How I teamed up with Commissioner Plaster to come up with a new story angle on the fair


By John Toth / Editor and Publisher

When Brazoria County Commissioner Billy Joe Plaster was the president of the Brazoria County Fair Association in 1986, I ran into him in the courthouse coffee shop and started to pick his mind about possible leads to my upcoming fair story in the Houston Chronicle.

I did one each year, like I did for the Great Texas Mosquito Festival in Clute. After a few years, though, you start running out of new angles. But the story still has to be done.

Typical discussion with editor:

Editor: Fair is coming up. We need a story.

Me: What do you think we should write about this time?

Editor: Find something and let us know.

The previous year I wrote about the dispute between the Fort Bend County Fair and the Brazoria County Fair with both claiming to be the “biggest county fair in Texas.”

It wasn’t a hard-hitting expose, but a good read, looking at why each would make that claim. Fort Bend County Fair officials said that theirs was physically bigger than the Brazoria County Fair, while Brazoria County officials countered that real estate has nothing to do with it, and so on.

After that, the size angle fizzled out. Both sides must have gotten tired of making that claim, and the focus turned to other topics. It was my job to find the topic and run with it, yet for another year.

I had to make the story generally interesting enough for consumption everywhere in the Chronicle’s readership area.

Nobody in Katy, for example, cared about the grand championship steer in Brazoria County. They had their own. Each fair has one. But even in Katy, or anywhere else, there would be some interest in a story dealing with which county has the biggest county fair in Texas.

So, what would be a good lead for yet another story on the fair?

I sat around that courthouse coffee shop a lot back in those days because many good stories walked in. It was more efficient than checking records, although I did that also.

“You’re the fair president this year,” I told Plaster after striking up a conversation. “What would you write about?”

Plaster and I had a pretty good rapport. I found him to be honest and reliable. When he told me something, that is the way it was. He was more of a good ol’ boy than a politician. Commissioner James Clawson was the same way, as several others, but they were not fair presidents at the time. I needed a new angle, and time was running short.

“Why don’t you write about how this is the biggest county fair in Texas?” Plaster asked.

“I did that already. They need something else,” I replied.

“I don’t know what to tell you, except that it’s going to rain. If it’s county fair time - it’s going to rain,” he said.

It wasn’t much, but I ran with it. Fleshed it out a little, did some more interviews, and we had a story with a brand new angle.

New for me, anyway. We knew that fair time means rain, because we had been there and had gotten soaked and muddy. Not all the time, but a fair amount.

Thank you Billy Joe for that lead, and for the other stories we collaborated on. You died way too young on Aug. 20, 2001, at age 70.

The story that year has long faded from my memory. I don’t know if it rained that year. But if it’s fair time in Brazoria County, there is a good chance of rain. Take an umbrella, and enjoy the fair. It opens this Friday, and in my book, it remains the biggest county fair in Texas