BELTON, Texas --- Johnny Reed had his hands full during his carnival's three-day run at the Central Texas State Fair.
Reed Exposition Midways had 13 rides set up at the Bell County Expo here off I-35, midway between Waco and Austin. It was typical Texas weather, a scorching Saturday in late August, and officials had to take care of a leaky generator and an electrical issue with the Shocker ride.
The carnival opened at high noon, the same time as the fair officially opened and the crowds were sparse in large part due to the late summer heat. But the Reed family expected things to pick up at night after the temperatures cooled a bit and locals came out to see some up-and-coming country acts.
"I don't think I would come out now even if it was free," Reed said.
Johnny Reed and his brother Jimmy run Reed Expo, a Houston-based show that has been in existence since 1960. Their father, Jimmy Reed Sr., started in the carnival business when he was 15 and eventually launched his own show. Jimmy Reed Sr. died five years ago and his sons took over.
The show plays Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin.
About 25 dates are fairs, several of which Reed plays in conjunction with Murphy Bros. Exposition. Murphy Bros. still holds some of the contracts Reed plays, including state fairs in Albuquerque and Fargo.
It's a relationship that started about 15 years ago when the Reed brothers first spoke to Jerry Murphy, now semi-retired, about filling some large dates with rides. Their first date tied to Murphy was the Missouri State Fair in Sedalia. Since that time, Reed Expo has picked up other Murphy events.
All told, Reed Expo owns 50 rides and splits into as many as four units depending on where the calendar falls. In late August, three units were in operation, including Belton and Fayetteville, Ark.
In Belton, Johnny Reed had one of the few Chance Rides four-abreast Grand carousels still operating on the road, a piece picked up from Murphy, he said. The Himalaya, Wave Swinger, Drop Zone and Shocker were among the other bigger rides set up on the expo center's blacktop parking lot.
Reed has played Belton for about 20 years. It's 45 miles south of Waco, hometown of Tanya Reed, Johnny's wife. They met each other more than 25 years ago at a still date in Palestine, Texas.
"We were playing a mall parking lot and just closing the carnival,"
Reed said. "I was going to Whataburger and struck up a conversation with her. She's now my No. 1 helper."
Key employees are mostly family. Jimmy and his wife Darla run the first unit. One brother-in-law, Cameron Ochoa, manages kiddieland and runs food concessions with Tanya Reed. Outside of the family, Mark White is in charge of show maintenance.
Through Murphy contracts, Reed Expo has some monumental jumps, including Dallas to Fargo, about 1,000 miles. The show plays a few shopping centers in north Texas, along with Austin, Houston and San Antonio, before starting the long trek north to the North Dakota State Fair in late June.
"We did Green Bay to Albuquerque and that was a long one," Reed said.
"So long I couldn't find the end of the damn road."
Reed's season starts in Texas and its first fair of the year is the Victoria Livestock Show in February. Then comes the Rio Grande Valley Livestock Show in Mercedes followed by festivals in Fairfield and Athens, Texas, as well as Madill, Okla.
The entire show comes together at the Rio Grande Valley event before splitting up for several weeks. It converges again in Fargo for the state fair, Reed said. It's a long jump to North Dakota but the cooler temperatures in the upper Midwest provide a nice break from the southwest heat, he said.
Like most carnivals, Reed Expo has held the line on ticket prices for several years to give families a fair value for their money. Ride coupons are $1 each and armbands typically cost $25. They were $20 in Belton.
"It's not that we don't want to raise ticket prices but then the public complains about it," Reed said. "But the economy is getting better. Our still dates have even been up. We played a couple malls this year that did well. That's not the way it's been the past few years."
The price of armbands escalates to $30 in North Dakota, a state with a booming oil industry. "Everybody's working up there and they're not afraid to pay that much for a wristband," he said.
The show closes the season by the end of October. The Reed family is seeking to buy about three new rides but Johnny Reed declined to mention specific pieces. He said he doesn't want to give the competition a leg up.
"We need to get rid of some of the older stuff," Reed said.