How long has Art Blakey been working at the Minnesota State Fair? Put it this way: He can remember the days before food came on sticks.

Jim Peters remembers that when he first stood behind the counter at his family's fairground concessions stand, hot dogs sold for 10 cents apiece.

Cindi Shore can recall a time when you could drive onto the fairgrounds and park your car on a fair street -- right on Dan Patch Avenue, if you could find a spot (although back then, she notes, it was Commonwealth Avenue).

And Ken Wagner has some fond memories -- and wild stories -- of the nights when the beer gardens and Midway attractions had no set closing time and would continue operating into the wee hours, "as long as they had a person they could spin on a ride or take money from."

Blakey, Peters, Shore and Wagner are among the State Fair's longest-serving employees (Wagner retired this year, after more than 42 years). It's not necessarily easy work; the days can be long, and in some cases the jobs begin months before the Great Minnesota Get-Together opens its 12-day run. It's intense, often exhausting, and maybe even, as one long-timer said, "a little crazy."

But they love it.

"After the fair is done," said Jan Bankey, a relative newcomer with a mere two decades of fair experience, "you kind of sit down and say, 'We had another good year.'

Katy Read • 612-673-4583