By ALEXANDRA LAMBDIN
(SEDALIA, Mo., digitalBURG) – The Missouri State Fair is known for many things. Large corndogs is one of them, and Earl and Barbra Peck, of Ionia, Mo., have owned their corndog stand for many years.
In fact, they have been in the same location at the fair for 41 years.
“I obviously like people,” Barbra said. “You go to places and set in the same place every year. The people that work with you get to know you and some of them you only see at that one spot. Then you have customers that you may never know their name but they come talk to you every year.”
Both in their mid-70s, the Pecks sell corndogs, soda, tea and water bottles.
Earl Peck Concessions has seen many changes through the years. Barbra laughingly recalls the size of their original trailer.
“When we started with the little, tiny trailer it was 5 feet wide and 8 feet long,” Barbra said. “You probably have a bigger closet than that.”
And, like a closet, it didn’t have much in terms of conveniences.
“No running water, no refrigeration,” Barbra said. “Everything was kept in an ice chest. There was a plastic pan setting on top of the ice chest with the water to clean the counters and so forth. We carried water and empty milk jugs from a faucet. And now you have to have three sinks and a lot more stuff.”
Barbra says it takes her husband a long time to get things set up because he likes to visit with people during the first few days before the fair.
Earl recalls the first time they took their stand to a sidewalk sale.
“I backed it up, unhooked it and left her (his wife),” Earl said. “I went to work.”
But Barbra did have some help.
“With two children, 11 and 8, as my helpers,” Barbra said. “And I never even eaten corn dogs. I don’t like them. So I didn’t even know what they were supposed to be like.”
They experienced some bumps in the beginning, but Earl and Barbra had a successful day, making about $300.
“When the day was over I had all of this money,” Earl said. “I went to my folks and I had money sticking out all my pockets just to show ‘em. We were pretty excited.”
In the beginning, the Pecks did not know how to block and level their trailer. So, there were times when they walked to the back of the trailer, causing it to tip and nearly roll down the street.
Other concession stand vendors helped the young owners through the years.
Barbra laughed as she was reminded of their ignorance on how to use a corndog cooker.
“We didn’t know anything about draining the cooker,” she said. “We tried to pull it home with the oil in it and that was highly unsuccessful, splashed everywhere.”
The Pecks quickly learned that they were not going to make a lot of money but enjoyed the extra income and the friendly environment. Earl confessed that he had a craving for corndogs.
“I loved corn dogs,” he said. “And I thought if I had a trailer of my own, then I could eat all of the corn dogs I want.”
The business has been mostly operated by family through the years. And the business downsizes as the couple ages and children grow up.
Their daughter, Marlys Peck, has been doing it since she’s was 8. She said she enjoys the interaction with people. Marlys is an associate professor of social work at the University of Central Missouri.
“You enjoy it or it’s a job,” Marlys said. “I obviously like it because I keep doing it.”
Some families mark the growth of their children with pencil marks on doorframes. A tree next to the Pecks’ concession stand serves that function.
“I always joke and say I grew up under this tree,” Marlys said. “You know it’s a big tree, but after 40 something years so much has happened. You kind of mark things through your life, whether it’s a birthday or some event, and this is an annual event that allows me to mark time.”
Spending so much time in one place has resulted in many faithful customers and friends. It is not uncommon to see Earl wandering and talking with individuals. Customers and friends will gather to talk with the Peck family throughout the day.
Mike Helms, a friend of the Pecks for about 40 years, met them at the fair.
“They’re wonderful people,” Helms said. “I think they might be one of the oldest concessions in the same location. You have so few people who have been here for so long.”
This year, Earl and Barbra will also attend events at Higginsville, Cole Camp, Liberty, Hartsburg and twice in Warsaw.
“Both of our families thought we were crazy when we bought this,” Barbra said.
Barbra said her favorite question from people is when they ask if they make money off their business.
“And I say, well, we keep hoping.”