What is the reefer truck? Find out about how the food booths at Oregon Country Fair keep their food cold and about the crews behind this critical service. Hear about the history of chillville and how Larry feels about the volunteers and the community of trust. “The volunteers are doing it with love.” And he recounts stories about his favorite memories at Fair and the magical glow of evening. Also he relates about the land and our impact on it from a multi-year perspective. “We are guests on this land.”


​Refrigeration Crew with Larry

Transcription by Jade Rainsong

(Karen) We’re going to talk with Larry at the reefer truck. We’re up behind the Ritz saunas and showers. There’s a camp. Nice to meet you, Larry.

(Larry) Good to meet you, Karen.

(Karen) I’d love to know a little bit more about what you do and reefer truck and how you got started with it.

(Larry) Well, I am the coordinator for refrigeration main warehouse. Refrigeration, Chill Ville, which is separate from miss piggy. There are two separate refrigeration units. That’s a common misconception. They’re bureaucratically and culturally separate. So, uh, I also do food committee. So the food committee is a year round project.

(Karen) I imagine that’s got a lot involved because there’s so much food here. You got to feed so many masses of people that come out and so many food booths, I imagine the food committee has a lot going on.

(Larry) Yeah, the food committee is a great thing to be part of.  The food committee sort of created as a hybrid kind of committee. So it’s a little confusing relative to other committees. And so we’re under transition now. So I think what’s going to, what we’re going to look like in a year or two is going to be different. But at this point we’re responsible for uh, the new food booths, when food booths open up, jurying in a new food booth, creating guideline and policy. And one of the things that we’re trying to do is be more of an advocate for the food. booths too. Cause I think a lot of the food booths may feel that there’s not a voice within the Fair structure. And in the past, I think that that was probably true. And so we’re trying to be more of an advocate for them as well as a regulatory body. And that’s a little, that those two can conflict sometimes. So that’s part of our dynamic.

(Karen) Um, so the reefer truck, I see the guys are pulling lots of big bags of ice out for all of the different food booths. So is that one of the main functions?

(Larry) Ice and reefer are separate. So they’re two separate crews. And that just goes back organically to where, where this started. Because this building, I believe was built I, I’m not sure exactly when it was built. I want to say around 94 or 92 and before that we had the two refrigeration trucks similar to what you see down in miss piggy. So there were two trucks up here. Where this building is now with a diesel generator going on 24 hours a day. And it was a, you know, it was different situation and it was one of those big capital projects that the fair invested in, which is fantastic. What we have now is, is wonderful. And so being able to provide ice. And then, so what I specifically do at Chill Ville is refrigeration for the food booths. So they don’t have power. Obviously, a lot of them have some sort of internal, uh, dry ice or refrigeration thing that they do within their, uh, their food booths. But what we provide is just that extra support. So, uh, I find it’s, it’s one of those things, it’s obviously, it’s, it’s incredibly critical, but it’s also one of those sort of peripheral things.

I don’t think that people think about as much as, you know, security, traffic, obvious things. It’s another service that the fair provides that is critical.

(Karen) I was thinking about that, that there’s so much happening behind the scenes that the average person coming to visit the Fair doesn’t know about, but so crucial, like you said.

(Larry) Yeah. Yeah. One of my themes this year, I’m just astonished at the, you know, the thousands of volunteers that we have here and, and there’s very little, uh, overall organization. Like it’s, it’s not a top down organization that much. I mean, of course there are people in charge and in each crew, but I’m just amazed, like with my crew, I feel like I do not have to be an authority figure. They know what to do. My crew, they’re, they’re fantastic. I think most crews are, I think most of the volunteers, they have their jobs and they do them. And my responsibility as a coordinator is to just oversee it, to pay attention, put out fires when I need to. But that’s one of the things that makes this fair work is that there are volunteers doing what they do with their heart and what they know is right.

(Karen) It seems like a lot of trust. It’s a lot of good trust cause there’s good people working and volunteering. And then, you know, like you were saying, making some decisions that need to happen in the moment, of course. And especially around big things like refrigeration and then, you know, letting people do their jobs and trusting them and getting out of the way. Right.

(Larry) Well one of the lessons that I’ve learned this this year is when people do things that I disagree with. That I think, Oh, that’s wrong. You know, you’re, you’re doing something wrong. I was reminded that most of the decisions that people make is made with love in their heart. And so they’re not, what they’re doing is what they lovingly think is correct. And I recognize that, and I think, well, I disagree with what that is, but that changes the way I approach that discussion I have with them at that point. And a lot of times I’ll realize that, you know, I was, I was not necessarily wrong, but if I let 90% of the issues that I see arise in my job, 90% of them, if I let them play out, they’re usually fine. I realized that my assertion of authority doesn’t help. The people here volunteering are volunteer with love. And with heart. So my, two of my favorite memories when I think about memories, the first one, I believe the first concert that was held, our first music that was live on Friday night was the, uh, I believe it was the Floridian slips. It was a Pink Floyd cover band. So it was the first time on a Friday night and it was lot less people. It was just a gorgeous, beautiful night. Oh, I can’t remember back in the mist of time. It was at least 20 years ago. And, um. They played, yeah, Dark Side of the Moon. And it was just magical. It was just wonderful. And then the other thing every year back here, so we’re in Chill Ville right now, which is the highest point on the Fair grounds. So we’re the, we would be the last to flood, and we have these beautiful trees. We have these big beautiful trees, and every evening around five o’clock the evening sun hits these trees and it just glows. There’s just a wonderful amber glow and every Saturday, for some reason on Saturday, I’ll be sitting here and it’s just this, this magical glowing moment. And I will be aware of having sat here for, ah, I believe since 1988 watching, you know, these, these trees glow in the evening. And it’s just, it’s wonderful.

(Karen) Do you have kind of a sense of place of this forest, of connection to these trees in this particular place, then?

(Larry) Absolutely. Absolutely. One of the things I’m very aware of this year is our impact on the land, and I was a little worried coming in because I felt that some of the undergrowth that I remember historically being here does not seem to be here as much, and I get the feeling that our impact of five days of camping reverberates through the year. So the 361 days that we’re not here is still the, the, the land recovering. And when I talked to my crew on Wednesday, I made a point of emphasizing the fact that we are guests on the land. The land does not exist for the Country Fair. The Country Fair. We are guests, and where we need to take care of this land. Cause it’s amazing what we’re able to do. And especially with the, the mud this year. And I know that there were issues with, uh, Thursday, uh, with muddy roads and people being restricted access. That had to be taken with love and and loving their hearts too. Cause they understand that it’s not about you making money. It’s about you, us being on the land.

(Karen) Right. Exactly. And the, and the rain is actually so helpful, not only for the plants and the rivers and the wildlife, but for us to keeps the dust down, cleans everything. I thought about that before we came out. How much nicer it’s going to be after a little rain has hit this place just just before we got here.

(Larry) Exactly. Yeah.

(Karen) How many food booths are counting on the refrigeration trucks, especially up here in Chill Ville. And how many pounds of food, or would you say is stored in there? I mean, massive amounts, I imagine, right?

(Larry) Yeah. I want to say tons, but, uh, I believe, and don’t quote me on this. There are like 83 to 85 food booths and food carts total, and we split those up between the two sites and almost all of them use in one way or another the reefer trucks. And the reefer site here. And, uh, I think it’s just invaluable. It’s an immense, and especially for the, the load in. And one of the things that I’m hyper aware of, I’m very aware of is when people bring their food to the fair and they’ve been in traffic and they’re sitting with their dairy and their meat, and it’s, it’s critical for us to get that food refrigerated. And we’ve installed systems where we, uh, will temp the food as it comes in to make sure it’s cold and the food vendors do a great job of that, but we’re here as part of that, just keeping the food healthy.

(Karen) And that’s so important for everybody. Yeah. I mean, all of these years, and has there ever been like a food poisoning outbreak and that you know of around here?

(Larry) Absolutely not.

(Karen) That’s so awesome for so many booths and so many people.

(Larry) My official version is yes. No, it did not happen. And no, I don’t think there have, not that I’ve heard of. You know, there, there have been things around the periphery, but as far as I know, and we do work with the Lane County Health Department and, uh, it has been, it’s, it’s been a great Fair for 50 years.

(Karen) How many people volunteer on the refrigeration crew?

(Larry) I’ve got 38 people on my crew. I think that there are another, I would want to say 20 to 25 on miss piggy. So that’s just refrigeration and that’s not ice. And so then when we look at, at this camp, there are 78 people within this camp. Wow. So that’s between reefer and uh, ice.

(Karen) Oh my gosh. So how do they handle the ice? I saw it looks like commercially bagged ice and they just buy like hundreds of bags of ice or thousands or whatever it is. I mean, how many do they have to buy?

(Larry) You know, we, we buy the ice. It is, uh, let’s see. A hundred bags per pallet, 20 pound bags. So that’s a ton of ice. Each pallet. And I don’t know the exact numbers on the ice cause that is ice. I know that last year I believe we had a record number of, of tons of ice that we sell. But we’ve got, I want to say nine, 10 pallets in our refer right now, and probably another 10 pallets. And those get refilled twice a day. So, uh. It’s critical.

(Karen) I see the carts coming up constantly, one after another to just, and they’re just pulling bags of ice out left and right.

(Larry) And we have a dedicated, uh, ice truck now. Truck delivery that’s, it’s not owned. It’s, it’s, it’s, it’s a service that’s provided for us. And, uh, and it’s constant. He’s constantly going back and forth to delivering ice. It’s a, it’s an amazing, amazing job.

(Karen) Wow. So Scott wants to know if there’s any, has, have there ever been any ice disasters where the trucks broke down or things melted or anything like that?

(Larry) Well, yes. I think last year the, the truck broke down and it was just a matter of, of. Once again, just people cooperating. That’s the idea. I hesitate to use the word disaster because it wasn’t. It worked out. I mean, things, things fall apart and they’re difficult and we work them out, but people came together. Then we had a couple of forklifts and we got the ice to where it needed to be and that’s why I always think of in terms of disaster doesn’t happen. What happens is that there, there are problems come up that we come together. And work out and work them out. So, uh, that’s one of the most amazing parts of this that I see. We do just come together to do this, but it’s an, it’s an amazing event.

(Karen) Awesome. Thank you so much, Larry.

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