When you think of arcades, most of the times you picture something in a mall.
In rural NW Ohio, the closest mall was 30 miles away.
Every fall though we had the county fair, and it is there where I experienced independence and the arcade, at least for 6 days at a time.
Growing up as a rural geek
At the time, I didn’t understand the independence a bike was supposed to offer me.
This is probably because I lived 10 miles outside of a town of 8,000.
All of those movies of the 80s, with kids on their bikes riding around town, was a foreign concept.
We did finally get an arcade in town, but I only got a chance to go a couple of times because I couldn’t just ride my bike there.
I had responsibilities on the farm, and it was too far to ride.
Enter the Hardin County Fair
For my first year of 4-H I was allowed to take one hog to the fair. The year was 1978, and at the tender age of 9 I was allowed my first taste of freedom. Not only did I get out of school for the whole week, I was able to run around the fairgrounds without adult supervision.
I don’t remember what we did at the time to fill out days, my one memory is of being able to buy pop out of a machine.
This was not a common occurrence, we usually only got pop with our Sunday night pizza to consume while watching Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom and the The Wonderful World of Disney.
The one thing I vibrantly remember of the pop machine is all of the pull tabs that were on the ground near it..
I have no idea why that’s an important memory enough to live in my head rent free, but here we are.
The Radio Shack booth was the first time I had every touched a computer. They had a Color Computer 1 set up, and I was hooked. The only thing we could do was type characters, but it was magical.
Later on, we got an Atari 2600 at home, and from that point on I lusted after an Atari 400.
We couldn’t afford one, but the local TV repair place sold them and they had a booth set up at the fair.
Although I wouldn’t get my own until the 800XL came out, once a year I would play on one at the fair.
I don’t remember the first year the arcade came to the fair.
It was set up under a carnival tent, and it was the closest to heaven I had ever been.
For the first time in my life, I could live like the teenagers in the movies, replacing the mall for the fair.
Tons of freedom, although quarters were hard to come by.
For some reasons I never had the love stories that I saw in the movies though.
The arcade had a pretty good selection of games, although it didn’t have my two favorite games, Tempest and Tron.
There was a sit down version of The Red Baron, along with Space War!.
But, the games that got most of our quarters came a little bit later: Food Fight, Paperboy, and Kicker.
I don’t know why we gravitated toward those games, but we got quite good at them.
The year the arcade didn’t come back
I thought I took a picture of the empty slab the year the arcade didn’t come back, but I can’t find it.
The arcade had been going downhill for awhile.
More and more ticket games and less video games made me lose interest.
Some of my best memories growing up came 6 days at a time during the Hardin County Fair, with the arcade being the highlight for several of those years.