Five Tips for Visiting the Ford Indianapolis Boat, Sport and Travel Show

It’s like a family reunion, the big spring dance, Christmas and opening day of deer season all rolled into one: The Indianapolis Boat, Sport and Travel Show. This favorite Hoosier tradition starts its 62nd run at the Indiana State Fairgrounds this weekend.

The 62nd Annual Ford Indianapolis Boat, Sport and Travel Show is one of the oldest and biggest consumer outdoor shows in the country. Though initially produced by Indianapolis businessman Melvin Ross in 1953, Harry Renfro took over the show in 1963 after an explosion in the fairgrounds coliseum killed 74 people during an ice show. According to reports, Ross was devastated by the deaths and soon after sold his show to Renfro.

Under Renfro’s care, the show eventually outgrew the coliseum, expanding into the east and west pavilion buildings and now encompasses six buildings, a footprint of 650,000 square feet. Harry Renfro died in 1986 but son Kevin Renfro and several other family members now carry the torch forward.

Muggin' it up-The author and Rupert Bonham of the TV series Survivor hanging out at the Ford Indianapolis Boat, Sport and Travel Show

This year things will be a bit different from previous shows. Gone is the Quiet Sports pavilion and instead, the opening weekend will see the Great American Fly Fishing Expo in its place. This three-day fly-fishing-only show will be held on the floor of the renovated coliseum and feature local fly shops, experts, guides and industry representatives.

The first weekend also includes the Renfro-produced Indiana Motorcycle Expo in the fairgrounds Exposition Hall; the popular Deer, Turkey and Waterfowl Exposition then takes over the following weekend for its run February 25-28. Admission to either show is included with Boat, Sport and Travel Show admission.

As usual, there are dozens of seminars and speakers, including a “Legends Panel” on Saturday, Feb 20 at 2:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. featuring fishing greats Forrest Wood, Jerry McKinnis, Bill Murray and Bobby Murry.

There is also the traditional array of favorites, such as the Hawg Trough, K-9 X Games, antique outboard motor exhibit, kid’s trout pond, rock-climbing wall, Discover Scuba tank, presentations from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and more new boats and RV’s than you could purchases even if you happened to be named Bill Gates.

This year will also debut shows by the Xpogo stunt team, a group of extreme stunt and demonstration pogo stick riders. This group is the latest in a long history of other special attractions ranging from a wrestling bear to a live lumberjack show backed by a small orchestra. One of the famous in-house Renfro stories regards the day “Samson the wrestling bear” got upset and decided to leave the wrestling ring in the center of the coliseum. No one was injured but he destroyed at least one booth while running amok and giving several startled visitors a good scare.

Admission is $14 for adults but you can save $2 by purchasing online through Children are $8.

Finally: As a veteran of many shows over the years, we are often asked for advice for the first-time visitor. Below are five helpful tips to make your visit more enjoyable.

Tip #1- Don’t eat reptile-based jerky. Alligator jerky is sold in several vendor booths throughout the show but we have discovered that it tastes exactly like you would expect dried meat from a sludge-dwelling creature to taste. Several years ago a friend of ours tried a sample and loudly blurted out a far more colorful description: “That tastes like a sack of ---holes.”

We would agree, except we've never tasted one of the aforementioned sack of body parts. However, the description sounds accurate.

Tip # 2- The trout are real. In a feeble attempt at humor several years ago, I wrote a column that claimed the trout in the kid’s trout fishing pond are actually spray-painted suckers and bullheads. That wasn’t true, as a highly-agitated reader pointed out in great detail via spittle-soaked letter. He also took offense at my suggestion that the ideal bait would be a discarded cigarette butt. The writer was so passionate, I was afraid he'd follow up the letter with an unmarked package of scorpions.

Tip #3- Yes, they sell beer. This becomes a very important fact when you are escorting a whole pack of Grub Scouts around the show or visiting on a Saturday afternoon when the crowd appears to be a single, densely-packed wad of flesh much like a solid block of luncheon meat, only smellier.

Tip #4- If you go to the Deer, Turkey and Waterfowl Expo, take earplugs. The word “cacophony” doesn’t even begin to explain what happens when a duck call exhibitor demonstrates one of his wares, which causes a nearby goose call maker to demonstrate THEIR product. The Turkey Contingent then decides that they can’t let the waterfowl hunters get away with making so much noise so they fire up a series of yelps and gobbles. This in turn leads to deer hunters grunting and elk callers bugling and so on. At one point, I believe someone cut loose with an elephant call; either that or someone attacked a pipe organ.

Tip #5- But fortunately, they sell beer.

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