Chris Barton is part of the new blood in the carnival industry. He's only 22 but experienced beyond his years as co-owner of Pride of Texas Shows with his father, Doug Barton.
The younger Barton was born in Elm Mott, Texas. It's where the show calls home and he has good lineage. The family's roots date to Wayne Mayberry, Chris Barton's great-grandfather who ran dozers with Ray Cammack Shows. Now, many years later, Chris Barton is one of the industry's youngest carnival owners.
"I run the company," he said in early December during a small winter wonderland spot in downtown Waco. "I've been doing this since I could walk and talk."
Doug Barton, meanwhile, worked many years as head electrician for the old Bill Hames Shows, a Texas institution, an
d the late Buster Brown. He left the Hames operation in 2006 and that year he bought Pride of Texas Shows from Ed Burlingame, another Lone Star State show veteran.
Chris' father already owned a few rides under B&H Rides, his own company. Together, Doug and Chris bought seven rides, a route and winter quarters from Burlingame.
Over the past eight years, the Barton family have grown the show to 30 attractions. For this past season, Chris Barton purchased a new Vertigo that he booked with Belle City Amusements at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines and Mighty Thomas Shows at the Washington Parish Free Fair in Franklinton, La. In addition, he bought four Hampton kiddies from Kevin Dalton that were recently delivered after being ordered at the Gibtown trade show in February. Those rides debut in January at the Kleburg Kenedy County Livestock Show in Kingsville, Texas.
Some of the show's rides have been refurbished, including an old Starship 2000 that was redone from the ground up over the past two years at Wisdom Manufacturing's plant in Colorado. It's been re-themed as the Alien Abduction. It may carry the same Vehicle Identification Number from 1989 but it's basically a new ride, Chris Barton said. In early December, it was sitting in Wisdom's shop 800 miles away waiting for pickup.
Another piece that's been missing for awhile from the Pride of Texas midway is the Sartori Balloon Wheel. For the past three years, officials have been remodeling the five-tub ride and it will rejoin the lineup in 2015.
Separately, the Bartons acquired a second Otterbacher Lifetime Bunkhouse, a sturdy all-aluminum structure with floor vents conducive to pressure washing the structure. The 53-foot-long trailer sleeps 25 and has an air-conditioning window unit. When it's parked, a cantina folds out from the trailer to cook meals with an awing for protection against the Texas sun. The investment runs about $70,000 depending on the "extras," Chris Barton said, but it's worth the cost. Those bunkhouses last four times longer than a typical sleeper, he said.
The show's new portable ATM machines are another Otterbacher acquisition, and the current upgrades extend to most rides that have been outfitted with LED light packages from Denny's Electronics. The show colors are bright pink and blue and the trucks reflect that scheme, Barton said.
Pride of Texas has a solid route, playing a total of 43 fairs, livestock shows and street festivals run by civic organizations such as the Lions Club and Shriners. They're busy from January through November traveling through Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas, stretching as far south as Laredo, Texas to as far north as Topeka, Kansas.
The state of Kansas represents the mid-point of the season in July before the carnival "turns around comes back" toward Texas, Chris Barton said. Almost every date is an old Burlingame spot originating from the 1970s.
That being said, Pride of Texas is looking at the potential of adding some New Mexico dates for the 2015 season, he said. The carnival uses a mix of domestic and international workers. The Bartons have gradually increased their participation in the H2B Visa program. Two years ago, they hired 15 workers from Veracruz, Mexico and last year they employed 40. For the 2015 season, that number will grow to 45, Barton said. Some American workers date to Bill Hames Shows working for Buster Brown and Gehrie Aten. One is electrician Steven Marroquin, who's worked for Doug Barton for close to 30 years. Doug still lays out the lot and does odd jobs. Together, Chris and Doug Barton do the booking and take care of many of the carnival's technical issues.