Speaking with Amy Bates is like meeting up with an old friend. Her warmth and enthusiasm make time fly faster than a roller coaster.
Exuberance plus "smarts" make for a very powerful combination. Amy exemplifies all of the qualities that Bates Brothers has given this world for half a century: competence, commitment, diligence, passion, sincerity... The list goes on.
The original Bates Brothers are Amy's father, Eric, and Amy's uncle, Geary. The YouTube video, "Bates Brothers: First 50 Years," explains how their companies began.
Geary and Eric grew up in Wintersville, Ohio during the 1950s. Their neighbors at the time, the Gambill family, had "pony rings that were set up at local events." The boys were lucky enough to work for the Gambills and get their first taste of carnival excitement early on.
With the purchase of some mechanical rides, Gambill Amusement Company was formed. By 1965, the Bates Brothers (with help from their parents, James and Dorothy Bates) bought a ride of their own, the Rock-O-Plane.
Upon the 1975 retirement of Mr. Gambill, the company name "changed to Gambill and Bates Brothers Amusement Company, and eventually to Bates Brothers Amusement Company." The Bates Brothers were now on the fast track to success.
During the 1980s, "a second unit was formed, and Geary and Eric were each heading out on independent routes." By 1993, "needs, ideas, and families" were growing to the point that the business was restructured into two companies: Bates Amusement Inc. (Geary Bates and family), and Bates Brothers Amusement Company (Eric Bates and family).
Amy Bates added some of her own memories to this history: "When I was about seven, I began to say, 'Hey! I want to help!' So I got a great start early on. I never had to be home schooled; I was always in public school."
"We usually didn't begin until May, and we'd begin close to home, so school was never an issue. In the fall, I would be home during the week with my grandma, and then go to the fair on the weekends."
"Uncle Robby, Dad's and Uncle Geary's brother, was also such an integral part of the business. The three brothers were very close-knit. Uncle Robby had a popcorn trailer and a French-fry trailer back then. He also did a whole lot of other things, such as electric and parts work."
Amy added, "My aunts and my cousins and my grandparents were also very involved."
Amy Bates continued, "This truly is a family business, and I'm so proud of all my family. What a wonderful thing it is to actually be able to work with your family. Even after all these years, we're so strongly bonded."
"My mother had eight brothers and sisters, so during the summer my aunts help out in the ticket boxes, and my uncles with CDLs help to move things on the weekends. Also, General Manager Kevin Mitchell has been my right-hand man for many years."
"A lot of what we do now is what we did then. I remember my dad and uncle working hard during the winter months, refurbishing rides and going to meetings. They would work hand in hand with the inspectors and the manufacturers."
"Once you've operated a ride, set it up and torn it down, an engineering part of the mind kicks in. So during the winter they were actually redesigning a few key features."
This tradition now continues year-round. The Bates Brothers Amusement Company website explains: "We operate a state-of-the-art maintenance facility in Wintersville, Ohio where our equipment is serviced throughout the year by a staff of experienced mechanics and personnel."
The website adds: "Our midways are managed on-site and each family member is actively involved in daily operations." Amy elaborates, "My sister Michelle and her husband Brad Dallman operate one unit, and Kevin and I operate another. Michelle does similar things to what I do; we both do set-ups, manage employees, field customer complaints, run ticket sales, and lots more."
"My uncle's company also travels through Ohio quite a bit, and we help one another out. Last year when I needed a certain piece of equipment, my cousins came and brought it right over."
Joys and Challenges
Amy loves to be "a fly on the wall" while strolling anonymously through the midway. She observes the excitement in children's eyes as they experience their favorite rides and foods. In her words: "As the sun goes down and the lights all come on, you get to see the customer's eyes light up as well."
The company also loves to support its local community. Amy explained, "I was born and raised in Wintersville, and my dad was from just a few miles away. We do various things for schools, nonprofits and businesses. This Friday we'll be holding a dueling-piano fundraiser for our animal shelter."
The vast amount of paperwork is somewhat daunting. Amy stated, "We've always prioritized safety beyond a shadow of a doubt. This involves filling out everything and getting it turned in on time."
"Even though we're not a trucking company, we still have to follow trucking standards. There are many regulations and licensing issues to adhere to with that. You want to follow all these rules and regs, but everything is constantly changing. So you have to continually keep up with that."
Nevertheless, Amy concludes, "I am very fortunate to enjoy what I do. I truly love it. I went to Kent State for business management, and decided around that time that I wanted to make the family business my life's work. I'm blessed to have all the continued support from family and friends."
Some day, "Bates Sisters" Amy and Michelle may be looking back at their own 50 years. Just what might they say at that time? Amy thinks that she might turn to Michelle and exclaim, "Wow! What a life's journey we've had together."
In other words: "What a ride!"
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