|Exclusive News and Interviews
IAFE Convention -- Day 2
By Ron Weber
Las Vegas -- John Dodson retired this past May as a State Of Ohio Ride Safety Inspector after 30 years on the job. Never one to rest long, he became a principal with Comspeq International , a leading ride safety consultant. Dodsen joins former Ohio boss Len Cavalier, along with John Pierce and Tom Carey in the firm.
Comspeq have been busy picking up new contracts and expanding their business. They now inspect for the New York State Fair, New Mexico State Fair, San Diego County Fair in Del Mar, CA and many other large events.
The business is not just limited to fair inspections. Comspeq also works directly for carnivals, designing safety seminars and programs and updating carnivals on safety procedures and implementation methods. They have worked with NAME, assisting them with paperwork for Ontario inspections, Reithoffer and Amusements Of America, among many others.
Another major client of the firm is Cedar Fair, LLC. The amusement park giant has several parks throughout the country, including flagship Cedar Point in Sandusky, OH. At Carrowinds, near Charlotte, NC, the company inspects the 35 rides on the South Carolina section of the park. Dodson explained that part of the park is in North Carolina and part is in South Carolina, so the facility is subject to two separate jurisdictions, determined by where the ride control is located. "Where the ride control booth is located governs which state inspects the ride", said Dodson. In one example, a wooden roller coaster extends through both states. The control booth is located in South Carolina so Comspeq is taking care of the inspection.
One other project of note for Comspeq is the installation and ASTM work for the rides at the Hard Rock theme park in Myrtle Beach.
Ride inspection consultants generally work behind the scenes and receive little recognition for the work they do keeping the rides and the public safe. Another job in the industry that rarely receives recognition is that of the layout man and concession manager. Working with some of the largest fairs in North America, Terry Grace is someone who has made a successful second career as a professional layout man and concession manager.
Terry got his start in the business on the boardwalk in Wildwood, NJ. He then worked for Cumberland Valley Shows for 40 years before embarking on his new career. Most of those years were spent at the company's amusement park, Lake Winnepesaukah in Rossville, GA. Terry worked four days a week at the park and the balance of the week on the road show. In 2000, Terry retired from the show. He kept busy by taking one or two independent jobs handling rides and equipment for ride owners. Terry's talents were quickly noticed and he was solicited to assist with the Miami-Dade County Youth Fair and the Minnesota State Fair. In addition to these two events, Terry has added the Meadowlands Fair in East Rutherford, NJ, the Ventura County Fair in California, the Florida State Fair and the Greater Gulf State Fair in Mobile, AL.
Terry's wife BJ also works with him at the events. She provides computer support for ticket and concession sales, games management and layout. BJ actually worked for Terry at the amusement park in GA before the two married many years later. Terry and BJ were married at the trade show in Las Vegas and celebrate their anniversary here each year.
Pat and Rick Reithoffer were busy meeting and greeting their fair clients in the halls of the trade show. Pat said the season started cold and wet in the Spring but by fair time, the season turned around with a very strong finish.
The Reithoffer brothers both spoke of all the improvements they made to the show this year. Pat said they had been busy "parkizing" the show. The show purchased new canvas, umbrella tops and two new front gates from Joe Sperano's Show Star Towers of Gardiner, MT.
Kiddieland also received some new highlights. The Reithoffers took old tubs from their pony cart and tank rides and painted and refurbished them. The tubs have now found a new home at the entrance to kiddieland where a sign invites the children to play on these vintage 1950's amusement rides. Set among flowers, the rides provide a nostalgic entrance to their kiddie area. Inside the kiddie area, the show has designed and placed 20 picture taking cutouts where guests can place their head inside the board and have their picture taken as part of the painted scene. All of these amenities require extra trailers which are costly to move given the current state of fuel prices but the show believed the improvements were essential to the look of the midway and the experience of their guests.
Rick Reithoffer lamented about the state of fuel prices and said he was looking at several cost saving solutions. He also said he would be working with his fairs to look at possible solutions to offset the fuel costs.
Reithoffer said the shows splits into several units in the Spring, playing many shopping center dates. The new front gates would be used to anchor perimeter fencing for the events where the show charges $1 or $2 for admission. Reithoffer says the gate admission assists the police with securing the event footprint and helps keep out patrons who are there just to loiter. "If they don't have $1 or $2 to come in, we don't want them", he said. Reithoffer implements coupon programs within the mall , offering free admission for children and a free ride on the slide. This brings good will to the mall and uses the mall's traffic to market the event.
The show signed two new events this year, the Hebron Harvest Fair in Hebron, CT, played this past September and the Collier County Fair in Naples, FL., which the show will play this coming February. The event will mark the first date of the season for Reithoffer.
Rick Reithoffer said the show is looking at several new purchases but nothing has been finalized yet.
Another major East Coast show with new dates is Amusements Of America. The show's Dominic Vivona, Jr. said A Of A signed the Delta Fair and Music Festival in Memphis TN to be played over Labor Day in 2008. The fair had an excellent start this year and Vivona was looking forward to a long and prosperous relationship with the event's producers, Expo South.
The Delta Fair fits perfectly into their route following the Wilson County Fair in Lebanon, TN which the show signed for three years Vivona said. A Of A now goes from the Ohio State Fair to Wilson County Fair, the Delta Fair and then on to Lawrenceville, GA for the Gwinnett County Fair, making relatively short jumps.
Another new spot for the show this year is the Iguana Festival in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. A Of A will be bringing 25 rides to the event which is promoted by a committee and will feature a petting zoo and musical entertainment. Simultaneously, they will be playing "La Feria" in San Juan, Puerto Rico with 30 rides. A Of A has been going to Puerto Rico for the event for over a decade.
The Vivonas are all looking forward to the wedding of Phil Vivona, one of four brothers who own the show, to Jane Baxter. The event is set for Dec. 29th and should prove to be a very festive occasion.
John Richardson of J and J Amusements capitalized from A Of A's move in signing the Delta Fair by picking up the fair A Of A previously played on that date, the Upper South Carolina State Fair. This marks Richardson's second stint with the fair.
J and J is currently open for its winter run of churches in South Florida. Richardson said the show works year-round. "We haven't quit in 7 years", he added. In the spring, the show plays more churches and Florida events before heading north to Pennsylvania, NY and Ohio then a series of fairs in the Carolinas including the Cape Fear Fair in Fayetteville, NC and the Robeson County Fair in Lumberton, NC.
Richardson said the season has been very good, including some record fair runs. The big drawback for him, as it is for every carnival is the rising price of fuel. Concerning fuel prices Richardson quipped, "fuel has gotten so high I forget to complain about insurance expenses".
Despite the added expenses Richardson has made a couple of major purchases in the past couple of years. New for most of his 2007 dates was a KMG Fireball. Recently, he took delivery on a Bertazzon Wave Swinger. The ride has an amazing capacity of 64 people and Richardson has been very happy with it so far.
More from the final day of the trade show tomorrow.