The late winter months are gray and dreary in central Indiana, making it difficult to get excited about anything in the out-of-doors. Fortunately, since 1963, Renfro Productions has been bringing the outdoors inside during the drab later winter in Indianapolis.
Taking over a fledgling show whose original owner grew disheartened after a gas leak and subsequent explosion killed 74 and injured another 400 in the State Fair Coliseum, Harry Renfro took the reins from his former boss and pursued his own vision of the Indianapolis Boat, Sport & Travel Show. Harry’s goal was to transform the male dominated sporting show into a family-centered event where Hoosiers could escape the blustery days of winter while walking the Exposition Hall to make reservations at the best lodges, getting hands-on demonstrations of the newest gear, take in entertaining shows, and boats; lots and lots of boats.
Harry Renfro passed away in 1986 but not before realizing his dream. When the Renfro family took over day to day operations of the Boat, Sport and Travel Show, they not only continued his dream of having the nation’s leading outdoor show but continued to foster his ideals. Today, brothers Mark and Kevin run the largest show of its kind in the nation and strive to bring in featured entertainment that spans a wide variety of outdoor recreational interests.
Several years ago the format was altered to include stand-alone events that would bookend the opening and closing weekends of the Boat, Sport and Travel Show. The first, The Hoosier Motorcycle Exposition is now in its 24th year. After a week of teardown and rebuilding the 18th annual Indiana Deer, Turkey & Waterfowl Expo takes its place on the following weekend.
The latest major addition, now several years young, is the Quiet Sports and Outdoor Living Pavilion. “Personally, I love the experience of being outdoors, sailing, snow shoeing, bike riding, hiking, canoeing, it all keeps me going. So, the addition of Quiet Sports has been a great part of the show for me,” says Mark Kaley, another Renfro family member and Chief Financial Officer for Renfro Productions
Many central Indiana Hoosier outdoors enthusiasts have fond memories of their annual pilgrimage trip to the Boat, Sport and Travel Show. Kevin and Todd Renfro have similar recollections of growing up with the show, but from a more behind the scenes point of view as they literally grew with the show and have countless stories.
Kevin remembers the time Sampson, the 700 pound wrestling bear, took a stroll around the show. “The bear freaked out”, Renfro recalls. “He ran right through the ring and just kept going. (Fortunately) No one was injured.” Sampson was finally returned to his cage but not before showing the Ontario Tourism booth a thing or two about bears!
While things don’t always go as planned, the rewards far outweigh the headaches. According to Kaley, “The amount of time, energy and attention to details for such a large event is probably the hard part. The other aspects of the show are exciting and make the ‘job’ of the sports show very interesting. Each year we try new things, work to keep the show fresh and at the same time connected to the long tradition of the Sport Show. Then, for ten days a year you see people you have not seen all year; exhibitors, presenters, attendees, show staff, friends and family who come for a visit. It is like old home week. So, I guess the hard part leads to the fun part, opening the door on a great tradition.”
With a production company and outdoor show so steeped in family values, a sense of community evolves among staff, exhibitors, and vendors. This strong sense of duty to community was never as evident as when everyone chipped in to help a show attendee who had fallen on hard times.
Mark Kaley explains: “A couple of years ago a man from rural Indiana was invited to display his mount (at the Legend of Indiana Record Buck Wall during the Deer, Turkey & Waterfowl Expo) and delivered it to be displayed. Upon arrival our staff noticed this mount was not in good condition, it showed signs of major water and fire damage and it had a foul odor. After some discussion the gentleman explained that the mount was damaged in a recent house fire, it had caught fire and got wet as they put the fire out. This young man had lost his home, the contents of his home-everything -except his mount. Our staff explained that the damaged buck could not be displayed on the wall at that time and that if he would agree to leave it with us we guaranteed him a place on the Legends Wall the following year AND we would at no cost to him have his mount completely restored to its original condition. The young man was speechless at first and then welled up in tears and said that was ‘without question the nicest thing anyone had ever done for him in his entire lifetime,’ With support from Renfro Productions, the Indiana Deer Hunters Association and a local taxidermy studio the young man proudly displayed his mount the following February.”
If you go: This year’s Ford Indianapolis Boat, Sport & Travel Show takes places February 20-March 1 at the Indiana State Fair Grounds. Featured events include wakeboarding demonstrations, Timber Tina’s Lumberjills show- a championship all-female timber sports team, the Dock Diving Dogs, a casting pond and kayak pool, and boats- lots and lots of boats.
For more information, visit http://www.indianapolisboatsportandtravelshow.com
All photos courtesy Renfro Productions