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Larger-than-life sideshow // Giant pigs, tiny horses draw state fair crowds

BRANDON - Jerry has been called a lot of things, but "10,000 Hamburgers on the Hoof" really hurts. Sure, the name probably fits. At 3,300 pounds of Grade-A beef, Jerry the steer probably could provide one handsome feast. But his handler said the animal senses when he is being made fun of.

"He's really sweet," said Tom Patrick. "He gives me kisses."

It's not easy being a "Giant Steer" or the largest alligator, pig, horse or snake at the Florida State Fair. You're poked, prodded and stared at - far from home in the fields or barnyards or swamps.

But in a world of superlatives, it's business. At the fair, adjectives count.

There's no draw to an exhibit simply labeled "Horse." But slap a "Giant Horse" on the sign, and people will pay 50 cents apiece to see a formidable Belgian draft horse named Hercules.

Label Jerry "10,000 Hamburgers on the Hoof" and people stream in to see a steer about the size of a Isuzu pickup truck.

"Wowee, he sure is one big fella!" said one fair-goer as he stared at Jerry, whose official name is White Mountain.

While other impressive beasts are on display for free at the livestock arena, the lure of odd-sized animals is strong even if money is involved. It's no longer acceptable to exhibit the "Fat Lady" or midgets, but fair-goers still pay to see a massive, lethargic pig (about the size of a cow) and a tangle of giant anacondas. At the other extreme, there's a tiny 32-inch horse.

As hawkers hail their wonders, the massive animals stand in their small tents each day. Their only exercise is a nighttime romp through the empty arenas.

"He's lonely for the pasture," said Hercules' handler, Timothy Cook, noting that most of his horse friends are smaller. At 2,950 pounds, Hercules is almost 7 feet tall. His rump, which he keeps to the crowd, is impressive.

"He used to be much heavier, but he lost weight," Cox said.

Because of the stress of touring across the country, the large animals are exhibited for one year only. Then they get to rest.

Animals aren't the only ones to claim spectacular titles. It seems everyone has a boast, whether it is of the Best Cotton Candy or World's Biggest Midway with 100 rides.

The midway even contains the 110-foot high "World's Biggest Portable Ferris Wheel," said Phil Slaggert of Deggeller Attractions.

Ever-mindful of truth-in-advertising, promoters such as Slaggert are quick to point out the modifiers, such as "portable."

"The largest Ferris wheel is in Dallas, but it can't be moved," Slaggert said. No animal handler will claim the "World's Largest" title unless he hasproof.

"Anyone who tells you it's the world's largest or world's smallest is telling you a fib," said Bob Leibold, who bills his alligators and snakes simply as "large."

"There's always another one bigger or smaller."

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