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Alpine Amusements grows route; takes delivery of Freak Out

12/20/2013

By Don Muret

Photo courtesy of Navy Pier

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Alpine Amusements has established itself as a top flight carnival in Chicago through the hard work of the Massie family over the past 20 years.

The show, founded in 1994 by Don Massie Sr. and his son, Don Massie III, has 20 rides booked over 30 to 32 dates a year, including eight spots where the carnival plays multiple locations.

"We bought a Freak Out at IAAPA last year and we are getting delivery soon," Massie Sr. said. "It was originally scheduled for April-May of 2014.  They moved it up. That will be our show piece." It's a $900,000 investment taking the European exchange rate into consideration, he said.

Alpine officials are keeping busy this month without it though, working through the end of the year when other Chicago carnivals have closed up shop for the season. They booked five pieces at the Winter WPhoto By Navy PieronderFest at Navy Pier, running for 37 days, starting Friday, Dec. 6, and continuing through Jan. 12. The show does not currently have a merry-go-round and used Skinner Amusements' carousel at the event.

Winter WonderFest admission is free. Wristbands are $13 to $20, with the higher end price covers ice skating at the Chicago Blackhawks-branded ice skating facility. The reigning Stanley Cup champions are an event sponsor along with other heavy hitters such as Pepsi, Anheuser-Busch, American Airlines, Bank of America and WGN.

This is Alpine's second consecutive year booking the spot on a straight rental fee. The show played it for five years before Windy City Amusements assumed the contract. Alpine regained it in 2011.

"We weren't interested in a bidding war so we stepped back from it [for awhile]," Massie Sr. said.

The elder Massie has battled some health problems recently, undergoing multiple heart procedures over the past year. He got his start in the business 40 years ago booking equipment with Astro Amusements when Donnie "was a baby." Together, they committed to the industry and started Alpine with just a few rides, playing city dates as well as suburban spots, some near the Illinois-Wisconsin border.

Show headquarters are in Naperville and Burbank, Ill. Its winter quarters are in Union Grove, Wis., on a piece of land the Massie family purchased in 1998 and built a 25,600-square-foot facility. They're proud of that piece of the operation as well. "It's a beautiful property," he said.

Without a carousel, Alpine is searching for a Chance Rides piece on the used ride market. The carnival had a San Antonio merry-go-round but outgrew it as the show expanded with bigger equipment  "I've had a dickens of a time finding one that's portable," he said. "They're all indoor models with wood platforms that have to be [adjusted]."

Alpine has booked equipment at the Wisconsin State Fair for the past two years after the fair converted to an independent midway. This year, its brand could be found on the Drop Tower, Super Shot, Frog Hopper and Pharoah's Fury in West Allis. The Massies bought the Fury from Old Town Amusement Park in Kissimmee, Fla, where it had never been moved after being delivered by Chance, according to Don Sr.

Alpine at Navy PierThe Massies upgraded their Eli Bridge Hi-5 Wheel to an LED light package purchased from Len Soled of Rides 4 U. They keep trying to buy a Century Wheel but haven't seen one that looks good enough. The Wipeout, Zero Gravity and Cliffhanger are also part of Alpine's ride arsenal, he said.

In Wisconsin, Alpine picked up the Racine County Fair two years ago, after Reed Expositions gave it up, a decision it made after West Allis decided to go independent. Reed played Racine in addition to providing the equipment at the state fair by contracting with Murphy Bros., holder of the midway contract.

The state fair improved the midway operation in 2013 after that first year testing the waters. "They knew what they were doing, they didn't want to make drastic changes in that first year," he said.

Father and son aren't the only key members of the operation. Donnie's wife Michelle is a stakeholder as well. Betty Reynolds is the lot manager handling the help. She ran the show's popcorn truck for many years. Alpine owns all the concessions, three food trailers and nine games.  The show was one of the first in the Chicago region to run an automatic ticket machine.

Ticket prices are still a bargain at $1 across the board. Wristbands are typically $20 and good for four to five hours.

A few more ride purchases and it might be time to expand winter quarters, Massie Sr. said. "We're running out of room in the warehouse."

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