Pride Amusements launches its second decade of operation this year under the leadership of Betty Burlingame and her son, James Burlingame. Together, they own the show that was founded in 2006 after the family sold Pride of Texas Shows to Doug and Christy Barton.
This year also marks the second season since Ed Burlingame, Betty's husband and James' father, died in April 2015. The Burlingame clan ran Pride of Texas Shows since the 1960s before deciding to sell that carnival. They had a second unit, dubbed "Pride Light" that played Kansas and Missouri, and decided to focus on that particular route. The family calls both Baxter Springs, Texas and Joplin, MO. home.
"I traveled with Ed for 38 years as his partner," Betty Burlingame said. "I took over after he passed away."
In addition to James Burlingame, Betty's grandson, Blake Burlingame, helps manage the family business that has returned to playing Texas over the past few years in addition to its traditional route covering country fairs and festivals in Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Arkansas.
On his own, James has three daughters, Avery (19), Mackenzie (17) and Emily (14), that help out by working food, games and the ticket booths.
"We play about 10 fairs," Betty said. "No state fairs. Ed always wanted to provide good, clean family fun to the communities. We tried doing state fairs with Wade Shows [in Oklahoma and New Mexico] but it was just too many hours for us."
As it stands this year, Pride Amusements will be out on the road until mid-November finishing the season in Austin, Texas. The 2016 campaign kicked off in late March at some shopping centers, including Muskogee,Okla. It's a spot the carnival has played for 10 years, setting up in the same location in the spring and the fall for two weeks at a time.
The show had 16 rides in the air in Muskogee, featuring $20 armbands. One week earlier,the show lost somedays due to rain at a shopping center in Georgetown, Texas, Betty said.
The show has several upgrades for 2016, including a new ARM Screamer that it expects to take delivery of by early May. The thrill ride is similar to a Kamikaze, Betty said.
Pride Amusements also purchased a new Ross Owens dark ride themed as a haunted house. It's not expected to arrive until September at which point it will join the show's Owens double-decker fun house. The manufacturer makes top of the line equipment that's easy to move, James said.
The show added four Dalton umbrella kiddie rides that fold up and load together on a flat-top trailer through the use of a forklift, Betty said. Separately, the carnival is refurbishing an Avalanche and an Eli Bridge 16 wheel.
The carnival owns a total of 28 rides. Apart from the new and remodeled equipment, Pride Amusements owns a Power Surge, Hang Glider, Stampede and a Planet Hollywood bought used two years ago. The carnival also bought new generators from Showmen's Supply. For most spots, Pride Amusements carries a maximum of 20 rides, which seems to the right fit for most of its events, Betty said.
On the concessions front, the show owns five games and books about five more games through independent David Trundy.
"We don't carry a lot of games because we like to give out a prize every time," Betty said. "This way, we have more control over the operation."
To keep midway patrons from getting hungry, the show carries the traditional popcorn wagon, cotton candy and funnel cake/corn dog trailers.
Pride Amusements' ticket prices will stay about the same as last year to provide the public with a good deal, Betty said. Armbands cost $20 to $25, and outside of those promotions, most rides take three to four tickets at a cost of $1 per ticket.
Low fuel costs have proven to be a double-edged sword, especially in Oklahoma and Texas, two states that depend heavily on the oil industry.
"The oil business is hurting but it's helped us out with our prices," Betty said.
Outside of the family, the carnival relies heavily on Ronnie Leighton, who serves as its office manager and marketing director. "He's been with us for 16 years and he's like a son to me," Betty said.
Leighton started a Facebook page for the carnival, recently launched a new web site
for the show, and takes care of the advertising efforts. In this age of digital media, radio and newspaper spots are still effective, especially in Hispanic markets, she said.
The carnival benefits from the H2B Visa program. This year, Pride Amusements hired 32 Mexican nationals, an increase over the typical 25 the show has employed over the past five years. Another 15 workers are American residents.
"We've spent thousands of dollars in ads for workers but it's tough to get someone to travel," Betty said. "It also seems like you can't hire many American workers that can pass the drug tests."