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Harlan Bast - Between the Amusement Park and Carnival Worlds
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We have all heard stories of people starting out in the amusement business because of a summer job that started at a fair or local carnival.  They may have worked a few weeks, caught the bug for travel or took a liking to the lifestyle, perhaps spending years or even a lifetime back in the outdoor amusement business.

In a twist to that narrative, Harlan Bast, long time owner of Hildebrand Amusement Rides, is actually taking this summer off from his traveling show to concentrate on his amusement park business in Carolina Beach, near the Wilmington area of North Carolina.

Bast is not new to the park business, having operated on beaches in Daytona, FL, and North Myrtle Beach previously.  But he seems to have found a nice arrangement for his rides and equipment during the summer in Carolina Beach.

Last year, post-Covid, Bast had only 8 rides on the boardwalk area but business was excellent and they had as good a run as ever.  This year, he is back up to a larger 15 ride park, with the addition of some bigger rides in the lineup.  

Bast purchased a Chance Giant Wheel with partner Patrick Imes of Oscar's Amusements.  Lightning had hit the wheel and caused damage. Bast reached out to long time Amusements of America family member Vinny Curci who later in his career worked on the boardwalk in NJ. Curci helped him with a new PLC and refurbishment and the wheel was ready to go in May.  

In addition, the park will feature Bast's Sea Ray, a Wacky Worm, Tornado, Drop Tower, Ali Baba, plus a few smaller rides like a Slide, Dumbo and Spinner.  He also added a Chance Merry Go Round with Bradley and Kaye horses.

Bast works with Imes, which is part of a long standing tradition.  Before Bast was even born, Imes' father and Bast's father worked together in Pennsylvania  and the boys continue that tradition today.

In addition to the rides, Bast brought in 6 trailers, 5 food and one clam shell lemonade stand.  He purchased a Hitch Hiker hamburger stand and the food received new wraps for a bold new look in the park.

The park is rounded out by 2 games, a balloon game and long range basketball.

Life at the park is not nearly as frenetic as life on the road and Bast welcomes the pace, at least for the time being.  “We open every day at 5pm”, says Bast, adding that occasionally when crowds are at their peak, he may open for a matinee on Saturdays and Sundays.

The park also does not offer armbands, although he is considering doing so in the off-season, but rather operates pay by the ride with a  ticket system.  

Typically, the season runs from May through Labor Day for the park, but Bast says the city is planning many special events in what was formerly the off-season.  To assist with the success of these events, Bast plans to leave a smaller version of the park in operation, just about year-round.  

Planned for 2022 are a large Octoberfest celebration, plus Holiday festivities and other events.  The city hopes the added events will extend the tourist season and add reasons to come throughout the year.

Once Labor Day hits, Bast will resume life on the road with Hildebrand Amusement Rides, starting with the  Baker County Fair in Macclenny, FL  in September, an event he recently added to his route again when Susan and Tim Magid's Magic Midways closed its doors this year.  From Baker County, Bast heads to Callahan for the North East Florida Fair traveling south to the Broward County Fair, where he has built a large new event that has seen great success .  The year ends in Pembroke Pines at a Christmas event that lasts for 5 weeks.   

Bast said his focus has been on trying to play longer events of 3 or more weeks when the situation warrants.  This results in less jumps and helps with the wear and tear on his employees.  A strong promotional schedule, that includes iheart radio and other media, keeps the customers coming back throughout the run.

Once the new year begins, Bast resumes operations with some Catholic Churches and county fairs, many of which play a more truncated run of three to 4 days, resulting in a more difficult pace for his team.  

Bast moves about 30 rides each week.  Included in that number will be the Street Fighter ride he purchased from Magic Midways which will be making its debut on the Hildebrand midway.  

Bast has begun staffing up for the traveling season, adding H2B visa workers, and bringing his total to about 30.   Although the foreign workers are important, Bast says “I have some quality American help that have been with me for 20-plus years”.  Bast says many of the workers have become like family to him, with some even living out the rest of their lives in a home on his property.  

Other key employees include Rick Ramsey who is his right hand man for the park, and helps with every aspect of the operation.  Mark Popovitch has come aboard as the ride superintendent and keeps the equipment safely running throughout the year.  

Asked about the season, Bast said he “can't complain”.  Like just about every carnival, 2021 was an extraordinary year for the show, but more importantly, it was great to see people enthusiastic about being out on the midway and park grounds again.  2022 has seemed to hold up well, even events that may have had record years in 2021.

Looking ahead though, he fears the fuel “is going to be a challenge and interest rates rising could also be an issue”.  Judging by the crowds at Carolina Beach however, he sees license plates from NJ, OH, PA and other distant destinations, showing many are still willing to travel and spend for a vacation.  

While Bast took the summer off for his carnival in 2022, he does plan to keep the show open through the summer in 2023.  That route usually consists of playing still dates and promoted events in Tennessee where he produces and promotes some of his own events.

“I like the park and the pace — up to a point,” say Bast, “but I still love being on the road at my events”.
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