Begun in 1946 and sponsored by the local Rotary Club, the show included a parade down Main Street, a hog show and finally a sale. Children in 4-H clubs across the county raised the hogs as a learning experience and a money-making project. The visitor said he always won a White Ribbon for his hog.
For those not well versed in pig terms, a "barrow" is a male hog that is neutered when young.
Friends of mine who grew up on farms recall the shows and some still display the ribbons they won. The supreme achievement was to win the "Grand Champion." Besides receiving the most beautiful and largest ribbon, the "champion" always sold for a premium.
Many farm families would prefer their child win the Grand Champion over being valedictorian. It was that big.
I remember the Fat Barrow shows, but for a different reason than our visitor and my farm-raised friends.
For those of us who lived in town and couldn't raise a pig--and didn't know anything about them--the annual show was the occasion of biggest water-gun fight of the year.
Everyone knew the show was coming when the large brown canvas sale tent was raised near the river end of Main Street. The Ben Franklin store began stocking a wide variety of water guns weeks before the show. By show day, every boy in town was armed with at least one water pistol. The plastic guns were not high quality and most ceased to work by mid-afternoon of show day. So this was strictly a one-day event.
While the water pistol fights were not an official part of the event, as the country kids were parading or showing pigs, we town kids--and there were a lot of us--ran up and down the streets through the crowds squirting each other with water. Alliances formed and dissolved based on who had a source of water or a gun that could shoot the farthest.
When I was 12, I was "recruited" to work at the show. My gun fighting days were over. My uncle, George Bock, was a vice president at the Bank of New Madrid. He, and several other bank employees, handled the sale money in another tent that stood near the big sale tent.
I was a runner.
I stood behind the auctioneer on the sale stage. When a hog was sold, its weight, bid price per pound, and the name of the top bidder were written on a card. I then ran the card to the tent where my uncle worked at a table with a large calculator and cash box.
Back and forth I went between the two tents until all the hogs had sold.
As I said, I grew up in town and didn't know much about hogs. What I learned that day was that they had a unique smell.
The last show was held in 1969, and it had only 41 pigs, down from 161 in 1962. That final year, Tony Jones, a member of the Barnes Ridge 4-H Club, won the Grand Champion with a 238 pounder that was purchased by Kewanee Grain for $1.50 a pound.
Later the same year the Rotary Club announced in a news release that it was ending the 24-year tradition because of a loss of interest and changes in farming practices.
It didn't even mention the water-gun fights.