ST. PAUL, Minn. --- Mike Demas is widely recognized as one of the best independent ride operators in the carnival industry. As proof, Demas has been a mainstay at the Minnesota State Fair for many years, booking his spectacular attractions on the Mighty Midway.
This year, his KMG Rock-It stood front and center in Minnesota, as it has since its debut here in 2010. Demas has owned the ride for 11 years and he says it's been grossing more money this year it did when he first got the piece in 2005.
The ride is modeled after KMG's Freak Out, but its motion takes t
he extra spin-tingling step by taking riders through a full 360-degree swing compared with its predecessor.
"Its appeal will not fall off," Demas said. "You eliminate some of your market when you go upside down ... for this ride, it takes more of a risk-taker."
The Rock-It placed ninth among the Mighty Midway's top attractions, according to data supplied by Jim Sinclair, the state fair's deputy manager.
All told, Minnesota's 61 total rides grossed $4,084,481.41 million, a record for the fair since it went independent in 1995. In dollars, the gross was up $136,548.30 over the 2015 event, amounting to a 3.5 percent increase. Notably, the fair has not increased ride and game tickets since 2014, Sinclair said.
It was good news for Demas as he winds down the 2016 season and introduces a new piece at the State Fair of Texas, which runs Sept. 30 through Oct. 23. The same "risk takers" who flock to rides such as the Freak Out and Rock-It should also gravitate to the Konga, another KMG product.
The manufacturer named it the X-Factor and Demas went with a jungle theme for a ride that costs more than $600,000. It arrived in mid-September at a port in Baltimore, according to KMG's website.
Demas described it as a "Gee Wizz type" attraction. It fits on one truck and has the flexibility to fit in smaller locations. It appeals to a younger crowd, Demas said. It's the second portable X-Factory delivered to the U.S. behind Drew Exposition's ride. Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk has a permanent installation. Demas expects it to be a hit at Fair Park.
"In Dallas, those rides do well," he said. "It's our home and we gear purchases to that spot. I live 10 minutes from the fairgrounds and it's all by design."
This is Demas' 47th year in the business. He got his start in Dallas as a teen-ager, making $75 a week. Demas worked about 15 years for independents Dwayne Steck and Lowell Staph at the state fair. They ran Amusements, Inc. and kept an office at Fair Park, where the state fair is held.
Demas also spent 20 years working at Casino Pier in New Jersey. His experience has taught him to dress up his attractions with scenery and lighting exceeding the manufacturer's specifications. The Rock-It is one example with its multi-color scheme.
"I always put more [theming] on it; that's why they call it show biz," Demas said. "KMG builds a good product. Nobody's perfect but the ride doesn't give us a lot of grief. There's not a lot of maintenance required, but at the same time, you've got to take care of it."
According to a press released issued by NewRidesEurope.com, The 'Konga' has several extras like stainless steel lapbars, RGB (LED) lighting, 18 water jets, hydraulic leveling cylinders, stainless steel railings, a 48V back up system and additional entrance and exit gates.
As an independent, Demas picks his spots among some of North America's biggest fairs. The San Diego County Fair (Del Mar), State Fair of Texas and the Wisconsin State Fair are his primary dates in addition to Minnesota.
Whether he adds the Iowa State Fair next year is another question. The fair in Des Moines is going through the process of switching to an independent midway in 2017 after its contract with Belle City Amusements expired in August at the completion of this year's event.
For independent ride owners, the dates for the Iowa and Wisconsin state fairs overlap and Des Moines will be in direct competition with West Allis for operators, according to Demas. Both fairs take place in early to mid August.
"We won't do both fairs," he said.
As he prepares for the State Fair of Texas, Demas and other independents such as Michael Wood will look to improve on last year's fair which drew a record $42 million in coupon sales, according to local reports.
"It was pretty much perfect weather," Demas.
Beside his portable equipment, Demas holds the fair's contract for managing two permanent attractions: the Texas Skyway, the fair's gondola ride that transports fairgoers 65 feet above ground; and the Top O' Texas observation tower, a 500-foot structure that made its debut in 2013.
Running both attractions for the 24-day fair is a big responsibility and that's one reason Demas doesn't see himself retiring anytime soon. He has multiple years left on his deal in Dallas.
Demas relies on hiring experienced help from the snow skiing industry to help him run the ride made by Doppelmyer, an Austrian company that has a factory in Salt Lake City.
Through the H2B Visa program, Demas will use South African workers to help run the tower. His operation expands to 25 total employees in Dallas compared with fewer numbers at his other stops.
Here in Minnesota, Demas had eight people tied to working the Rock-It. It takes six to run the ride with a rotation that gives everybody two days off so they're all well rested "when there's money to be made and they're not worn out," Demas said. "Things are safer. There's a right way and wrong way to do everything."
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