A changing of the generational guards is coming to one of the leading US manufacturers of carnival rides. Jared Davis, is a 5th generation carnival professional has taken over the reins at Wisdom Rides, from his uncle, Victor Wisdom, who Davis said would not be stepping aside, but “stepping back” from the day-to-day operations of the company. While Vic is stepping back from his usual role, he will still be involved in ride sales and repair procedures for the company during the transition.
The Colorado-based family has been in the carnival business since Jared’s great-great-grandfather, R.T. Dowis, bought a Merry-Go-Round in 1908. The family gradually got into the manufacturing side of the business and Wisdom Rides was founded in 1969 by Jerry Wisdom, Victor’s father.
According to the company’s website, “As a teenager, Jerry worked for a traveling carnival and later went to College where he became a star football player. Having turned down the opportunity to play professional football, he married the love of his life, Elaine, and joined her family’s traveling carnival. In 1957, Jerry dismantled the family’s Ferris wheel and mounted it to a tank hauler trailer which he purchased used. Each winter after that, Jerry took on other mounting projects such as an Octopus and later the Tilt-A-Whirl.”
The company quickly gained a reputation among carnival companies for making rides that were easy to assemble and transport. These innovations, new at the time, have now become the industry standard. “Everything up to that point was a ground mount ride with individually separate pieces that had to be transported on a box car or flatbed,” said Davis. “Jerry made the first trailer mounted ride, saving time and labor costs.”
This legacy of innovation has continued at Wisdom Rides. Last year, the company introduced a new spectacular ride, the Y-Factor, which boasts two arms holding 24 passengers and takes two men only one hour to set up and travels on a single trailer that is legal weight.
“Ease of portability and saving on labor are the major issues,” said Davis. “The carnival companies just can’t find the help, the workers are just aren’t available. One trainer is a big thing, as is ease of overall setup. We use computer modeling to help us make the rides more compact.”
With the Y-Factor, a new computerized maintenance protocol uses a code system to identify any problems. “We are able to implement a more advanced control system. The biggest thing about it was the technology and safety software. The system is really easy to work on in the field. We took some high-tech stuff and made it simple for the ride owners to maintain it on the road.”
A turning point for the company came in 1973 when Wisdom Rides acquired the rights to the Sizzler, which Jerry Wisdom enhanced by adding improved hydraulics, lighting and fiberglass seating. The Sizzler enabled the company to evolve from trailer-mounting rides to fully manufacturing rides.
Davis credited Victor Wisdom for the company taking a giant leap forward when he acquired the rights to the Gravitron. The company soon manufactured other midway mainstays such as Dragon Wagon coasters, the Tornado, the Viper and Jungle Twist and is reported to have manufactured more than 50 different designs.
For Davis, the company “has always been on the forefront of technology. I grew up in the business, and we always want to have the next best things.”
Davis started his career at Wisdom working in the electrical and metal forming division. For the past 12 years, Davis has worked mainly in customer service and guest relations at Wisdom. Davis operates rideparts.com, a company his mother Carol Wisdom, owns and the two started in 2011, mainly to service and support Wisdom rides. As the only approved purveyor of parts for Wisdom rides, Davis built a reputation for customer service and quality. “Our parts business is a separate entity but in the same facility,” he said.
Maintenance – and the ability to quickly service carnival companies – is “definitely a major concern. We do not outsource our customer services or our parts manufacturing. We maintain a 24-hour hotline and whether the ride was built this year or on the eighties, we supply the needed parts and provide the necessary service to continue supporting the rides we sell.”
The company is also one of a handful of American ride manufacturers to remain in operation and in spite of the challenges, sees the Made in the USA has part of the brand. “It’s a tough market to be in. I personally have options to change production styles, especially in this time of transition. But it is an important factor in our company that my family produces an American made product, something that is going to last.”
Coming from the customer service background maintaining that level of partnership with Wisdom Ride buyers, which includes carnival companies and amusement parks, a growing segment for this manufacturer. “We will continue to move forward and bring products best suited for the customer. We rely on customer feedback. We want feedback. We have a personal relationship with our customers.”
Davis anticipates these relationships will only expand and deepen under his leadership mainly due to the essential role rides play in creating the unique appeal of fairs, carnivals and amusement parks in today’s pop culture landscape. “Fairs and rides offer the consumer an experience they can’t have on their couch,” he said. “Kids and families like to socialize to with each other. It is a draw that fairs have had historically and continues to this day.”
As part of the new management change at Wisdom Rides, Davis brought in industry veteran Jeff Miller to be director of sales. Miller, who has worked with Fabbri and Chance, has an extensive industry contact list and will help to enhance to reach of Wisdom throughout the industry.
Davis is now one of the youngest heads of any ride manufacturer. He recommends that it’s time that boomers and Xers in the industry to overcome preconceptions about the millennial professions rising among their rings. “Taking my family business shows that people in my group are hard workers. It’s hard work, but some in this new generation are not afraid to get their hands dirty. Young people in this business should be commended for deciding to move forward in this industry.”