Rich Baker can recall 21 years as Burgermeister as Beaumont’s annual Oktoberfest in Noble Creek Park approaches 30 years of celebrating German heritage and culture, Sept. 20-22.
Baker was the unofficial mayor of Beaumont as he strolled around the park; making sure guests were on the dance floor and emceeing the various contests at the annual German event.
One of the more unusual memories from Oktoberfest that Baker won’t forget is the women’s stein holding contest.
“There was one woman who won the women’s stein holding contest every year,” said Baker. “I talked her into competing with the men. It was down to her and one other guy. She beat all of the other guys.’’
The stein holding contest tests how long a man or woman can hold the stein in front of them.
As the minutes pass by, it is easy to see how difficult it is to hold on for long periods of time.
The stein holding contest is just one of the many events that draws thousands each year to Oktoberfest, which attracts guests from all over California to Beaumont.
From log sawing and stein carrying contests to wiener dogs chasing each other between a course divided by bales of hay, Oktoberfest has something for everyone who want to be German for a weekend.
The event, traditionally known for all-things-beer fun, kicks off at 5 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 20, with the American Bavarian Brass Band and the Zeitgeist Oktoberfest Bands playing German music throughout the evening.
The contests will also start Friday evening with the log sawing and stein holding contests for men and women.
Saturday’s festivities will start at noon and include a parade and vendors will set up to sell a variety of crafts and items.
The Carrera Oktoberfest Band will start at 1 p.m.
For parents unsure whether to bring their children along, there will be family fun events including: pretzel whistling and strudel eating contests.
In addition to the contests already mentioned for adults there will also be a stein carrying, not to be confused with stein holding, contest that takes place Friday night.
Oktoberfest fun on Sunday will begin at noon where the Carrera Oktoberfest Band will play for four hours, followed by the crowd favorite–the Weiner dog races.
Thousands of people attend Beaumont’s Oktoberfest every year, but it was not always the big event that it is now.
Mickey Valdivia, who was general manager of the Beaumont-Cherry Valley Recreation and Park District from 2004 to 2015, said the first Oktoberfest was held in the park district’s parking lot on Oak Valley Parkway.
Valdivia said that the attendance was not as large in 1989. “It was probably 1,000 to 1,500 people attended,” Valdivia said.
The Burgermeister was a big draw as well, Valdivia said. They also have had King Ludwig, who has changed over the years.
Gazzolo’s restaurant has been serving authentic German food at Oktoberfest, cooking polish sausage and bratwurst, along with warm potato salad and purple cabbage slaw.
Valdivia said that in 2010, the wiener dog races were added and they have always been a popular attraction.
The dachshunds are supposed to run down the course to their owners, but during the practice rounds, the dogs get a little excited and run after each other instead of to their owners.
Valdivia also credited the late Beaumont City Councilman Jeff Fox with making the beer garden a popular draw.
A variety of beers are usually on tap for brew lovers.
The Queen’s stein carrying contest is also a crowd favorite, where women test their balance and strength by carrying at least 10 water-filled steins across the dance floor to another table and place them without spilling them or completely dropping the steins.
Inevitably, contestants are eliminated when this happens. The record is 19 steins.
“I know people who train year-round for that contest,” Valdivia said.
Baker said that he loved being Burgermeister, but that it was a tedious schedule to maintain for a weekend every year, for 21 years.
He started as Burgermeister when his oldest daughter, Delainie, now 27, was in a stroller.
Younger daughter Sheridan, 23, was not even born yet.
Baker said he was 26 when he became the unofficial mayor of Beaumont and it took a while to learn his role.
“I didn’t know what a Burgermeister was or what Oktoberfest was all about,” he said.
Baker said he worked from 5 p.m. to midnight Friday, noon to midnight Saturday and noon to 8 p.m. Sunday. Oktoberfest now closes at 6 p.m. on Sunday.
He soon learned that he was emcee of all of the contests and encouraged dancers out onto the dance floor for the Chicken dance (a crowd favorite).
And here’s a trade secret: most of the time, it was water in his stein, not beer.
Baker also loved the German music by the different bands every year.
Leaving his role as Burgermeister five years ago was bittersweet for Baker. “It became physically taxing on my body,’’ he said. “I was always walking around. I barely sat down.”
Baker has returned to Oktoberfest every year to visit friends and relax in his old environment.
Another long-time volunteer is John Williams, owner of Musick’s Saw and Tool Sharpening in Banning.
For at least 20 years, Musick’s has been the one to sharpen the two 6-foot-long saws used in the log sawing contest.
Williams said that the saws are dropped off at Musick’s about a month before Oktoberfest.
He hand files the saws and it takes a few hours. “I bring them to a nice, sharp point,” he said.
Williams has attended Oktoberfest and believes that the event is for a good cause.
As for whether he would try to be a contestant in the log-sawing contest?
“Sharpening is enough for me,” Williams said.
Staff writer Julie Farren may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (951) 849-4586, ext. 119.