Los Banos

Spring Fair roots run deep in Los Banos.

Students make a variety of items for competition at the Merced County Spring Fair in Los Banos.
Students make a variety of items for competition at the Merced County Spring Fair in Los Banos. cguest@losbanosenterprise.com

Los Banos nearly shuts down for five days in late April and early May for the Merced County Spring Fair.

More than 60,000 people come each year to enjoy the attractions, exhibits, food and animals at the fair.

The Spring Fair’s roots run deep in Los Banos. The town’s founder, Henry Miller, is credited with starting the tradition by throwing the first “May Day Picnic,” where he supplied food and drink to hundreds of people in honor of the arrival of the railroad in Los Banos.

Miller’s annual May Day picnics continued and gained in popularity and, within a few years, thousands turned out annually. After Miller died, the Los Banos Chamber of Commerce decided to continue the May Day Picnic, which eventually morphed into the May Day Fair, as it is called by many locals.

The Spring Fair is operated by Merced County, overseen by Fair Manager Ron Brandt and a 15-member board of directors.

Today, the fair is much more than just a big picnic. Tens of thousands of people visit the fairgrounds during its run each year. They enjoy a dizzying array of things to see and do, from the spinning thrill rides and chances to win trinkets and stuffed animals at the carnival and midway area to the animal auctions and fine art and gardening exhibits. There is something for everyone at the Spring Fair.

The annual fair is also more than just a chance to indulge in funnel cakes and fun; it is also serious business. Livestock auctions, which take place at the Spring Fair, bring in substantial sums of money for young people throughout the county.

Those looking for bragging rights enter their best work in categories as diverse as woodworking, photography, baking, fine art, food preservation, horticulture, floriculture, clothing and textiles as they compete for coveted blue ribbons.

Though animals, exhibits, food and carnivals are a big part of the fair, many come for the entertainment.

A favorite with the children is the Henry Miller Farm, which includes a petting zoo and interpretive exhibits about farming. Other crowd-pleasers are the many grandstand shows featuring truck and tractor pulls, motorcycle racing and the ever-popular destruction derby.

Other attendees enjoy the shows put on by wandering entertainers like jugglers, clowns and a guy named Skip Banks who makes people laugh by engulfing himself in a balloon. Still others enjoy the stage acts such as perennial favorites Tyzen the hypnotist and the tribute band Journey Unauthorized. Both have made repeated appearances at the Spring Fair to the delight of nightly audiences.