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Poor Jack Amusements looks forward to heart of 2013 season
Bohlander family has deeps roots in carnival industry


By Don Muret

Photo courtesy of Poor Jacks

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The 2013 Memorial Day weekend was particularly memorable for the Bolander family, owners of Poor Jack Amusements, an Indiana carnival.

On Saturday, May 25, Tim Bohlander's son Spencer graduated from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, a top engineering school in Terre Haute. The next day, the Bohlander clan attended the Indianapolis 500, where they saw Tony Kanaan win his first race there after several close finishes over the past 12 years.

Kanaan's wife is Lauren Bohlander, one of two daughters of Gary Bohlander, Tim's brother. Tony and Lauren got married in March after meeting through the auto racing industry. At the time, Lauren worked for the Indy Racing League in broadcast production. She was previously employed by ESPN2 tied to the network's coverage of motorsports after graduating from DePaul University.

CoPhoto By Poor Jacksnsidering Kanaan finished second at the 2004 Indy 500 and came up short again in 2007 after losing the lead following a rain delay, this year's win was especially sweet for Kanaan and his extended family. The Bohlanders watched the race from the bleachers, not far from Kanaan's trackside crew.

"There were a lot of opportunities before that didn't go his way," Tim Bohlander said. "This year, it seemed like the whole speedway was cheering for him. I've been to a few races there but I've never seen that many people roar their approval. During the parade lap everybody was on their feet."

The cheers most likely extended to Gibsonton, Fla., where Kanaan is a member of the International Independent Showmen's Association, Bohlander said.

The Gibtown club ties with the Bohlanders goes deep. Brandon Nieukirk, son of Larry Nieukirk, 2010 president of the IISA, is married to the former Becky Bohlander, Tim and Gary's youngest sister. Larry Nieukirk is with Sam's Amusements. Brandon manages one unit for Poor Jack's.

The excitement apart from the midway will hopefully set the tone for a strong summer for Poor Jack's Amusements. Historically, the spring route has not been the strongest part of the year for the show, Bohlander said. The carnival starts hitting its stride in July at the four county fairs it plays in Ohio.

One those events, the Fulton County Fair in Wauseon, Ohio, has been connected to the Bohlander family since 1949. That year, Jack Bohlander, Tim's father for whom the carnival was named, and his grandfather, booked an African Dip at the fair. Since that time, the Bohlanders have had a presence at the fair.

The three other Ohio fairs booked by Poor Jack's are Allen County, Lima; Mercer County, Celina; and Williams County, Montpelier.

Poor Jack's, founded in 1967, operates about 35 rides and 80 food and game concessions, split into two units. The carnival is based in Milton, Ind., with winter quarters in Cambridge City. The 48-year-old show plays Indiana and Ohio. It has held on to most of its dates for 25 to 30 years.

For about a half-dozen events, Poor Jack's performs "circus jumps," an industry term describing how carnivals close at one spot on a Saturday night before opening the next afternoon 40 miles away at a different location. On those occasions, Poor Jack's has about a 17-hour window to open at 4 p.m. Sunday.

"The one coming into Franklin, Ind. is a circus jump coming out of two locations," Bohlander said.

With so many moving parts on the route, the carnival's two units swap rides as needed. At times, the same is true for the carnival's managers.

"It's a complicated and an interesting mess," Bohlander joked.

The show bought a KMG Freak Out last year, a Dutch ride most show owners refer to as "the strongest 16 seats in the business," he said.

Several midsize carnivals have purchased the same attraction, leading to the question of what makes it such a popular piece. It is a sizable investment. The ride can cost anywhere from $725,000 to $800,000 depending on "how the Euro [dollar] treats you," Bohlander said.

"The way it swings out over the midway, it hits the right connection with riders," Bohlander said. "It hits the right speed and angle and gives a good ride. That's part of its success. The thing is, you can build a ride and spend tons of money in design work but until you get it to the public, you never know."

Outside of the family itself, independent ride owner Paul Husman books several pieces of equipment with the show. Husman owns a Zipper, fun house,  Wisdom Renegade, Sky Fighter, Tubs of Fun, motorcycle jump and a Roundup.

If the Bohlanders have one complaint with the industry, it's the health department inspections in Indiana. Every county sets its own fee structure with multiple inspections. In Ohio, by comparison, Poor Jack's typically buys one health permit for $200 covering all events the carnival plays in the state.

But in its home state of Indiana, show officials feel the inspections are excessive and some counties are trying to take advantage of carnival operators.

"For 15 to 20 years, they treated our business like the red-headed stepchild," Bohlander said. "Then they all realized the cash aspect they're missing out on. McDonald's may pay $300 a year for a health permit and be inspected four times. One of my food trailers can rack up $2,100 to $2,300 in fees and be inspected weekly and sometimes once a day. It's out of control."

Poor Jacks

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