At this time of year, Kris Barnes’ cellphone never seems to stop ringing.
Barnes, 43, is in his eighth year as the operations manager for the Linn County Expo Center, and the annual 4-H and FFA fair is his version of Academy Awards week.
Over the next four days, more than 30,000 people will pass through the fair’s front gate. Some will be a 14-year-old 4-H or FFA members hoping to win a blue ribbon with a favorite Angus steer, or a 12-year-old girl with a snow white bunny, or a 10-year-old with a first sewing project.
Some folks may never go near the livestock barn, but will sample every menu from the 13 food vendors set up in the courtyard, or quickly figure out which one of the 150 vendors inside the main building has the best snacks.
And it's up to Barnes — plus full-time employees Joel Sannan and Drew Hochstetler along with 40 volunteers — to make sure everything's in order.
Set up began last Saturday when 430 livestock pens came out of storage and were put into their respective buildings. Large horse stalls were moved out of the way and replaced with 210 small animal pens.
“We have to set up three show rings and that includes 300 feet of green iron that goes around each ring,” said Barnes, who spent four years with Linn County General Services before transferring to the Expo Center. “We have to set up 400 cattle ties, which are 16-foot long steel panels for the dairy and beef cattle. It’s all mostly done by hand.”
The main gate fence goes up, followed by the 32-by-40-foot main stage. "Then," he adds, "we have to set up 350 chairs for reserved seating. We have about 3,000 chairs overall, but we only set up about 2,000 in various places for the fair."
Barnes said Samaritan Health Services will throw its annual company party in a large tent in the parking lot on Saturday.
“We will set up the large tent and 80 tables for that. About 2,000 people will come and go during the day,” he said.
Four semi-loads of sawdust will make their way to the back of the livestock barn and four 40-yard Republic Services dumpsters will be filled twice from 150 garbage cans.
“Cleaning never stops,” Barnes said. “We are constantly picking up trash.”
He keeps in touch with staff and volunteers with 40 handheld radios.
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“We contract for power lines, but I’m guessing there’s enough line here to handle at 8,000 to 10,000 amps,” Barnes said.
The 4-H program runs the RV camping area.
“It’s designed for 67 RVs, but there are probably 200 trailers out there,” he said. “Kathy Crowcock is in charge of that and everyone works together to make it work.”
Barnes’ crew is divided into two, who staff 10-hour shifts. “We start at 5 a.m. and run until 3 a.m. every day,” he said.
Sometimes Barnes' job is like putting out fires, but mostly it's dealing with unknowns, even though he's carefully detailed the location of every facet of the fair on a computer program.
“A lot of things just pop up every day,” he said. “I get all kinds of requests and I have to balance them with my daily tasks.”
According to Barnes, the most consistent issue his crew deals with involves popped electrical breakers in the livestock arena.
“The kids need power for so many things including fans to keep their animals cool and to run their animal hair blowers,” he said. “When we pop a breaker, we can’t get to them without a scissor lift. It takes a lot of time and we probably pop a breaker 10 times a day if the weather is hot.”
Barnes is pleased with this week’s weather forecast of moderate temperatures.
Barnes grew up in Vancouver, Wash., and was not involved in 4-H, but his wife, Alise, was a 4-H club member. She enjoys coming to the fair along with their children, Hannah, 12, and Ian, 6.
Although the week will be hectic, Barnes loves his job.
“I love the fair,” he said. “It brings the community together. I hope people come out, enjoy themselves and have a lot of fun. That’s what it is all about.”
Expo Center director Randy Porter said that if it "needs fixed, moved or set up, Kris is the guy to see. He and his team do a great job."