Brown's Amusements is taking a shortcut this year. To save on expenses, Danny Brown, owner/operator of the Mesa, Ariz. carnival, has made the decision to tighten his route and reduce the number of miles the show will travel in 2016.
"We went from Colorado all the way into the northern end of Montana, then back down south with [more than 500] miles in-between," Brown said. "By [cutting the route] and with the new dates we picked up, I think we made a wise decision. Don't get me wrong, the Montana fairs we played were good dates, but it was a long way to go."
In addition, Brown went through major back surgery in November 2014 at Duke University at the hands of Dr. Robert Issacs, a specialist in spinal surgery. The end result: Brown was out of commission for six weeks, and at age 59, he feels the road less traveled will help keep him in better shape over the long term.
Brown declined to mention the new fairs he's signed in Utah and Idaho, in part because those events were still in the process of notifying the carnivals previously contracted for those dates. If all goes as planned, the carnival will spend up to five weeks in Idaho starting in late July through August, after spending most of June and early July in Utah. From Salt Lake City, it's 140 miles to the show's first spot in Idaho. The carnival eventually makes its way to Boise, a 250-mile jump.
The show has played Utah for many years. In 2015, the carnival picked up Fiesta Days in Spanish Fork, Utah. The festival celebrates July 24, a Mormon holiday akin to the Fourth of July, Brown said. During its Utah run, Brown's Amusements dips into Wyoming for a single date, the Sweetwater County Fair in Rock Springs. It's a strong date that last year drew national acts Martina McBride and the Eli Young Band.
Closer to home, Brown's Amusements recently completed a New Year's Eve event organized by the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, a reservation that's part of the city of Scottsdale. The show set up 17 rides, six games and a food stand for the event running Dec. 29-31. It's been a mainstay for the past 12 to 14 years, effectively replacing an old festival tied to the Fiesta Bowl when the college bowl game was played at Sun Devil Stadium. The game has since moved to University of Phoenix Stadium, home of the NFL's Arizona Cardinals.
From there, the carnival moves to Sells, Ariz., near the border with Mexico, to play a fair and rodeo produced by the Tohono O'odham Nation. The event is closing in on 80 years of existence and this will be the show's 18th year there, Brown said. Dates are Jan. 28-31. A few more spring rodeos and festivals in Arizona, plus the Clark County Fair in Logandale, Nev., about 50 miles northeast of Las Vegas, lead up to the Utah portion of the route.
Brown was born in the town of East Carbon, Utah, a tiny mining community. In 2014, it was consolidated with the neighboring city of Sunnyside to form East Carbon-Sunnyside. He also lived in Mead, Utah but grew up in Denver. Danny and Sherry Brown are both second generation showpeople. Danny got his start in the carnival business as a games concessionaire with Ray Cammack Shows. He also booked games with the old B&B Amusements.
Over the past 20 years, the Brown family has developed a show that has garnered three OABA Circle of Excellence awards, including recognition for the 2015 season. The Outdoor Amusements Business Association, the trade group for carnivals, bestows the award to companies meeting goals for helping to educate the industry and produce a positive image for mobile amusement operators.
For the 2016 season, Brown's Amusements is awaiting the delivery of a new KMG Freak Out. The show purchased the piece last fall after somebody canceled a previous order. KMG had an "open slot" and the Dutch manufacturer contacted Danny Brown to see if he was interested in fulfilling the order. The ride's cost keeps going down as the U.S. dollar gains strength against the Euro. What was initially a $725,000 piece is now down to about $600,000, according to Brown.
"We've been meaning to buy a Freak Out and jumped on it," he said. "It should be delivered by mid-March. It has all the bells and whistles. It's the first time we had a new European ride. We've bought rides over the years but to go to Europe and get one built is a first time for us. It's going to add a lot to our show."
Last fall, the show debuted a new Hitchhiker burger and fry wagon and it's been a tremendous upgrade to the food operation, Brown said.
The carnival typically runs two units, each split into about 20 rides. The Yuma County (Ariz.) Fair is an exception. At that spot, Brown's Amusements sets up all of its equipment to meet the demand. Last year, Butler Amusements supplied some rides as well for a 50-piece midway.
For the Browns, winter quarters in Greater Phoenix stays busy from early January through the second week of May. Ten workers in the shop get a lot done in the spring when temperatures are more moderate in the desert climate, Danny said.
The show will stand firm on ride ticket prices for 2016. Single tickets cost $1. Advance sale wristbands are generally $20 and $30 on site. Brown's Amusements is one of the few carnivals to go cashless by selling tokens on the midway, which are good for rides, games and food. The company has used tokens since 2009. It's a simple system where the tokens can be re-used and provide safeguards against employee theft of cash.
Brown gives credit to fellow carnival owner Pat Crabtree for initiating the system several years ago and building a model for other carnivals to follow. "We're moving every singe week and the machines are easy to load and unload," he said.
On the labor front, Brown is a firm believer in hiring international workers. He's been doing it for the past 12 years, through a a seasonal labor agency headed by Jim Judson. All told, the carnival has about 70 Mexican Nationals on its payroll. Seven of the original 12 hired by the carnival in its first year of using internationals are still with the show.
"They come up on buses and get their visas checked out," Brown said. "In late October, we give them airline tickets to fly home. We're consistent in our route and need plenty of employees in Arizona, and this is our best choice. No one [from Mexico] wants to live here. They all take care of their families back home."