SIDNEY — For one Logan County family, owning and operating a game concession at the fair is more than just an occupation; it’s a long-time family tradition.
Dearwester Cane Rack, named after the game’s simple premise of tossing a wooden ring onto a cane, has been in operation for 126 years, according to Steve Dearwester, of Bellefontaine, grandson of the concession’s founder, Wilson “Bull” Dearwester.
“This business has been in our family since 1892,” Steve said.
In the beginning, Bull Dearwester would follow circuses around, setting up his game stand at each destination. He soon began solely attending county fairs, and only throughout the state of Ohio.
Although grandfather Dearwester died in 1952, his game concession continued on under the ownership of his son, Harry, who managed the business for over four decades.
“(Harry) had it from the time my grandfather died until about 20 years ago,” Steve said. “He wanted to keep it in the family, so before he died, he sold it to my cousin Karl and his brother Gary. They went together as partners to start with, then Karl bought (Gary) out because he’s the one that had the desire to be out here and do this. It’s kind of in the family blood.”
Both Harry and Karl kept with the custom of setting up shop only at Ohio county fairs.
This year, at the Shelby County Fair, Steve was the sole Dearwester operating the concession, along with family friend Carol Back, while cousin Karl manned the game stand at the Hamilton County Fair.
“It used to be more fun for me when my uncles were living because it was just like having a family reunion,” Steve said. “It was always cool because I got to see them in the summers.”
Aside from uncle Harry, Steve’s father, James Benjamin Dearwester, as well as uncles Kelly and Homer, were also a part of the family business prior to their deaths. Uncle Homer even worked in the gaming business after retiring to Florida later in life.
James and Harry had tried their luck at operating several other game stands, Steve said, like duck pond, balloon darts, cat rack, and guess-your-weight scales, but none were as lucrative as the cane rack.
“Karl’s brother, Jimmy, also operated the guess-your-weight scales for years,” Steve said. “He did that until about 5 or 10 years ago then he got out of the business. It was always fun to watch him. I was never any good at it, but Jimmy was.”
For Karl, summer is his busy season, and during the off-season, he prepares the canes for the game, Steve said.
“He makes the canes out of his house,” he said. “He buys the dowels and the heads and puts them together during the winter.”
“Karl started when he was five years old picking up rings,” said friend Carol Back, who has worked for the company for the last 14 years. “He’s 64 now.”
“To be in this business, you’ve got to like people,” Steve said. “(We) like to see the smile on people’s faces. It’s just tradition; plus, it’s fun. At Lancaster Fair, the cane rack that Karl has there now has set in the same location for 126 years. That is tradition.”
Reach the writer at 937-538-4825.