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NAME brings 78 rides to the SC State Fair
Season solid when weather is good
By Don Muret
COLUMBIA, SC --- There were plenty of screams bombarding the midway at the South Carolina State Fair, where North American Midway Entertainment's sprawling setup included 78 rides and attractions. Some of the loudest outbursts originated in a spot next to Netterfield's colorful, giant food court where Speed, the show's new super-spectacular wowed fairgoers here in late October.
The KMG piece has only eight seats distributed among two carriages that whip thrill seekers in a circular motion as high as 130 feet in the air at speeds reaching three and a half Gs. Since taking delivery of Speed , NAME has seen customers wait up to an hour for the experience, with few complaints about an attraction commanding eight tickets to ride, said Jeff Blomsness, the carnival's co-owner.
Blomsness, from Chicago, owns the carnival with Indiana showman Danny Huston. Together, they are 50-50 partners in of one of the largest outdoor amusement companies in the world. In 2012, seven years after five premier shows consolidated operations, including Blomsness' All-Star Amusements and Huston's Mid-America Shows, NAME is enjoying one of its most profitable years.
To that point, during its run in Columbia, Blomsness found out the carnival was recognized for its economic contributions to the Mississippi State Fair in Jackson, a date it plays before South Carolina. On Oct. 15, the Hines County Board of Supervisors published a resolution that stated in part Blomsness and Huston "consistently deliver the best [midway] week after week" as a valuable partner with 145 annual events.
"The season has been real good," Blomsness said. "When we get the weather, we get the money, and that's been true with all units. Our Canada route was exceptional. We set records at the 100th anniversary of the Calgary Stampede. The economy is better there [than the U.S.]"
Fairgoer spending in South Carolina held its own, though. NAME was up over last year, Blomsness said. The same was true for the fair. Total attendance was 452,576, an increase of about 10,000 over 2011.
"We can see the economy improving overall," said Dan Wagner, North American Midway's chief financial officer. "People spend money on local entertainment and this event provides good value."
Wagner works out of Farmland, Ind., where Huston is based. Wagner's parents have been long-time volunteers at the Goshen County (Ind.) Fair, a spot booked more than 10 years ago by Huston's old carnivals Mid-America and Pugh Shows. Wagner, with a law degree and a masters in accounting, plays a key role for such an immense operation. He is also a pilot, which comes in handy for a show with such a vast reach across North America.
There are more new additions to the NAME ride arsenal as well. Vertigo, from ARM, a ride manufacturer run by the Eric Bates, a carnival veteran from Ohio, is another piece that carries patrons 60 feet in the air. North American also bought some new kiddie rides, food trailers and game booths, Blomsness said.
The show has some new marketing plans in development for 2013 that are still under wraps, Blomsness said.
The Fast Pass, an express upgrade fairgoers can buy for $15, was one idea NAME tested at last year's South Carolina State Fair. It is a permanent addition for the carnival at 10 of its biggest datess, including Columbia.
The carnival industry is a family business and North American Midways is no exception. Jeff and Patty Blomsness welcomed their daughter Kristina back to the midway after she spent a few years running a pet grooming company. Kristina Rieder and her husband Etienne own an elephant ear stand and manage most of the carnival's food concessions. They are expecting a baby boy in February, Blomsness said.
Robert Blomsness, Jeff and Patty's son, is in his last few years of military service and has not decided where his future lies, his father said. Robert's wife Melissa works for her father Guy Leavitt with Ray Cammack Shows.
Other key personnel are general manager Rich Wyatt, a veteran showman who has worked with Blomsness for about 10 years after running the old Miller Amusements in Chicago. Ride superintendent Carl Snoddy, electrician Tom Blackwell and Mark Reichenbach, second unit ride supervisor, have all been with Blomsness for more than 30 years.
The same goes for Greg Wilde, who handles DOT issues and paperwork. Wilde is pictured in the faded photo from a 1974 date in Lake Charles, La., the first spot All-Star ever played. The photo hangs behind Blomsness' desk.
Larry Smith, a driver and show's key "runner for parts," Jim Gilloway, an expert in truck maintenance and assistant ride superintendent Art Murray are three other All-Star veterans with NAME.
Blomsness feels good about the future of the carnival business. Chance Manufacturing is coming out with a new ride, a rework of the Trabant, and "that's positive," he said. "It looks like a good ride. I've also seen new ideas from Europe."
Carnival owner Mike Featherston taking over the Sellner factory and ride molds is another good sign, he said.
As per tradition, Blomsness said he was to attend the IAFE and IAAPA trade shows as the season draws to a close.
As a Chicago guy, he's also a staunch supporter of the Showmen's League of America. The club, founded in 1913, welcomes Chris Atkins as its 100th president for the coming year.
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