It was the fall of 1959 when the first group of anxious, excited young people stepped into a ring to select their Steer Pool calves for the next year’s Hartford Fair.

More than 50 years later, the program is still going strong and had its own 50th birthday bash at the 2009 Hartford Fair.

Founders of the steer pool include Willis Fravel, John Stimpert, Kirby Barrick, Don Heimerl and James Witham.

The idea behind it was to take a steer project from beginning to end, and especially to give everyone a level playing field.

Youth of 4H age who live in the Hartford Fair district have their names drawn to select a calf on the first Sunday of November. They have 15 minutes to examine and select a calf from a group of  pre-selected steers without help from parents. Then participants record feedings, time and expenses in a project book while attending a series of meetings in preparation for the Skill-a-thon, held the first Saturday of fair week to gauge their knowledge of their project.

At the fair, Steer Pool participants show their steer and are awarded Grand Champion and Reserve Champion, as well as Rate of Gain, Project Books and Showmanship awards.

Following the live show, the steer are auctioned off, harvested and graded again in a carcass show, where another Champion and Reserve Champion are selected.

Fourteen young men and women participated in the Steer Pool in its first year.

There are only two or three steer pools now in the entire state, with this being the oldest and most successful. Its tremendous success has based on the support of the community.

The Steer Pool show on Monday evening of the Hartford Fair is like a giant family reunion, with past participants and long-time supporters returning each year to watch. Old friends share memories and the triumphs of current participants.