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Woody's Wagon is out of service after 32 years

Shirley Wood has kept records for over 32 years on her family's popcorn wagon. In her little brown notebook, with pages slightly yellow from age, are the names of people who helped restore it. Her book contains little facts about the wagon, like how it took 4,000 hours to restore the wagon. The wagon needed 30 quarts of stripper during the restoration. It took 250 feet of quarter round to fix the wagon's windows.

This is Woody's Wagon, the popcorn wagon that served Dakota County fairgoers for 32 years. It won't be at the fair this year, however. Roger and Shirley Wood decided to retire Woody's Wagon from the Dakota County fair.

"It's something that nobody can ever take the experience away from us,"? Wood said.

The Woods found the wagon in 1976 in nearby Burnsville. Both members of the local Jaycees, the Woods had helped the fair board put together fair events for years, most notably car shows. They still have several antique automobiles sitting in the garage, next to the wagon. After putting together the car show for the 1976 fair, Roger Wood was asked to find a popcorn wagon for the fair.

The first popcorn wagon he found was listed for $400. However, the fair board didn't want to spend that much.

"I could never afford one unless I could restore it,"? Roger Wood said.

The Woods eventually tracked down a broken-down wagon owned by Harold Williams, a plumber in Burnsville. Roger and Shirley went to see the wagon and decided immediately to purchase it, something they normally wouldn't have done. The Woods and many other people helped to restore the wagon from March until late July of 1976.

It was quite a task to reassemble the wagon. The group that sold Williams the wagon had gotten into an argument after they had disassembled it. As a result, it was left in storage, with only photos to show how it was supposed to be put together. Those photos ended up being the Woods' only book of instructions.

"We would come home and look at the pictures with a magnifying glass," to see how it was put together, Shirley Wood said.

Several friends, neighbors and former co-workers helped restore the wagon. Finishing touches, like art glass and gold leafing, were done by professionals. From there, the wagon began a long tradition of service at the Dakota County Fair.

Woody's Wagon was a service to the fair for those who couldn't ordinarily have popcorn. Anyone who couldn't eat popcorn because of the butter, salt or oils would have to wait a bit for regular popcorn.

"Boy, they were steady customers after that."? Shirley Wood said.

One year, according to the Woods, a gentleman approached the wagon talking about how he used to work in a popcorn wagon when he was little. The gentleman would crawl into a space inside the wagon to take naps. According to the gentleman, the wagon he took naps in was owned by a Mr. Roberts.

The Woods were stunned to hear this. Behind the board that has the Woody's Wagon sign, an inscription was etched into the wood that read, "Mr. Roberts."

It was the same wagon the gentleman took naps in when he was a child.

Woody's Wagon was a challenge to maintain. It took eight hours to get the wagon ready for the fair's first day, and then four hours each day to maintain it.

"The more you worked on it, the less you threw the butter around," Roger Wood said.

Towards the end, Woody's Wagon proved to be too much work. The Woods initially thought about retiring the wagon five years ago. Yet they kept going, reaching over 30 years of service, until one day the Woods, along with sons Brett and Trent, all decided to stop running Woody's Wagon because the work was too demanding.

The same day, a potential buyer asked after the wagon, and the Woods are currently talking with him about selling Woody's Wagon. They'd rather see someone else using it than have it collect dust in a museum. The wagon itself is worth thousands of dollars, according to Roger Wood.

Regardless of whether the wagon is sold off, it still carries a legacy at the fair. But how did it get it's name?

Since everyone called Roger and his family Woody, it was only natural.

"(Shirley) came up with the name one night out there," Roger Wood said. "She said, 'Well, why don't we call it Woody's Wagon?'"