HAMBURG, NEW YORK – It has been called by carnival historians the “King of the Midway.” A traveling amusement ride so unique, dazzling and spectacular that it defined the Erie County Fair midway for generations of Western New Yorkers. Today, the Erie County Agricultural Society announced that the James E. Strates Shows will feature the return of the legendary 80-foot-high double Ferris wheel called the Sky Wheel on its midway in 2019. This limited, one-time engagement is part of the celebration commemorating the 95th year of the Strates Shows at the Erie County Fair.
“The double Ferris wheel is one of the most requested bygone attractions that fairgoers continually ask us to bring back,” said Marty Biniasz, Erie County Fair Marketing Manager. “Not only is this rare ride an icon of the Strates Shows midway, it also has a deep Buffalo-Niagara connection as the Sky Wheel ride was once manufactured by the Allan Herschell Co.”
The Sky Wheel debuted on the Erie County Fair’s midway in 1963 and was a featured attraction until 1994. The ride made a brief reappearance between 1996 and 1998 before it was retired by the Strates Shows. Once a common attraction at major county and state fairs, the fully restored version of the ride scheduled to appear in 2019 is one of only five operating Sky Wheel rides remaining in North America. Rides on the Sky Wheel will be part of all Strates Shows one price ride days and Fun Card ticket programs.
“The Sky Wheel seats 32 people in 16 seats,” said Biniasz. “Riders experience the sensation of a rapid acceleration being propelled into the sky and then the feeling of a free fall as the wheels rotate downwards. Although there have been faster, taller and more modern rides over the decades, the adrenalin rush you get from the Sky Wheel is in a class of its own.”
In 1960, the Allan Herschell Co., then a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Wiesner-Rapp Company, purchased the Sky Wheel patents and manufacturing rights from brothers Curtis and Elmer Velare of Long Beach, California. From 1960 until the sale of the Herschell Company’s assets in 1970 to Chance Manufacturing of Wichita, Kansas, Sky Wheels were built at the Herschell plant located at 1165 Clinton Street in East Buffalo. At the time of the sale to Chance, the Allan Herschell Company was the largest manufacturer of amusement rides in North America.
The addition of the Sky Wheel to the 2019 Erie County Fair midway celebrates the exclusive relationship between the Erie County Fair and the Strates Shows. Now in its 95th year, this partnership is considered a historical milestone in the modern amusement industry. According to the Outdoor Amusement Business Association, the relationship between the Strates Shows and the Erie County Fair is the longest continuous run of any carnival midway in the United States.
Unique among today’s amusement operators, The Strates Shows is the only “railroad carnival” in North America. Each spring, the Strates Shows leaves its winter quarters in Florida and begins an eight-month journey by rail that transports their equipment to fairgrounds across the eastern seaboard and northeast. The “fair train,” as commonly known in Western New York, currently is comprised of over 50 rail cars. The arrival of the Strates train at the depot in the Village of Hamburg, a living piece of Americana, will be celebrated again this summer.