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Carnival & Fair News
Carnival & Fair News
Chicago Area Shows Report Good Season
Spectacular, Fantasy, Windy City find new ways to offset fuel
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
  • Rides 4U - New & Used Rides
  • Rides 4U - New & Used Rides

MCW caught up with several Chicago-area carnivals to see how the season was going and the challenges facing shows this season. In this installment, we speak to Dan Driskill of Spectacular Midways, Bill Johnson of Fantasy Amusements and Mike Salerno of Windy City Amusements. Dan Driskill, Spectacular Midways: MCW: How has the season been so far? Dan Driskill (DD): Overall, the season has been holding it's own. We have seen the games suffering the most, followed by food and then rides. MCW: How are you coping with the new (Illinois) background check regulations? DD: We are having problems with IL's background checking software. We have been relying on local municipalities to run background checks and we also do our own checks online against the IL and National Registry of sex offenders. I like the law and the idea behind it, but would like to see IL come up with a more easy to use system. Dan also made a point to note that his company checks all employees against the Illinois Sex Offender and National Sex Offender Databases online. Below are links to both of these web sites: Illinois State Police Sex Offender Info National Sex Offender Public Registry MCW: Fuel prices are a big issue this year. What measures are you taking to save costs? DD: We started using a more reasonable fuel company. In the beginning of the season we bought several fuel tanks for our winter quarters and have the fuel company fill them (Buying in bulk). Each week, we bring our generators and tractors to WQ and fill them up. This saves on service charges and we get a more reasonable rate. When we are too far away to fill up at WQ, we rely on off road fuel from Feece Oil Company. We have experimented with Biodiesel but we were unable to find enough carriers. In addition, the savings over the season would only amount to a couple of hundred dollars. MCW: Have you cut back on loads or length of travel? DD: We double loads and leave bunks at WQ when possible. MCW: With the economy as it is, is it better to raise prices to combat costs or lower them to offer customers a value? DD: It's a catch 22. We can't overprice ourselves because people are looking for deals. Less is more. We give people a better deal by offering more Pay One Price wristbands and special dollar day promotions where rides cost between $1-2 per ride. We have also been taking advantage of presale programs and a week-long mega passes for $50. Both promotions help get people to spend more money on the midway. POP prices vary at each location depending on the number of rides and hours of operation but typically we charge between $10-20. MCW: Any new spots this year? DD: We are trying to extend our fall route in Chicago through October. We are still planning to taking pieces south this winter but find it to be getting more costly. MCW: Any new rides or purchases planned? DD: Nothing for 2008/2009. Last year we bought a new Super Shot from ARM for $550,000 and converted our Dartron Zendar to a Cliff Hanger (Wind Glider) and bought a new midway marquee entrance gate. We spent over $1 million. We plan to improve the equipment we have now for next season. Last winter we completely sand blasted some generators and the center load for the Music Fest. Fantasy AmusementsBill Johnson, Fantasy Amusements "The season so far has been fine when we get the weather, unfortunately we have only got the weather a few weeks", said Bill Johnson. The show bought a new Waymatic Funnel Cake, some trucks from Ed Murphy this and a Wisdom Matterhorn. No plans have been finalized for purchases in 2008/2009, they are waiting to see how the season goes. A Tornado recently touched down in Highland, Indiana where the show plays an annual festival. The storm hit a couple of trees by the lot and one tent pole. Fortunately, most of the damage occurred north of the lot. "My guys had to evacuate their trailers and some went in the church", said Johnson. "I'm glad I wasn't set up", he added. Johnson said the show has been hit with several bad storms recently, one which damaged his office complex. "Last week we got a storm on Tuesday which ripped my office tent and bent a pole. Again, weren't open no one got hurt." Johnson is hoping for better weather for the balance of the season Windy City AmusementsMike Salerno, Windy City Amusements MCW: How has the season been so far? Mike Salerno (MS): Overall, the season has been very good. The spots have been up, the fuel has been up, and the profit has been down. Rides seem to be getting their fare share and people are out spending money. Compared to previous years, the majority of our spots have been up or holding the same. MCW: Fuel prices are a big issue this year. What measures are you taking to save costs? MS: To save on fuel, we have been pulling doubles when possible. We also don't outsource any trucking anymore and use all show owned tractors and drivers. Between the two units, we own 9 Freightliner tractors and travel within a 40 mile radius of our home base in Aurora, IL. We have also cut back on running our generators. The plants don't start until it is time to open and they don't run all night because our help commutes to work each day. It's good to be a 40 miler - short jumps and long green! MCW: With the economy as it is, is it better to raise prices to combat costs or lower them to offer customers a value? MS: In terms of promotions, we have been running our normal POP specials Thursday, Saturday and Sundays. Additionally, we have used a mega pass promotion at some of our spots where kids can ride all week for one low price. The mega pass has worked out well. MCW: Any major changes to the show this year? MS: For 2008, we did away with our third unit due to the rise in fuel prices. We were able to incorporate the rides from the third unit into our other two units, consolidate help, and save money on fuel. We also tightened up our spots and let some of the weak ones go. We use all American labor. My brother Tony (Salerno) used foreign labor in the past but it didn't work and there are a lot of Americans who are looking for work. If you treat the American workers well they will come back next year. If you don't, you have to hire foreigners. We haven't had any problems getting American workers." MCW: Any new rides or purchases planned? MS: We are expecting delivery of a new European spectacular soon. We will be attending IAAPA this November and the IISF trade show in Gibtown this February in search of new equipment. We are also interviewing concessionaires for our blue unit. Over the winter we did a lot of work on our equipment in winter quarters. We completely rebuilt a Raiders, two Zippers, a Peter Paul and did maintenance on many other rides. This winter, we plan to rebuild our Century Wheel, 1001 Nachts, and Pharaoh's Fury along with numerous other projects. MCW: How about new personnel? MS: My brother Mark's son, Mark Jr., will be graduating from Southern IL University this fall. He will be coming to work full time in 2009 for his dad who runs our blue unit. Mark Jr. spent some time with Disney's College internship and will be using some of his experience from Disney with our show. MCW: How are you coping with the new Illinois background check regulations? MS: It is pretty straight forward and easy to use once set up. Our only complaint is that after a employee is checked, they have to be rechecked by local authorities. We would like to see something similar to a gun card where employees are checked and then an ID is issued. Once they have an ID, they could present it to the local police departments for verification. EDITOR NOTE: We will be interviewing more carnivals in the Chicago area and around the country as the season progresses. If you would like your show highlighted or if you want to submit questions we should ask of the shows please email us at

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