The dynamic duo of Jeanette Gilmore and Robbie Driskill are back for a sequel with Smokey's Greater Shows. The Mainer and the Midwesterner have teamed up for a return engagement this year after a successful run together in 2016.
Driskill's commitment to the carnival, in fact, is long term, he said. He joined Gilmore's operation last year as general manager and brought new blood to the show through leadership skills and expertise gained under his family's carnival in Chicago.
In Maine, where Smokey's is headquartered and operates exclusively, Driskill has supervised the restoration of about 15 rides over the past two years. It's given Smokey's a much-needed refresh, according to Gilmore.
Three months before the 2017 season unfolds in upper New England, Dr
iskill and Gilmore have purchased a Spider and Frog Hopper, both used rides but new to the show this year. Come April, as winter quarters kicks into gear, the show's Sky Diver and Thunderbolt will be refurbished.
In addition, the carnival has ordered a combination diaper changing and breast feeding station to be delivered in early summer. The 225-square-foot tent has benches for nursing mothers to sit and a separate space for changing diapers, Driskill said. The tent's exterior panels have screen mesh at the top for ventilation, he said. It should prove to be a valuable amenity for families with young children.
"So many fairs we play, the restrooms are too far from kiddieland, so this tent should come in handy," he said.
It falls in line with the kinds of things Gilmore's late husband, George "Bud" Gilmore, did to spruce up the midway and provide more of a park-like atmosphere before he died in 2013.
"It's so funny because Bud was always a 'gingerbread guy,' putting up rest benches and garbage cans to make people feel more comfortable," she said. "In fact, Bud wanted to do a baby changing station years ago. It will keep the show looking good."
The show's merry-go-round has a new top, which should help make the ride pop, given carousels typically rank among carnivals' top money makers. Last year, Driskill and Gilmore bought a Trabant, which proved to be a big hit because Maine fairgoers haven't seen one in many years, Driskill said.
On her own, Gilmore has acquired a new French Fry trailer that will hit the road in June.
Separately, Bob Driskill, Robbie's father who ran the old Spectacular Midways for many years in Chicago and is now mostly retired, will help run Smokey's office after doing the same thing in 2016, his son said. Robbie's daughter, Amanda, has turned 20 years old, and she will also work for the show again, helping her grandfather in the office, he said.
Smokey's route has stayed consistent for years and 2017 will be no different. Driskill and Gilmore signed multiyear renewals with every fair they play as officials running those events get comfortable with Driskill's bigger role with the company.
"I'm gaining some respect," Driskill said. "To some, I'm still the guy from Chicago, an outsider, but I signed four contracts on my own. The committees were cool with it."
All told, Smokey's Greater Shows has 38 total rides now and Driskill has his eye on surpassing 40 over the next few years through some new acquisitions. At the same time, though, due to the short season in Maine that runs from early June to early October, the carnival may have to expand its territory to help pay off its investments.
Years ago, when Bud Gilmore was still alive, Smokey's traveled to Vermont, New Hampshire and New York, but the carnival cut back after increased fuel costs and trucking fees made it too costly to operate in those three states.
"Our plan is to try to attend the Vermont and New Hampshire fair conventions to get Smokey's name back out there in those regions," Driskill said. "The economy in main has been good, considering the small population of the rural state. To put things in perspective, the city of Chicago [with 2.7 million residents] is bigger than Maine."
"We need to jump out of Maine for a few weeks," he said. "It's a short window, and to add a $250,000 piece, you have to run longer. In New Hampshire, for example, if the rides grosses are good enough, we can buy some new rides."
Gilmore agrees. "We're looking to get bigger and better. We've been in business for 52 years and my goal is to keep my husband's legacy going in a positive way."
New for 2017: Diaper Changing Stations
New for 2017: Frog Hopper