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Aside from the severe California drought, Butler Amusements reports good start to season on the West Coast

7/1/2015

By Don Muret

Photo courtesy of Don Muret

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SAN MATEO, Calif. --- Butler Amusements' assistant manager Jesse Bogue walks into his office trailer and pulls out a sheet of paper listing the carnival's 2015 route. Follow the lines in yellow marker and you get an indication of the sheer size of the Fairfield, Calif. show. At several points over the season, the show splits six units spread over California, Oregon and Washington.

Somehow, Butler officials manage to keep it all straight in booking 120 events for a company that owns between 140 and 150 rides. Forty-five years after it was founded in 1970, by George "Bud" and Evalyn Butler, and their son, Earl "Butch" Butler, the carnival rivals North America's biggest shows.

Here at the San Mateo County Fair, about halfway between San Francisco and San Jose, Bogue is part of a unit runPhoto By Don Muret by Mick Brajevich, the carnival's president and CEO. Mick's wife, Chris, is the daughter of Butch Butler, who died in December 2011. Butler's five children own the carnival. The booking is done in Fairfield and winter quarters are in Santa Nella, Calif. The corporate address is Beaverton, Ore.

At San Mateo, Butler set up 30 rides and attractions, including the Freak Out, 1,001 Nachts, the Super Shot, a drop tower, Thunder Bolt and Mardi Gras fun house. Four food trailers and 20 games completed the midway. On Friday, June 12, the show's ride special was a $30 wristband. Students showing their school IDs got $5 off gate admission. Free concerts during the week boasted Jefferson Starship, Tony! Toni! Tone!, Tower of Power, The Charlie Daniels Band and Sheila E.

It's the seventh year the carnival has played the fair. For Bogue, it's his fifth year at San Mateo since coming back to Butler after spending several years with Ray Cammack Shows. Bogue strictly booked games during his previous stint with Butler. Now, he has additional responsibilities in a management position.

Bogue also operates games on the show through his company called Boguey's Concessions. It was founded by his father, Andy Bogue, now retired, and his mother, Linda, fondly known as "Pinky." 

Elsewhere in California, Bogue's wife, Lisa and three children, Brandon, Aspen and Savannah, were busy working games at the San Diego County Fair, commonly called Del Mar. They're entrenched in Del Mar for five weekends at the fair that runs through the Fourth of July.

To this point, the season has been a very good one for Butler, according to Bogue. The weather has been great with little rain. Unfortunately, Butler is generating revenue at the expense of  severe drought affecting the agricultural community and municipalities over the past several years in California. In April, for the first time in California history, Gov. Jerry Brown ordered statewide water cutbacks to reduce water use by 25 percent by the end of this year.

"They need the rain, but that being said, it's worked well for us," Bogue said.

After San Mateo, this particular unit headed for the Shasta District Fair in Anderson, Calif. The 220-mile jump provided a challenge for the show closing at 11 p.m. on Sunday before opening the following Wednesday. And the final day at San Mateo is by far the best day, Bogue said. All told, there would be 40 to 50 loads moving north on Highway 101, he said.

Separately, another Butler unit was headed to the Alameda County Fair in Pleasanton, a big spot for the show. Following Independence Day, Bogue was set to meet up with his wife and kids at the Stanislaw County Fair in Turlock, Calif.

"We do the Marin County Fair and close Fourth of July weekend," he said. "Then we head north to Hillsboro, Ore., before we jump into Washington for two months to play five good fairs." The list covers Clark Country, Chehalis County, the Evergreen State Fair, typically one of the top 50 attended fairs in North America, the Interstate Fair in Spokane and the Washington State Fair in Yakima. Then it's back to California for some still spots in California, Bogue said.

Butler picked up a new date for 2015, the National Orange Show in San Bernadino. The dates were April 22-26.

With an arsenal of well over 100 pieces, it may seem difficult to pinpoint new purchases, but Bogue says the show's most recent acquisitions include a trailer-mounted kiddie spinning coaster and and KMG Inversion to be delivered next year. 

It's no surprise that Butler's winter quarters is a year-round operation, stripping down and refurbishing rides, bunkhouses and other support equipment in assembly-line like fashion. Many rides are being upgraded with LED light packages. Butler employs a dozen full-time workers at winter quarters and adds extra employees when needed as they peel off from some of the smaller spots the carnival plays over the course of the season.

For Bogue's unit alone, there were about five rides refurbished this year, including a Rio Grande train, Tilt-a-Whirl, Zipper and the Eagle-16 wheel, equipped with new LED lights.

On the road, the carnival's work force is 95 percent international workers, mostly from Mexico. Many have been working for Butler for the past 12 years since the show tapped into the H2B Visa program. They use a temporary labor agency run by Jim Judkins. "We always battle every year with the government over the program, Bogue said.

Bogue shares duties with Dean McArter, another assistant manager. Lee Norwood is ride supervisor. Sally Shaffer, Patty West work the office, as well as Jody Norwood and Misty McArter, the wives of Dean and Lee, respectively. 

Andrea Owen and Rich Bynum handle booking for all Butler events.

Richard Dueberry, a familiar face for those covering the industry over the years, has been a valuable addition for Butler. Dueberry spent many years with Murphy Bros. Exposition before moving to Butler Amusements. Dueberry then left to work for Happy World Shows before coming back to Butler.

"We're glad he's here," Bogue said. "He's a jack-of-all-trades. He gets up at 7 a.m. and goes to work. We don't have to worry about him."

Boguey Concessions, meanwhile, owns 30 games split between Bogue's unit and a smaller unit that plays Washington exclusively during the season. 

All told, his games business employs 45 workers. Bogue keeps his equipment in good shape through the use of graphic wraps, which have replaced the old-school paint jobs for renovating game trailers. It's more expensive but it lasts longer, he said.

The balloon dart remains his most popular game. Overall, the Bogue business distributes merchandise about 30 percent of the time. This year, the hot plush item is the donut, made by Classic Toys and other suppliers which comes in several colors and can be worn like a hat the winner's head. 

Bogue, 45, like many in the business, has been involved in it all his life. "It makes me tick," he said. "I'm blessed. I wouldn't do anything else. I owe it all to my father. He paved the way for me."

















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