•  Grbjnt
  • 55.82% (Neutral)
  • Maintenance Supervisor Topic Starter
Friday, June 20, 2008 7:19:10 AM
This artical was forwarded to me by the editor of the Charleston Gazette, There were pictures but see that they didn't come through.
Fuel, shipping costs driving carnivals out of county fair
By James Macpherson

The Associated Press

June 16, 2008


In the heyday of the Pembina County Fair, about two dozen carnival rides
filled up the fairground midway. The Ferris Wheel. The Tilt-A-Whirl. The

Neil Fleming saw it all in his 55 years as fair organizer: from food to farm
animals, clown shows, girlie shows, freak shows.

"It was really something," he reminisces.

The aroma of funnel cakes, the barnyard odor of fattened farm animals, the
resplendent beauty of fancy quilts will still exist at the three-day fair
July 10-12. But for the first time in 115 years, there will be no carnival
rides on the quarter-mile-long midway.

"The population is dwindling, and add that to the extra costs, and it's
difficult to get a carnival," Fleming said.

The Pembina County Fair, which bills itself as the oldest continuous fair in
North Dakota, will replace carnival rides with bouncy inflatable games.

Shrinking attendance, soaring fuel prices and other expenses have hurt fairs
across the country, and many are doing without carnivals.

"Our fuel costs are four times as much as it was 10 years ago, and we
haven't raised our prices in 10 years," said Lon McWhorter, owner of
Woonsocket, S.D.-based Mac's Carnival & Attractions, the sole carnival
company based in the Dakotas.

It cost McWhorter $22,000 to move his dozen-ride carnival from South Dakota
to Louisiana this year, more than double last year's expenses. McWhorter's
grandfather started the company in the 1920s with a three-minute photography
booth and some advice: Keep the carnival on wheels.

In today's economy, that's been a nearly impossible wish to fulfill.

Carnivals in the U.S. generally range in size from five rides to about 300.

Billy Tucker, owner of Phenix, Ala.-based Dixieland Carnival Co., said
several small fairs in the South and Midwest have fizzled in the past few
years, and fewer are able to afford a carnival.

Dixieland Carnival is a "small-to-medium size" show that has been in
Tucker's family for five generations. Unlimited-ride armbands sell for $15,
a fee that has not risen in five years.

"Everybody is feeling the pinch I am, and as bad as we need to go up, I just
feel it would be a really bad PR move right now with everything else going
up," Tucker said.

About 345 carnival companies travel the U.S. each year, down from about 400
a decade ago. Many are family-owned businesses, and they need to be assured
of big attendance to come to a fair.

"Some have gotten fed up and tired of the fuel costs, insurance and long
hours -- it's a grind," said Bob Johnson, president of the Orlando,
Fla.-based Outdoor Amusement Business Association. "It's a very highly
regulated industry, and I can't say that it's bad, but it obviously has
added to the cost of doing business today."

County fairs were established in the 1800s as a way to promote agriculture,
and little has changed since then, said Jim Tucker, president of the
Springfield, Mo.-based International Association of Fairs and Expositions.
He is not related to Billy Tucker.

Jim Tucker's group represents about 1,300 fair groups worldwide, though most
are in the U.S.

Fairs remain popular, with 150 million Americans attending them in 2007 and
80 percent showing increased or steady attendance.

"More and more people are coming up with farm animals as the No.1 reason to
visit a fair," Jim Tucker said. "A big part of the population does not
interact with farm animals -- and the more something becomes a curiosity,
the more people come and see it."

In Hettinger County, in North Dakota's southwest corner, livestock is hardly
a curiosity. Kelly Stewart, who was a member of the county fair board for
several years, said fairgoers still like the amusement rides, though they've
been absent the past few years.

Fair attendance has suffered as a result. "Now we are down to a small beer
garden, inflatables, and an egg toss for kids," she said.

Palmdale, Calif.-based Schoeppner Shows has been bringing its carnival to
the upper Midwest since the early 1980s, and Pembina County was one of its
annual stops.

Not this year. The carnival has decided to stay closer to home.

The skyrocketing cost of diesel and fewer fairgoers hurt business, said Pam
Schoeppner, who runs the carnival with her husband, Phil.

"We're carving out new territory in Utah, Nevada, Idaho and Wyoming," she
said. "Just driving out to North Dakota took a huge chunk of money, and the
same thing with South Dakota and Nebraska -- all those little county fairs
have just petered out and there is not enough attendance to support a
carnival of our size."

Schoeppner's carnival has stopped each year at the Tri-County Fair in
Wishek, in south central North Dakota. The company's decision to pull out of
the state prompted fair officials to buy their own carnival rides.

Tri-County Fair purchased nine rides for about $50,000, though most need
work to get them running in time for the fair's already-delayed opening July

"I can't see us running a fair without a carnival," said Mike Martell, who
has helped organize the Tri-County Fair for 45 years. "Kids bring their
parents to fairs. If you don't have something for kids, there is no reason
for their parents to go."

Friday, June 20, 2008 7:29:31 AM 
"A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step." - Lao-Tsu

"Faith is taking the first step, even when you don't see the whole staircase." - Martin Luther King Jr.

"Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly." - Robert F. Kennedy