MCW traveled to the Sumpter County Fest, 35 miles southwest of Detroit during the last week in May to visit with Tracy and Debbie Elliott, of Elliott Shows.
The event is one of twenty three spots the show does annually.
MCW: Everybody is going to want the secret of success, you run six months a year, just like the shows used to do. How do you make it?
TE: (Sporting a Wide Grin) You don,t see any million dollar rides out here, do you?
MCW: You mean there is no temptation to hit the Carolinas or Florida when it gets cold here?
DE: We avoid a lot of expenses by not leaving the state. There is a lot of out of state expenses: apportioned plates, workman,s comp in each state, etc. When you put a pencil to it, there,s no sense to us leaving the state.
MCW: This lot looks terrific, how many pieces do you have?
About 22. We have five pieces that aren,t up right now.
MCW: It doesn,t look like they,re lacking for anything right now. Isn,t the norm for committees to ask for everything and then some when you,re bidding for a spot?
TE: It may have been like that before, but they (the committees) have become a lot more reasonable. It,s not so much about bringing in a lot of giant pieces as showing up and doing a professional job. That gets us a lot more than more equipment would.
MCW: No argument there, but still you,ve got other shows in the area, Skerbeck, Playworld, Arnold, Schmidt, McDonagh, NAME, Wade, ....
TE: And Guthrie has a unit coming up here too. We all have our spots, we go where we go, they go where they go.
MCW: This is a pretty good size operation. How much help do you have?
TE: We have 30 regular employees and during fair season that will go to 40.
MCW: Locals? Or do you hire Russians or South Africans or ...
TE: We have Mexicans that work with us, pretty much the same group for the last few years.
MCW: Well, is turnover a problem then?
TE: Not really, we have about 90% of the same crew as last year.
DE: We have 100% the same crew on the games as last year. Winter money is gone, everybody is happy to be back to work.
MCW: Who,s in charge of the games?
DE: That would be Priscilla Elliott.
MCW: So this is really a family operation?
TE: We have the food and the games.
MCW: Really? I saw an Elephant Ear, a Lemonade, a Grab, a Popper. Those are all yours?
TE: We have an Ice Cream too, we just bought it. Are you still in the Popcorn Business?
MCW: I still have a few spots, but I,m mostly in the pizza business now.
TE: We sold our pizza this year. We had it for a few years and it just never performed for us.
MCW: Are you overseeing the food then?
Debbie: No, that is another relation, Nathan Rowe.
MCW: Twenty two rides, five or six food stands, games, that,s a lot to keep track of. How many trucks do you have?
MCW: Fourteen? No problems with licensed drivers?
TE: Not really. We always seem to make it, and we can find people in the old home town too. Then too, we can always double back if we have to.
MCW: I know, I forgot to ask about your generators. I see one, how many does the show carry?
TE: We have three.
MCW: I see a big Bio-Diesel sticker on the side, you are running your plant with that. Do you cook it yourself or get it delivered?
DE: Oh, we don,t make it, it,s delivered by our fuel supplier.
TE We were one of the early adopters of Bio-Diesel. We even got a grant for promoting and using it. We clued Tom McDonagh in on it, and he started using it, then we told Frank Zaitshick and he loved it.
MCW: You were a part of Wade Shows for quite a while weren,t you? After your father left the first Elliott Amusements that is where you landed, wasn,t it?
TE: Yeah, I was over there for about fifteen years before I struck off on my own.
MCW: Starting a show is a pretty ambitious undertaking. Did you have a partner or backers?
TE: My brother-in-law and I began a show as Great Lakes Amusements, but everybody has their own ideas of how things are done best. Great Lakes only lasted for a year, then I felt it was time to have an Elliott Amusements again. It,s been nine years now.
MCW: Well if ever there was an example of hard work and determination paying off, it would certainly be your show. Before we wrap this up, I want to make sure I have all the players right. You and your wife oversee, Nathan Rowe in charge of food, and your ride supervisor?
TE: That would be my son, Nick.
DE: Our daughter Ashlea isn,t on the road, she,s back in Texas. She just got her degree from the University of Texas in San Antonio.
MCW: Before I forget, how,s your dad, Jim Elliott?
Tracy: Dad,s fine, he,s in Florida recovering from shoulder surgery, but he,ll be up and around and back out here before you know it, cantankerous as ever.
MCW: You know, when I used to book with your father I,d always hear stories like that from the ride guys, but I have to say he always treated me well. It,s been my pleasure talking to you, and catching up a little on old times, have a safe and successful season!
DE and TE: Our pleasure. Thank you.