Elliott's Amusements has experienced a solid but sweltering season playing its home state of Michigan. The carnival, steeped in tradition with ties to Glenn Wade, Red Wood and Jim Elliott, is on the back side of completing a run of eight county fairs, including a new date, the Otsego County Fair in Gaylord, Mich.
The show acquired the date as a result of other carnivals "shuffling around" their events, according to Debbie Elliott, the company's co-owner with her husband Tracy. Otsego County sits north of most of the fairs Elliott's plays on the west side of the state but it still fits in well with routing, she said.
The fair ran Aug. 14-20 and the carnival set up 18 rides, including its Bear Affair and Tempest, two new attractions on this year's midway. The carnival's other attraction
s include an Ali Baba, a Zipper, Sea Ray, bumper cars, Tilt-a-Whirl, Eli Hi-5 wheel, Rock & Roll, a Mulligan swing, Paratrooper and Flying Bobs.
Kiddieland attractions include a merry-go-round, slide, Berry spin ride, Croc & Roll, Sugar Shack,helicopter, Apple Worm, Spider Mania and the Crystal Lil's glass house, a Ross Owens piece.
In addition to the new rides, the carnival built a new shop as part of its winter quarters in Danville, Mich., a few miles away from the Elliott family home in Mason.
It's been very hot this summer in the upper Midwest, which has kept the crowds down a bit, but when the weather breaks the midway is full of people, Elliott said. The economy is getting better in Michigan, although it's been a long struggle to get the auto manufacturing industry back on its feet in Michigan, she said.
That being said, Elliott sees the agricultural-based fairs thriving in Michigan. It's a positive sign considering county fairs are the life blood of mid-size shows such as Elliott's Amusements and help keep those family operations in business in an industry that has seen several carnivals go out of business over the past five years.
The show relies heavily on international labor to make it all work. For the 2016 season, Elliott's is employing 23 Mexican nationals. Of that total, one is a new worker and the rest have worked for the carnival for multiple years. The H2B Visa program has proven to be a godsend for the carnival. The show gets its foreign workers through JKJ Workforce and Debbie Elliott can't say enough good things about the agency.
"They've done an awesome job for us," she said. "[Company owner] Jim Judkins has totally devoted his life to making sure the program works. We would all be in big trouble without it."
In late August, the show had two more county fairs to play before heading to Greater Detroit to play a half-dozen Catholic church festivals and community celebrations. Those events: St. Alfred's, St. Linus, River Rouge Days, St. Thomas the Apostle, St. Mary's and the Red Flannel Festival. The carnival's final day of operation is Oct. 9.
This year marks the show's 16th season after Tracy Elliott left Wade Shows to start his own carnival. Nick Elliott, Debbie and Tracy's son, is the general manager and he owns rides and games. His wife Kasey owns games and a bungee ride.
Jim Elliott, Tracy's father, owns a lemonade stand. He also serves as treasurer of the International Independent Showmen's Museum in Gibsonton, Fla.
Dorothy Alverson, a longtime family friend, is the office manager. Debbie Elliott has been in the carnival business her entire life. She grew up on the old Midway of Fun show, a Minnesota outfit owned by Ray Drescher.