SALISBURY, N.C. -- Powers & Thomas Midway Entertainment officials were all smiles after signing a five-year contract at the Rowan County Fair. Salisbury is essentially a bedroom community of Charlotte, situated about 40 miles northeast of the state's largest city.
Ed Powers and Ron Thomas, the carnival's co-owners, signed the deal during their run at this year's fair, Sept. 23-Oct. 1. Last year, the company's first season of operation, the show combined equipment with Dreamland Amusements, which previously held the contract. Starting with the 2016 fair, Powers & Thomas takes over the spot exclusively through 2021.
The carnival set up its full contingent of 25 rides and attractions in Salisbury, including the fully-refurbi
shed Sky Diver, a 1974 model it purchased from Butler Amusements. The Bertazzon Swing Buggy, Expo Wheel, High Flyer, Pharoah's Fury, Quadzilla, Sizzler, Magic Maze, Circus Train and Dizzy Dragon were among the featured pieces at this year's fair.
The Genesis, an Avalanche-style piece made by Wisdom Manufacturing, was the only ride set up on the midway not owned by Powers & Thomas. Les "Corky" Powers, owner of Powers Great American Midways and Ed Powers' father, loaned the attraction for use at Rowan County.
The Thomas family, including Ron, booked as independents with Corky Powers for more than three decades. As they transition to their own operation, Ron Thomas Sr. and his wife Marie, feature their mouse game as they have at fairs over the past 40-plus years. Ron Jr.'s wife Tracy is Corky's daughter.
Separately, Tamara Thomas, Ed Powers' sister, and her husband Jeremy Thomas, own game concessions. Jeremy Thomas is not related to Ron Thomas.The show owns all the food trailers.
The carnival displays a strong branding presence with an eye-catching logo. Ron Thomas designed the company's logo, which is attached to the shiny office trailer acquired from West Coast Amusements and the late Irvin "Bingo" Hauser. The marks extend from trash cans to benches, ticket boxes and canvas signs on rides, and include social media symbols tied to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
Rowan County is one of four spots the carnival plays in North Carolina. It follows the Surry County Fair in Mount Airy, where the show has one year remaining on its contract. The Stanly County Fair, in Albemarle comes after Rowan County, an event Corky Powers played several years ago, his son said.
This year, the final weekend of the Stanly County Fair was washed out due to the effects of Hurricane Matthew. All told, heavy rains on Oct. 7-8 affected a few carnivals in the region, including Reithoffer Shows (Shelby) and Strates Shows (Winston-Salem).
Powers and Thomas closes the season with another N.C.date, a shopping center in Haw River, near Burlington in the eastern part of the state.
Overall, the 2016 season "turned around 100 percent" compared with a rainy 2015 campaign, their first since going out on their own, according to Powers. Here in Salisbury, a beautiful Friday night to kick off the month of October resulted in a parking lot full of cars in a large field across the street from the fairgrounds.
During the fair, the show ran a $25 wristband special, plus a $40 carload special on the Monday of the event (Sept. 26), a fee covering both rides and gate admission. It was the same night as the first presidential debate, and coupled with some rain toward the end of the night, might have hurt business a bit, Thomas said. Surry County, meanwhile, was a little warm, but it's a very nice property, Thomas said.
As Powers & Thomas Midway Entertainment solidifies its route, it's becoming a little more manageable. The addition of Surry County, a former Dreamland date, chopped 250 miles off the distance from Greater Pittsburgh, where the show played before heading south to North Carolina. Last year, the carnival trucked 650 miles to the Chatham County Fair in Pittsboro, N.C., before replacing it with Surry County.
"That's made it nice jumping into Surry County," Powers said.
In addition,Thomas said playing a spot the second time around makes things easier as well.
"You try to find out the little things, like where to find power and where to park your trailers," he said. "Most carnivals don't pick up 40 spots at once."
Said Powers, laughing: "It's like being shot out of a cannon and we haven't landed yet."
Multiple dates came from the show's acquisition of Swank's Steel City Shows in 2014, a transaction that included the purchase of 10 rides from the old carnival. Powers & Thomas starts the season in North Carolina, where its winter quarters sit near Wilmington. From there, the show heads north to play Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and New York, before returning to the Tar Heel State.
As the season comes to a close, the show looks to improve its operation for 2017. The co-owners will consider buying a new ride, including a visit to the annual carnival trade show in Gibsonton, Fla.
"Next year, we would love to buy a Zyklon [roller coaster] and have looked around," Thomas said. "But then we slapped ourselves. We're still new and struggling. We have a huge wish list but we can't do it all overnight."