ST.PAUL, Minn. ---- Gopher State Exposition feels right at home at the Minnesota State Fair. The St. Cloud, Minn. carnival is one of the few in-state operators to book equipment at one of North America's premier fairs.
Randy Forcier represented the show here, booking the company's 1001 Nachts, Zipper and Kamikaze. Gopher State has been a part of the Mighty Midway since 2007. The carnival started out booking the Kamikaze only before adding the 1001 Nachts and the Zipper over the next two years. The state fair works well with the carnival's route considering its proximity to other spots in Minnesota.
"Things have changed so much over the years with the independent midway," Forcier said. "People buy and sell equipment mo
re frequently. For us, with just three pieces, it makes it pretty good. I don't have to go very far to make money."
This year has produced some of the best weather in recent history in the upper Midwest, something to be thankful for considering the relatively short window for summer in Minnesota.
"It's been great and the people are coming out, Forcier said. "We've had some heat and a little rain. Otherwise, it's been perfect."
Gopher State's season starts the second week of May in the Twin Cities and the carnival moves around Minneapolis-St. Paul for about two months through the July 4 holiday. From that point, the carnival plays seven Minnesota county fairs before heading back to the Twin Cities region.
The seven fairs: Hennepin, Winona, Sherburne, Anoka, Beltrami, Benton and Itasca. Most of the county fairs are in southern Minnesota.
The show dips into Iowa to play the Big 4 Fair in Nashua and this weekend's National Cattle Congress in Waterloo, Iowa (Sept. 17-20). Nashua is about 30 miles north of Waterloo, with a week between those spots.
The Cattle Congress used to be one of the bigger special events in the Hawkeye State. It has downsized over the past several years but It remains the perfect spot for a mid-sized show such as Gopher State with 25 rides and attractions, Forcier said. For most events, Gopher State books 16 to 18 pieces, he said. Tony Forcier, Randy's brother, takes care of the unit's Iowa business.
The carnival closes the season Oct. 3 for the Concordia (Minn.) University homecoming celebration.
Help has been strong this year. Forcier is a big supporter of foreign labor. He hires 20 internationals, split evenly between Mexico and Lithuania. Eight to 10 of the show's regular employees are U.S.-born workers.
Forcier met his wife a few years ago through the J1 Visa student program. Edita Forcier was working for a food operator in Minnesota when she met Randy. They have been married 10 years and have 11-month old twin girls, Nora and Kamila. During the state fair, Edita ran a food stand in the International Bazaar.
The carnival recently bought a used Spider and is renovating the ride at its winter quarters. In addition, Gopher State purchased a spinning car ride from Modern Amusement Group, a Chinese company. It's currently being trailer mounted in the shop. Both pieces will hit the road in 2016.
The show has been hit hard by higher insurance costs after one of its employees was hit by the 1001 Nachts a few years ago. He is lucky to be alive, Forcier said. "Our agent says the rates will go back down," he said. "With foreign workers, payroll itself is higher and [what we pay] for workmen's comp is based on payroll."
Randy's father, Art Forcier, 79, and Shirley, 68, still help move the show , according to Randy. Shirley works the ticket office and the popper as well. They bought the show in 1968 from Art's father, Art Forcier Sr., and renamed it Gopher State Exposition in 1981. Art Sr. formed Gopher State Shows in 1948.