Brown's Amusements is taking a shortcut this year. To
save on expenses, Danny Brown, owner/operator of the Mesa, Ariz. carnival, has
made the decision to tighten his route and reduce the number of miles the show
will travel in 2016.
The 40-ride show has made adjustments that include
eliminating dates in Montana and western Colorado. The carnival will instead
focus on playing additional events in Utah and Idaho in addition to keeping its
schedule intact in Colorado and Arizona, where it starts the season in January.
The carnival celebrates its 20th season of operation this
year. Danny Brown and his wife Sherry have made a good living over the past two
decades by covering territory stretching deep into Montana. But the cost to
move lots of equipment has become too expensive despite the historic drops in
fuel prices, Brown said.
In addition, some events in western Colorado have dried
up after the oil industry pulled out of the region, taking with it a key driver
for the local economy. "It was once full of rigs, but since prices went
down, it's a different deal," he said.
"We went from Colorado all the way into the northern
end of Montana, then back down south with [more than 500] miles
in-between," Brown said. "By [cutting the route] and with the new
dates we picked up, I think we made a wise decision. Don't get me wrong, the
Montana fairs we played were good dates, but it was a long way to go."
In addition, Brown went through major back surgery in
November 2014 at Duke University at the hands of Dr. Robert Issacs, a
specialist in spinal surgery. The end result: Brown was out of commission for
six weeks, and at age 59, he feels the road less traveled will help keep him in
better shape over the long term.
Brown declined to mention the new fairs he's signed in
Utah and Idaho, in part because those events were still in the process of
notifying the carnivals previously contracted for those dates. If all goes as
planned, the carnival will spend up to five weeks in Idaho starting in late
July through August, after spending most of June and early July in Utah. From
Salt Lake City, it's 140 miles to the show's first spot in Idaho. The carnival
eventually makes its way to Boise, a 250-mile jump.
The show has played Utah for many years. In 2015, the
carnival picked up Fiesta Days in Spanish Fork, Utah. The festival celebrates
July 24, a Mormon holiday akin to the
Fourth of July, Brown said. During its Utah run, Brown's Amusements dips into
Wyoming for a single date, the Sweetwater County Fair in Rock Springs. It's a strong
date that last year drew national acts Martina McBride and the Eli Young Band.
Closer to home, Brown's Amusements recently completed a
New Year's Eve event organized by the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian
Community, a reservation that's part of the city of Scottsdale. The show set up
17 rides, six games and a food stand for the event running Dec. 29-31. It's
been a mainstay for the past 12 to 14 years, effectively replacing an old
festival tied to the Fiesta Bowl when the college bowl game was played at Sun
Devil Stadium. The game has since moved to University of Phoenix Stadium, home
of the NFL's Arizona Cardinals.
From there, the carnival moves to Sells, Ariz., near the
border with Mexico, to play a fair and
rodeo produced by the Tohono O'odham Nation. The event is closing in on 80
years of existence and this will be the show's 18th year there, Brown said.
Dates are Jan. 28-31. A few more spring rodeos and festivals in Arizona, plus
the Clark County Fair in Logandale, Nev., about 50 miles northeast of Las
Vegas, lead up to the Utah portion of the route.
Brown was born in the town of East Carbon, Utah, a tiny
mining community. In 2014, it was consolidated with the neighboring city of
Sunnyside to form East Carbon-Sunnyside. He also lived in Mead, Utah but grew
up in Denver. Danny and Sherry Brown are both second generation showpeople.
Danny got his start in the carnival business as a games concessionaire with Ray
Cammack Shows. He also booked games with the old B&B Amusements.
Over the past 20 years, the Brown family has developed a
show that has garnered three OABA Circle of Excellence awards, including
recognition for the 2015 season. The Outdoor Amusements Business Association,
the trade group for carnivals, bestows the award to companies meeting goals for
helping to educate the industry and produce a positive image for mobile
For the 2016 season, Brown's Amusements is awaiting the
delivery of a new KMG Freak Out. The show purchased the piece last fall after
somebody canceled a previous order. KMG had an "open slot" and the
Dutch manufacturer contacted Danny Brown to see if he was interested in
fulfilling the order. The ride's cost
keeps going down as the U.S. dollar gains strength against the Euro. What was
initially a $725,000 piece is now down to about $600,000, according to Brown.
"We've been meaning to buy a Freak Out and jumped on
it," he said. "It should be delivered by mid-March. It has all the
bells and whistles. It's the first time we had a new European ride. We've
bought rides over the years but to go to Europe and get one built is a first
time for us. It's going to add a lot to our show."
Last fall, the show debuted a new Hitchhiker burger and
fry wagon and it's been a tremendous upgrade to the food operation, Brown said.
The carnival typically runs two units, each split into
about 20 rides. The Yuma County (Ariz.) Fair is an exception. At that spot,
Brown's Amusements sets up all of its equipment to meet the demand. Last year,
Butler Amusements supplied some rides as well for a 50-piece midway.
For the Browns, winter quarters in Greater Phoenix stays
busy from early January through the second week of May. Ten workers in the shop
get a lot done in the spring when temperatures are more moderate in the desert
climate, Danny said.
The show will stand firm on ride ticket prices for 2016.
Single tickets cost $1. Advance sale wristbands are generally $20 and $30 on
site. Brown's Amusements is one of the few carnivals to go cashless by selling
tokens on the midway, which are good for rides, games and food. The company has
used tokens since 2009. It's a simple system where the tokens can be re-used
and provide safeguards against employee theft of cash.
Brown gives credit to fellow carnival owner Pat Crabtree
for initiating the system several years ago and building a model for other
carnivals to follow. "We're moving every singe week and the machines are
easy to load and unload," he said.
On the labor front, Brown is a firm believer in hiring
international workers. He's been doing it for the past 12 years, through a a
seasonal labor agency headed by Jim Judson. All told, the carnival has about 70
Mexican Nationals on its payroll. Seven of the original 12 hired by the
carnival in its first year of using internationals are still with the show.
"They come up on buses and get their visas checked
out," Brown said. "In late October, we give them airline tickets to
fly home. We're consistent in our route and need plenty of employees in
Arizona, and this is our best choice. No one [from Mexico] wants to live here.
They all take care of their families back home."