Poor Jack Amusements is based out of Milton, Indiana, and provides carnival rides, games and food to fairs and festivals throughout eastern and northeastern Indiana and western Ohio. Part of the Indiana Association of Fairs, the carnival makes around 30 stops each year. The business operates from April through October and is well-respected in the industry largely in part due to its family focus.
The company has held on to most of the locations on its route for 25 to 30 years. One of those events, the Fulton County Fair in Wauseon, Ohio, has been connected to the Bohlander family since 1949.
Upcoming events include, but are not limited to, the Muncie Spring Carnival, Middletown Lions Fair, Huntington Heritage Days, Wayne County Fairy, Columbia City Old Settler's Festival, Jefferson County Fair, Morgan County Fair, Dekalb County Fair and Winchester Mardi Gras, all in Indiana; and the Mercer County Fair, Allern County Fair, Fulton County Fair and Williams County Fair, all in Ohio.
Tim Bohlander, co-owner of the company, adds that he believes his business is also successful due to the fact that most of the carnival route has been covered on a consistent basis for up to 35 years. He says that Poor Jack Amusements is loyal to the people it works with and will not break with one fair just because another looks better.
History of the Company
The Bohlander family's venture into the carnival business first began in 1944 in eastern Ohio, when Tim says his grandfather was asked to bring his ponies to a local fair. He says that his own father, Jack Bohlander, along with his aunts and uncles, helped his grandfather lead the ponies at that very first fair. What started out as pony rides gave way to a concessions business offering cotton candy and sno-cones. Eventually, the company expanded to add on carnival games. In 1956, Jack and his wife Patricia took over the business. They added rides and events and in 1967, signed their first major ride contract with the Johnson County Fair in Franklin, Indiana. The company thrived and grew.
When Jack passed away in 1997, the business continued to be owned and operated by Patricia and their five children – Gary, Tim, Nancy, Kelly and Becky – who had been helping out with games and other carnival duties since they were old enough to do so.
Today the majority of Poor Jack Amusements is run by Gary and Tim, but it still continues to be a family affair with their other siblings, their families and members of the extended family maintaining positions in the office, with concessions or contributing in areas of maintenance. Sadly, the family lost Patricia last August.
“It has been very difficult, as she was the matriarch of our family,” Bohlander says.
What Consumers Can Expect From a Poor Jack Amusement Midway
Poor Jack Amusements offers great customer service as well as an excellent midway. The company provides a full line-up of midway games and food concessions and the midways boast added features such as shade tents, seating and picnic tables.
When it comes to rides, Poor Jack Amusements currently runs 35.
Bohlander says that favorites include the Freak Out – from KMG; and 1001 Nachts. Other popular attractions are the Expo Wheel and Wipe Out.
Additional rides on the midway include the Orbiter, Fire Ball, Black Widow, Super Shot, Wipe Out, Vertigo, Sizzler, Rock-O-Plane, Scrambler, Orient Express, The Scooter, Crazy Bus, Berry Go Round, Farm Tractors, Happy Swing, Wacky Shack, Rio Grand Train and a 2008 Starship, which Bohlander says was purchased to replace the company's 1986 Zero Gravity. Although the Zero Gravity is said to be in good shape, the time of its retirement has arrived.
The carnival games have an interesting history and they are the reason behind the company's name. The games Jack Bohlander featured were so easy to win that “Poor Jack lost again” was printed on tags attached to the prizes he gave out. Even today, the games are said to be designed with the player in mind and many of them award a prize every time, or allow kids to play until they win.
Struggles and Successes
The world of a carnival business owner is bound to come with struggles as well as great successes.
Tim Bohlander shares that a common struggle he sees in the carnival industry at the moment is businesses having trouble due to government regulations on H-2B visa workers.
“While we do not use such workers in our carnival, it has been difficult for everyone,” he says.
“There are not enough qualified people that want to work. So, eliminating these H-2B workers makes it harder for us – the industry. It is causing trouble and is hurting everybody.”
Bohlander admits that it is difficult keeping enough help these days with his own company. Luckily, he says, the family pulls together to make things work. This could be Poor Jack Amusement's ultimate secret to success – the family members diligently take care of all the carnival's needs and strive to treat people right at the same time. Integrity is key.
“It is important to keep the business name going strong ,” Bohlander says.
“Employees do a multitude of things and we struggle with that,” he continues. “We got a lot of help from the family and we work really hard, more than we should have to. There is not a lot of time to do things like golf, et cetera. We run the carnival. It's a lot of personal involvement. We are like everyone else in the business – trying to survive. But family helps us overcome that.”