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Tom and Jeanne McDonagh sell McDonagh's Amusements after 53 years
Couple purchase 200ft tall KMG Swing, go independent route
By Don Muret
Carnival operator Tom McDonagh has sold his show and route in Michigan after buying the largest portable swing ride in the world.
McDonagh and his family owned and operated McDonagh Amusements, a business dating to 1958. After spending the past 50 years traveling with a full-size show, they decided it was better to downsize and book a few pieces independently at some of the biggest state fairs in the country.
They sold most of the old show's 25 rides, bunkhouses and ticket boxes piecemeal to other carnivals, as well as county fair dates.
"I feel like I'm shedding my skin," McDonagh said. "It just go to be where it wasn't fun anymore. The help drove me crazy, nobody wants to work. The work ethic is not what is used to be."
The McDonaghs, including Jeanne, Tom's wife, their son Blake and his wife, Katrine, have rebranded their business as Sky Attractions. The centerpiece is a KMG High Swing, the tallest portable swing ride in the world moving on two trailers, according to Tom McDonagh.
The High Swing, themed as the Stratsophere, is already booked for 2012 state fairs in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Texas. Sky Attractions will also field a Tilt-a-Whirl and Sky Wheel in Wisconsin and Minnesota, and a Fireball at the State Fair of Texas.
The McDonaghs have booked rides previously at the Minnesota State Fair and have a relationship with Adam Heffron, event services director at the Wisconsin State Fair. Adam previously worked in Minnesota where his father Mike once served as executive director of the fair in St. Paul.
Sky Attractions will take delivery of another big piece after Labor Day and in time for the Dallas fair. Fun house manufacturer Ross Owens is working on a special project for McDonagh modeled after an attraction Tom saw at Oktoberfest in Munich.
"Ross is going to Americanize it for us," McDonagh said.
The McDonaghs live in Venice, Fla. and are looking forward to cutting their time on the road to five months with their new operation. Tom promoted two of his best workers to handle the rides and plans to hire a few more as part of a select crew of individuals.
On his own, McDonagh planned to attend the 25th annual NAARSO conference Jan. 29 through Feb. 2 in Myrtle Beach, S.C. to upgrade his ride inspector status to Level II.
"I'm trying to elevate myself to a higher and better standard," McDonagh said. "I haven't felt this good about the business for quite some time. The fun is back in it."
McDonagh will keep his winter quarters in Michigan, four buildings that include space for sandblasting and painting equipment. He will continue using a 65-foot-long paint booth to help other carnivals upgrade their rides.
The federal government's increased regulation and greater percentages given to county fairs were other factors for the McDonaghs' decision to sell their show. The heavy-handedness of Michigan state troopers enforcing DOT regulations with a "book two inches thick" is "making criminals out of honest guys," Tom said.
"The fight's out of me," he said. "I want to go where people appreciate you. For me, it all came down to you much more can you do and still have a quality operation. You can't watch every nut and bolt and run the ride at the same time if there are 50 things wrong with it."
Before they hit the road this year, the McDonagh's will celebrate Jeanne as incoming chairman of the Outdoor Amusement Business Association during the annual Gibtown trade show in early February.
"We just want to spend some time together, which we couldn't do with a full-time show," McDonagh said.