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Mighty Thomas Carnival celebrates 21 years at the Montana State Fair

10/10/2014

By Linda McNatt

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The weather was perfect during the 2014 Montana State Fair. The sun was shining and temperatures were in the high 80s.

Good weather isn't always something you can count on in Great Falls, Montana, said Kim Lander, director of sales and marketing for the fair.

"I've seen snow in August around here," she said, with a chuckle. "We have crazy weather. Last year, we had two days of inclement weather that kept our attendance numbers down. This year, it was really warm in the afternoons, so we had our high attendance in the evening hours."

The weather really fluctuates in this area about 100 miles south of the Canadian border. Fair officials thought themselves lucky that it was beautiful during the nine days between July 25 and August 2.

Numbers hadn't been compiled yet, said Lander, so she had no way of saying how much attendance was up over previous years, but, she said they are expecting there will be an increase in attendance numbers and midway revenue

For the 21st straight year, the Mighty Thomas Carnival brought a little bit of everything to the midway. The towering Century Wheel, the spinning Thunderbolt and the Zipper were all popular rides, as well as the Pharoah's Fury. The Spider, Moby Dick, and the Supershot were also at the 2014 fair.

Monster Trucks, Frog Hopper and Surf's Up were three new rides at the Montana fair this year.

The kids' carnival portion of the midway was tucked safely in the shade beneath 80-year-old cottonwood trees. The rides for the children included the Martian Maze, the Barnyard, the Speedway, the Rio Grande Train and live ponies.

For family enjoyment, there was the Cobra Coaster, the Up, Up and Away and the Airport. 

The Thomas Carnival also provided rest areas, benches, landscaping, even a convenience store for customers. 

Great Falls is a city in and the country seat of Cascade County, Montana, according to Wikepedia. The population of the area is just under 60,000. Great Falls was the largest city in Montana from 1950 to 1970, when Billings surpassed it. Great Falls is now the third largest city in the state.

The city takes its name from the series of five waterfalls in close proximity along the upper Missouri Riverbasin that the Lewis and Clark expedition had to portage around over a ten mile stretch; the effort required 31 days during the western leg of their 1805-1806 exploration of the Louisiana Purchase and to the Pacific Northwest Coast of the Oregon Country. Each falls today has a hydroelectric dam. Great Falls is nicknamed Electric City.

The Montana State Fair started in 1931. The fair is funded by Cascade County. The fair was advertised through electronic media, social media, radio, television, cable TV and print, both magazines and newspaper. Lander said the advertising budget this year was $85,000.

Gate admission for adults was $8 and $5 for senior citizens and youth. Parking was $5. 

There were plenty of opportunities to get a discount on the admission, said Lander. She said the general public could pick up coupons for $2 off or they could take advantage of the car-load discount. Car load day was held on July 29. Vehicles filled to capacity with passengers entered the fair for $15.

In addition to the midway, there was definitely no lack of entertainment at the 2014 Montana State Fair.

"There were 22 complete exhibition departments, the junior livestock show and the rodeo," said Lander.

There were five nights of competitive rodeo action at the 2014 PRCA Big Sky Pro rodeo roundup, featuring all seven major rodeo events, such as bull riding, bronc riding, roping and bull wrestling. Payouts were expected to top $110,000 this year. Stock was provided by Sankey Pro Rodeo. A reserved seating package for all five nights of the rodeo was $85.

Reserved individual tickets and general admission tickets for a single performance were $21. Single performance general admission for adults was $13 and single performance youth general admission was $7.

Big Sky Pro Rodeo Roundup Queen 2014 was Lindsay Garpestad, 20 year-old daughter of Vonda Harrison and the late Lonny Garpestad. Lindsay grew up in Fort Shaw, Montana, and in 2011, she graduated from Charles M. Russell High School. Growing up, Lindsay actively showed livestock, horses, and dogs in 11 years of 4H and open association as well as ran barrels, poles and goat tied. 4H also developed her love of photography inspiring her to start her own photography business. She is currently pursuing degrees in political science and business administration with a concentration in marketing at Carroll Collegein Helena, Montana. 

She has recently been nominated for membership to the Sigma Beta Delta, the highest national recognition a business student can achieve at a college or university with the Sigma Beta Delta chapter. Lindsay plans to attend law school after graduating from college.

The fair also had some of the hottest concerts of the summer. Premium access reserved seating included Tesla, Summerland Tour 2014 and David Nail with special guest Maggie Rose. A headliner was country music star Jake Owen with special guest Old Dominion. Lander said Owen was a "very country, very popular act."

Owen is a singer and a song writer. Barefoot Blue Jean Night has been called one of the "most innovative and refreshing country collections of the year." The CD's title tune is exploding as Owen's biggest hit of his career so far. He's also known for "Anywhere With You,"  "Apple Pie Moonshine," "The One That Got Away," and "Wide Awake." Owen was named 2009's Top New Male Vocalist by the Academy of Country Music.

David Nail and Tesla joined in on the concert schedule. Concerts had various prices, charged in addition to the fair admission.

For many of those who attended the fair, the grand finale of the entertainment came on the night of August 1, when the live cage fights were staged. It was a different kind of entertainment, said Lander, something that really appealed to the crowds. At a cost of $25, the fight was presented by 221 Industries. The event was a first for the Montana State Fair.

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