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A&A Attractions Experiences A Holiday Season Fire But Readies For A New Season
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A&A Attractions has been providing rides, games, and tasty carnival food for 26 seasons, weathering the pandemic, labor shortages, and the ups and downs most amusement companies experience.

But right before Christmas, Susan Headley and her husband Kevin had what could've been a devastating experience – a massive fire at their winter quarters at their Fairbury, Illinois home base. While their rides were spared, A&A lost all their tools, ride parts, and other stored gear such as some canvas.

Typically, the family winters in Florida, where they work on refurbishing rides and get a head start on preparing for their fair and festival season, which runs May to October. According to Susan Headley, “Kevin had just pulled his tool truck into the barn and brought in all his tools to see what he had and what he wanted to bring to Florida. But there was an electrical fire, and it swept through the building. We had some insurance, although not nearly enough. However, we won't let that stop the season,” she attests.

The fire started on the 23rd of December, and Susan drove back to Illinois from Florida, arriving on the evening of Christmas Day. Despite the long drive, she wanted to take a look at the damage immediately, which turned out to be a fortunate move.

“I went to look and saw that it was on fire again. Sparks had reignited under the arcade tent canvas that we had in there. We had stacks of 2 x 4s under that canvas, and that was where the fire just went up again,” she reports. The next day, her husband went out and purchased a backhoe “to clean up the mess. The area was so soaked that our tractor got stuck in the mud, so the backhoe was necessary.”

While a friend has started a GoFundMe for the Headley's, Susan is stoic about the loss. “We will get out there and start earning this season, and replace everything that we lost,” she says.

Fortunately, none of the company's 19 licensed rides were affected. Among their most popular are the Ferris Wheel and their Rip Tide. “The Rip Tide was originally a Wisdom Gee Whiz, and my husband revamped it last winter. It's very pretty,” she says. “We just wanted a fresh attraction, and so Kevin went through and he re-did every aspect of it, taking it down to the bare metal. He took off the fiberglass scenery and put on an aluminum back and wrap, and we added LED lights as well.”

Along with that freshly and fully redone ride, A&A added a Kite Flyer ride last year that's also popular as well. Kiddie rides have been big hit attracting families to the midway. “Some of our most popular kiddie rides are the Tea Cups, a disco car ride, the train, the Dragon Wagon, and swings.”

The duo are both committed to keeping their rides fresh and up to date. They added LED lights on their rides two years ago and completely revamped their Super Sizzler at that time as well. “My husband is really a jack of all trades and very skilled at ride refurbishment. He can weld, paint, everything,” Headley attests.

A&A is “very much a family and friends' operation,” Headley says. “Our friends Teresa and Glen Pulver and their family travel with us and do all the food on our route. They do smoked pork chops on a stick, chicken on a stick, corn dogs, fries, funnel cakes, smash burgers, Italian sausages, Lemonade Shakeups, slushies, and deep-fried Oreos.”

Headley herself runs a popper. “We have popcorn and cotton candy. All the food does very well.”

Headley's daughter Sevin, runs the games for the company. “I would say both the duck pond and goldfish are the most popular. We have ten games in all, and they are ‘everyone's a winner' games.” Headley's son-in-law Lucas is the head foreman for A&A.

She adds, “My husband grew up in the carnival business and I started as a young adult. We still enjoy it.”

The show travels throughout the state of Illinois, as well as covering some events in southern Wisconsin. “We do one event a week for a total of about 20 plus events during our season. We do county fairs and festivals. The Ogle County Fair is a big one for us,” she relates.

Over the years, Headley has seen more “rules, regulations and permitting” come into play for the carnival industry, as well as a continued struggle to find the labor they need to run the rides. “When we get our foreign workers, everything goes well, but if we don't, we struggle like any other show. Last year we were fortunate to have ten workers from Guatemala and six from Mexico,” she says.

“Everyone pitches in. We are really hands on. We are not afraid of work, and we don't mind traveling, although we stay mostly within Illinois. We are bigger than a 40-miler, covering a couple hundred miles or so from home during the season and wintering in Florida where we usually work on our equipment. But this year, with the fire, things are different, and we are staying here.”

Despite the fire, the A&A team is already planning ride refurbishments for this year. “My husband can't sit still,” Headley laughs. “First up will be upgrades to our popcorn wagon, and the Tilt-A-Whirl will probably get new paint and an upgrade, too.”
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