History of Crane Broiler Fest

The Crane Broiler Festival; ah, such a thought that can bring joy to the taste buds of the local residents of Crane, Missouri and to those other fortunate persons who have attended this local event since its official start in 1952. As a disclaimer information provided in this article was taken from program booklets provided by Stone County Publishing Company, Inc. and from other community members.

The First Annual Missouri Broiler Festival and Barbeque was held on October 9, 1952, as a one day event. This Festival was sponsored by the Southwest Missouri Broiler Growers Association which was composed of approximately 60 broiler producers from the North Stone County area. As an aside a “broiler” is essential a young chicken generally weighing between 2 ½ to 3 ½ pounds and produced commercially for meat sales. The Festival was such a success that it was decided that the 1953 and all futures Festival’s would be two day events. During the early years the chickens cooked at the Festival were all locally produced and cooked over an open air pit built of concrete blocks with metal racks that the chicken cooked on and each chicken was turned by hand. It was not until some years later that the current building and cooking pit area with foldable racks were constructed. One event I noted in the 1953 program was a Tractor Rodeo. Now I wish someone who remembers this event could give me particulars about it. It sounds as though it could have been a fun event.

Every Broiler Festival has had a local beauty pageant associated with it. The first Broiler Festival Queen was “Wilma Ruth Rittenhouse” from Monett, Missouri. At this time I have been unable to locate a list of the Broiler Festival Queens through the years. Currently the Broiler Festival Queen is called “Miss Slick Chick”. Traditionally the Queen has assisted in any programs or award presentations during the Broiler Festival and held a prominent position in the Broiler Festival parade after it was started in later years.

In a review of the Third Annual Broiler Festival-Barbeque and F.F.A. Stock Show program I came across an article titled “Ruel Barnes, Stone County’s First Broiler Grower, Tells His Story”. Mr. Barnes served in the Navy for two years during World War II and returned to Stone County afterward. Since other land around his farm was not for sale and he had been interested in poultry raising in high school; his school Instructors suggested that he consider poultry production. Bob Cannon, Paul Estes, and Ruel Barnes traveled to Arkansas to investigate the Northwest Arkansas poultry production. After receiving favorable reports the three persons acquired financial assistance from a local bank and other local individuals for construction of the broiler house, acquiring the chicks and feeding the birds. At that time the broiler house was constructed by family members to help keep the initial cost down. The first chicks arrived December 12, 1947 and were later sold for 38 cents per pound. Mr. Barnes had noted that the second flock of birds was sold for 40 cents per pound and cleared him 40 cents per bird. At the time of the article in the program he then had a capacity of 9,000 birds and depending on the current market at the time of sale had sold broilers anywhere from 19 cents to 40 cents per pound.

From the 1955 program the listing of the Officers of the Southwest Missouri Broiler Growers Association, showed Leo Curtis, President, Curtis Hayes, Vice-President, Bill Murray, Secretary/Treasurer. The main Festival Staff consisted of: D S (Tootie) Parsons as Chairman, Mrs. Porter Lucas as Secretary, and John Asher as Program Director along with other individuals and business persons from the Crane area.

A synopsis of an article by Ella Mae Tucker is taken from the 1956 program. By 1952, there were over two million broilers produced annually by the local farmers. Broiler production was started initially in 1948 with approximately 50,000 broilers produced and by 1955 had grown by 1955 to over 4,500,000 broilers produced; making Crane the Broiler Capital of Missouri. This area had an excellent supply of building materials, water, and electricity had finally been brought to the entire area. Due to the operations of the broiler houses many improvements had been made to farms in the area and other local businesses were prospering also. Can you imagine during the early 1950’s and for many later years Crane had 3 automobile dealerships, 2 grocery stores, 2 hardware stores and 3 feed stores.

To myself having grown in and spending most of my life in the Crane area, a review of the available booklets and programs for the early Broiler Festivals was like a walk down memory lane as a child growing up in this area. One caveat, most of my memories are of later years; since like the Broiler Festival, I was born in 1952 also. Many of the local business’s such as: A.E. Hilton (Hilton Furniture Store), Ralph Hilton (The Crane Café), Effie and Ray Grove (Western Auto Associate Store), Gene Robertson (Gene Robertson Chevrolet), Morris Henderson (Crane IGA Grocers), Lloyd Evans (the first Master of Ceremonies), Dewy Short (at that time the Congressman for the 7th District of Missouri), and other business’s not listed here, are a matter of local history and many are long gone.