New attraction planned for the return of the Chippewa County Fair
Like many events in 2020, the Chippewa County Fair was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but this year returns with a line-up of events beginning Wednesday, July 28th through Sunday, August 1st. One of the attractions added to the line-up this year has a unique look and has been seen at county fairs around the United States and Canada. On Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, guests at the fair can visit with Hillbilly Bob, who will be on the grounds with his 1929 Model A Ford that’s not like any other car on display.
Hillbilly Bob is a character created by Bob Hill who lives near Waterloo, Iowa. He began his adventures as Hillbilly Bob 28 years ago when he bought the 1929 Model A Ford. “I’ve kind of been a car lover all of my life,” says Hill. “I was actually going to build a hot rod out of this car. I got it running and took it to a car show, back before rat rods were popular and nobody had seen anything like it. It had no paint and I started hanging antiques on it and stuff like that and I discovered people loved it. The first car show I went to I didn’t have to worry about anybody scratching it or anything. A crowd formed, and everyone was laughing at it and they’ve been laughing at it ever since.” Hill, a full-time farmer, and longtime car enthusiast says those who know him best were most amused by the attraction he created because he’d been locally known to have pristine show cars previously. “I’d build a show car every year and show them at the Street Rod Nationals, so now here Bob pulls into a car show with a car with no paint on it. It’s just all rust, so it’s completely different,” he says.
The car, covered in rust and giving a distinct air of the television series The Beverly Hillbillies was soon to become a traveling attraction as Hill decided to take it to the National Dairy Cattle Congress in Waterloo, where he was discovered by a booking agent. “I’d just painted Hillbilly Bob on the side of the door the night before and a booking agent came up to me and said ‘I’ve never heard of you before. How long have you been doing this?’ I got my pocket watch out and told him that I’d been doing this for about three hours now,” says Hill. “He’d been in the booking business about 30 years at that time and he told me he had fairs, festivals, and rodeos all over the United States that would pay money to have me come there.” That year, the booking agent signed Hill up for a variety of events in the Midwest. After that first year, Hill decided he enjoyed it enough to expand the area he traveled and so they attended the Las Vegas International Fair Convention. “I’ve worked in 28 states and Canada and traveled in 41 states and Canada with the car,” Hill says. He travels with his RV and an enclosed trailer to keep the car intact but says once he reaches his destination, he drives the car around town to garner interest. “Anywhere I go it’s an attraction. I’ll drive it to the local Wal-Mart and get a crowd going in a parking lot,” he says. “I’m a roving attraction.”
The attraction doesn’t center entirely around looking at the car but includes conversations with Hill in character as Hillbilly Bob while he shows off what the car can do. “I find a spot on the fairgrounds and as soon as I stop a crowd gathers there and I’ll do an hour at a time three to four times a day showing off all the things the car will do. I’ll be cooking Spam and eggs, biscuits and coffee on the motor. The car plays tunes and blows up balloons. It’s got a big sound system and I’ll play music through it. I make balloon animals and hats for the kids, show off all the different antiques. I’ve got all kinds of fun stuff on the car,” Hill says.
One of Hill's most memorable experiences in his 28 seasons of traveling the country happened in Lexington, Nebraska. “Toby Keith comes pulling in with his entourage and there I was parked in my RV. In the middle of the afternoon, once they were all set up and had done their soundcheck, Toby Keith came over to check me out and I got to visit with him. I met Jeff Foxworthy at the Wisconsin State Fair. It seems kind of funny, those big stars coming to see me, but it just attracts all ages,” Hill says. Hill also enjoys looking for people who may have been around long enough to have driven cars like his in their younger days, as well as showing teenagers the things the car does that they may relate to. His most enjoyable part of the bit is the wonder the vehicle brings to children. “Watching the little kid's eyes when I blow up the balloons and make the balloon animals - I sit on the bumper and it’s got a hundred-year-old homemade rocking horse on it, and it has big sheep antlers that look like a mountain goat. I sit up there and put my elbow up between the goat’s horns and magically air comes out of the goat's mouth and blows the balloon up. I just watch the kids' eyes and it’s very magical for me and rewarding. That’s the part that I enjoy the most,” Hill said.
This will be Hill’s first trip to the Chippewa County Fair, though he has visited Montevideo once before, briefly while meeting a client who purchased a car from him. He has, however, been to many of the county fairs around the area including Swift County as well as at the Minnesota State Fair. Those who have seen Hill at any of those celebrations would likely remember him, he says. “Once people see this, they never forget it. So that’s kind of neat. It’s one of those timeless acts. It’s good, clean, wholesome fun and all ages enjoy it,” Hill says.