry.
Choreographed to the song, “Thunderstruck,” the fireworks go up several more notches ending with fireballs.
“It drives people crazy,” said John. “At the county fair, we’ve done as many as 10 in a row, and when they go off, you can feel the heat. It’s like broad daylight.”
2019 notches the 14th year of the Traverse County Fair Fireworks Show.
The fair was celebrating its Centennial, and the Deals wanted to do something special to entice people to come. They decided to pull out all the stops and offer a ginormous fireworks show, similar to what they put on for Fourth of July – but bigger.
For decades, John and his wife, Lois, plus Jerry and his wife, Carol, have put on a Fourth of July celebration that includes a hearty noon meal and supper. Held at the Shady Dell development on Lake Traverse, John and Jerry started giving a fireworks show at dusk, beginning about 30 years ago.
Twenty-one years ago, John had a spinal stroke that makes it impossible for him to bend over to light fireworks. That didn’t slow the Deals down. With their talents, the brothers have mastered electronically-controlled detonation.
The fireworks display was a great success at the Traverse County Fair in 2005, and the shows have only gotten bigger as the years go by.
“The show is never a repeat of the year before,” said Jerry.
Traverse County Fair runs Aug. 22-25, 2019, with the fireworks show on Saturday night. If there is a thunderstorm, the show is a go for Sunday night.
“One year it got a little wet, but we covered everything with plastic and shot right through the plastic and were able to pull it off,” he added.
It’s $3 to get into the fair, or $5 per person for admittance all four days. Jerry encourages everyone to consider spending all of Saturday, Aug. 24, at the fair. The fairgrounds have changed dramatically in recent years, and it takes a while to see everything.
Before the Centennial and the Deal Brothers’ fireworks show, the fair was underattended, and the buildings were in disrepair. Jerry decided it was time to adopt one building per year to fix up.
“The Pancake House was the first building I did,” he said. “When I started fixing, the businesses started giving money and it’s been going great ever since.”
The fair board also received grants from the Legacy Fund.
Jerry has lifted several buildings himself to get them straightened, and then re-sided, re-roofed and painted. He’s volunteered his time to these projects. Some of the buildings have new windows. He’s opened up interior spaces to make the buildings look similar to the first half of the 20th Century, but handicap accessible.
Among the buildings that were renovated is a sturdy, round exhibit hall built in 1909. Solid beams extend 30 feet through the center of the building and support a heavy hand-sawed wooden roof.
“The beams go clear through the roof, but they are notched, pegged,” said Jerry. “The more weight on the roof, the stronger the center structure gets. It’s a design marvel.”
Only two buildings are left for renovation, Jerry said – the Bingo Stand and the Women’s/4-H Photography building. The latter building (built in 1911) has been painted hot pink for many years, and the women say they want to keep the color. Jerry found pink vinyl siding for next year’s project.
Fair days of late summer
The Traverse County Fair is Minnesota’s second-to-last county fair.
Aug. 22-25 are the same days as the Minnesota State Fair, which runs Aug. 22-Sept. 2. Minnesota’s last county fair is the Lac qui Parle County Fair that runs Sept. 5-8.
Everybody wants to know, how do the 4-H’ers participate in the county and state fairs when they are held at the same time?
Judging is held ahead of time, explained Kayla Maas, University of Minnesota Extension Traverse County 4-H program coordinator.
The livestock show was held on July 30, and at that show, it was decided who would bring animals to the state fair. The rest of the livestock are brought back to the county fair for exhibition.
The building projects are brought to the fairgrounds about a week ahead of the actual fair for judging. This makes it possible for kids who are showing livestock at the state fair to also get their building projects judged. Then in Traverse County, all of the building exhibits just stay at the fairgrounds in Wheaton until the fair is done.
The kids who receive building project trips to the Minnesota State Fair attend the second encampment which follows their county fair. The 4-H families can pick the dates they want for their pre-fair judging, and the system works well, said Maas. With so much of the work out of the way, the 4-H’ers can put effort into working at the Traverse County 4-H Food Stand. The fair board is also happy to announce that new restrooms are getting built for the fairgrounds this year.
The Deals invite everyone to make a trip over to see the Traverse County Fair plus the pyrotechnics display on Saturday evening, Aug. 24. There are Midway rides, Super X dirt bike races, a demo derby, car barrel races, beer garden entertainment, pig races, free stage bands and more.
“We have demo derby, we have motocross, but the big thing is Saturday night we put on this pyrotechnics display that you won’t find anywhere else,” said Jerry. “We try to pull out something new every year.”