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G & S Shows: A family affair

6/12/2013

By Linda Van Slyke

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The "G & S" in G & S Shows stands for Guadagno and Sons - meaning that family has always been the heart and soul of their business.

Tony Guadagno explained that he and his brother were the original "Sons" who inherited the show from their dad.  Their father, who "never liked to be held down to an 8 to 5 job," had always found creative ways to support his family of six.  Before getting into the amusement business, the family had managed a ranch and orchards.  Then - in May of 1954 - the "amusement bug" bit.

The family had moved to Long Beach, California, and Tony's father had purchased a ride in the amusement zone there.  This zone had begun back in 1902 with the opening of the grand bath house, later known as "The Plunge."  Southern California residents had eagerly sought to escape the heaPhoto By t by enjoying the ocean breezes that cooled this growing resort area.

For Tony's family, one ride became two, and two became three, until they owned about a dozen altogether.  They operated for about 10 years in the Long Beach amusement zone.  However, life began changing in yet another big way when they purchased that "one-of-a-kind thing" called the "Rotor."

According to Tony, the Rotor was designed by German engineer Ernst Hoffmeister in the  late 1940s in order to accustom World War II pilots to the effects of g (gravitational) forces. Wikipedia reports that it consists of "a large, upright barrel, rotated at 33 revolutions per minute."  This amount of rotation "creates a centrifugal force equivalent to almost 3 gs" (about three times the g force that is experienced while just standing around at sea level).

What this means to Earthlings is that those who find themselves riding this Rotor will also find themselves stuck to the walls of the barrel.  The "glue" that is holding them is the centrifugal force.  If this weren't spine-tingling enough, the bottom then begins to literally drop out from under them. 

In other words, once "the barrel has attained full speed, the floor is retracted...  At the end of the ride cycle, the drum slows down and gravity takes over.  The riders slide down the wall slowly."  Slowly is the key word here... 

Owning a "toy" like this can certainly propel one to the head of the amusement class fast.  Although Hoffmeister had originally designed the Rotor, most subsequent models were "constructed under license."   Within the United States, the two main companies responsible for Rotor production were the Anglo Rotor Corporation and the Velare Brothers.

The original G & S Rotor had been built by the Velare Brothers.  This key piece of equipment was instrumental in moving G & S forward.  The Rotor was in high demand - so G & S began taking it on the road.  Tony reminisced:  "We began the fair circuit mostly in California. Then we bought the Coaster and booked both the Rotor and the Coaster with different shows throughout the state."

Tony continued:  "Afterwards, we had another Rotor which we booked in Ohio and New Jersey." Competition later became very keen in California - so we bought a few more rides and officially started our own G & S Shows in about 1978 or 79.  We began with six or seven kiddie rides and a couple of majors."

Because the Rotor (which Tony said "took 12 hours to set up and 7 or 8 to tear down") had been huge in more ways than one, the G & S name became quite well known.  During their Rotor heyday, G & S owned the only mobile model on the West Coast.  "Word of mouth" therefore rapidly spread.  Tony remembers that one gentleman who contacted G & S about their Rotor later became instrumental in starting Disneyland.

Word of mouth is still what carries G & S along.  Tony explained, "Actually, we don't advertise all that much.  Next year will be our 60th year.  We've been in the business so long and go to all of the trade shows, so people just know us."

G & S even weathered the recent recession in good stead.  Tony stated, "We're very fortunate in managing to keep our old accounts.  Ninety percent of our routes are churches and events that we've been doing for the last 10 to 20 years."  They've even done a few movie sets along the way - one involves a story about "some guy who worked on the Scrambler..."

With all this success, there are bound to have been a few challenges.  Tony said that "the biggest challenge throughout the years has been finding good employees."  Things had been working out real well for the eight or nine years that G & S used the H2B program to "bring in guest workers from Mexico."  According to Tony, these Mexican workers have been "wonderful."

However, Tony added:  "For whatever the reason, Obama's administration and the Justice Department have been doing their best to stifle that [H2B] program.  With all the talk about illegal workers, here's a legal program that had been working - so why now make it seem like it's almost easier to hire someone illegally than legally?"

Tony continued:  "If the government would just back away and let us operate, that would be a great service."  He estimates that the cost of hiring a legal H2B worker is now "at least $1,000 per person."  This, plus the high cost of diesel fuel, has been quite daunting.  Tony further explained, "Diesel in California went up to about $5 a gallon for awhile.  I probably spend a minimum of $5,000 to $7,000 per week on diesel fuel between the generators and the trucks."

Nevertheless, Tony wouldn't have it any other way.  He and his wife Sharon keep the office running smoothly while their sons Joe and Chris are out in the field.  Nephews and other relatives are cherished employees too.  G & S is truly a family affair! 

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