Deggeller Attractions officials have high expectations for 2016 after making some big ride purchases over the past several months, including a new roller coaster and a claw ride.
The most recent acquisition is a Zierer Flitzer coaster, which Deggeller bought in November from an amusement park in New Jersey, according to Heidi Elsperman, daughter of show owners Don and Kathy Deggeller. The piece will be refurbished in winter quarters and it should be operational by the end of the spring season in Florida, the carnival's home state.
The Flitzer joins the Riptide and Wild Mouse as Deggeller's third portable coaster. It has a smaller footprint than the other two coasters, giving fairs with the attendance to warrant a coaster an option without taking up too much acreage, Elsper
Separately, the show purchased a KMG Afterburner at the International Independent Showmen's Association trade show in February. The claw ride, which holds 24 passengers, costs between $700,000 and $900,000, and is scheduled for delivery in March 2017. The deal was done directly through KMG's representative, Peter Theunisz, Elsperman said.
"The good news is those are Euro dollars," he said. "There is an upside to doing business overseas."
For several years, Deggeller featured a claw ride owned by independent Jason Floyd before he moved it to a park in Myrtle Beach through a deal with Amusements of America. It was a rider favorite and show officials felt it was something their midway needed after Floyd made his decision to relocate the piece, she said.
A third new ride, a Ross Owen Magic Maze, made its debut midway through the 2015 season after the show took delivery in August. A new Dalton Farm Tractor kiddie ride, a big hit with agricultural fairs, completed this year's investments.
The show had a strong season despite the State Fair of Virginia taking a big hit from Hurricane Joaquin. Deggeller Attractions, like many carnivals playing the Southeast in early fall, couldn't escape the torrential rains that wreaked havoc with special events throughout the region.
Marlene Pierson-Joliffe, in her second year as manager after coming over the State Fair of West Virginia, made the decision to cut the fair short by three days due to the extreme weather, Elsperman said. The first seven days of the fair were no picnic either. Deggeller's midway was open during that time frame but it rained all but one day, making it tough for the show to make any money.
"The entire state was flooded and the governor declared a state of emergency," Elsperman said. "State troopers were deployed and the fair manager made the decision on Thursday [Oct. 1] to close the rest of the fair."
The good news is that state fairs in Arkansas and Maryland, where Deggeller holds the contracts, both experienced record runs.
"We certainly needed it [in Arkansas] on the heels of Virginia, Elsperman said.
In Timonium, where the Maryland State Fair ran from Aug. 28 to Sept. 7, Deggeller experienced the best weather it's ever seen playing that event, she said. The carnival set up between 35 and 38 rides at that spot.
The Maryland State Fair got a boost from programming on the infield at the horse racing track in the midst of the fairgrounds. A Latin music festival and a horse festival, giving fairgoers more entertainment options and increasing fair attendance as a whole, she said.
In Little Rock, Deggeller ran a slightly bigger midway with 47 rides and attractions. The Arkansas State Fair ran from Oct. 9-18. A Dollar Day promotion, where gate admission, parking and ride tickets all cost $1, drove attendance. The fair also has a strong advance sales program.
Ride armbands were $23 in Maryland and $27 in Arkansas. The price in Virginia was $18 for weekdays and $25 on weekends as Deggeller did its best to draw crowds between the rain drops.
"The positive side of Virginia was Marlene was absolutely wonderful to work with," Elsperman said. "She did a great job despite a tough year."
On the labor front, Deggeller is doing its best to hire more American workers in addition to using some international help. Through a new incentive program, U.S. residents already employed by Deggeller who bring other Americans on board get a $300 bonus if those new hires stay with the show through the entire season. To date, only a few have taken advantage of the offer.
"Hopefully, it will get better, Elsperman said. "It's tough finding them. A lot of people don't like to travel and would rather stay at home."
Deggeller hits the road again in mid-February, starting with the Marin County Fair in its hometown of Stuart, Fla. It will be the show's 39th season after the Deggeller family founded the carnival in 1979.
Heidi and Andy Deggeller, her brother, run the carnival full-time now with assistance from their parents, who are now semi-retired. Andy's wife, Jamie, the daughter of veteran game concessionaire Candy Anderson, runs the show office. Heidi's husband, Cliff Elsperman, is the show electrician.