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Rainier Amusements Wheels into The 2024 Carnival Season
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Rainier Amusements at the Tillamook County Fair
Photo by Coaster Chit Chat

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Rainier Amusements is making a big spin this year, with the purchase of a Mulligan Wheel. According to co-owner Crystal Hoss, the ride will be brand new for the Pacific Northwest carnival company.

Last year was a big ride year in a different way, according to Hoss. “We purchased a Pirate Ship, and the Flying Dumbos,” she says. The company also purchased the kiddie rides Chopper Hopper and Circus Train at the end of last season, and revamped two of their existing kiddie rides as well during the winter months.

She describes last year's most popular rides as the company's then-new Pirate Ship and Freak Out. “Freak Out has been really big for us at most events. They are among the most thrilling rides on the midway, and for a while we were the first and only show in the Pacific Northwest with a Freak Out for summer runs. It's now our third season running it, and others have joined us in having that ride as well. It's still popular.”

High rises are the company's most popular type of midway games, as they stand out more than others. “For this year, we purchased a new roller derby and long-range basketball game for our midway – both are high rise clam shell games. They really stand out on the midway more than other games do,” Hoss attests. “We also have a duck pond that's a high rise, and it does very well too.”

In addition, the company's food purveyor, Camas Concessions, brought in a new taco stand last year which has done well for the company. Among other popular carnival foods are the company's large slushie trailer, which offers treats that are a big hit, especially in the summer months. “Our deep-fried concession always comes up with something new every summer. Our floss trailer has added a soft serve Flavor Verse ice cream and that is another big hit because of all the different flavors. That's a fun one.”

Rainier Amusements follows a route through Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. “We just printed our new route list for this year, and we're doing 34 locations,” Hoss reports. “We used to run two units but reeled it in to just one after the pandemic. We were only open June, July, and August the first year we were able to come back,” she adds. “Last year we started to split again, and this year we are back to two units other than in April.” The carnival typically runs from the end of March through mid-September, but their larger events end when the Oregon State Fair concludes Labor Day weekend.

While Hoss enjoys all the stops on the company's route, there are several standouts. “Oregon State Fair is great of course, it's a big one. We also do the Douglas County Fair and the Tillamook County Fair. They're both large events. Tillamook is a lot of fun. They hold Pig N' Ford racing which gets national recognition on television.” Hoss reports.

For those not in the know, the unique Pig n' Ford races involve Model T drivers carrying pigs. Races begin with drivers running to a pen of small pigs, choosing one, crank-starting their vehicles, then driving for a lap while holding their pig. They then exchange the pig and start over again for two more laps. “That draws a huge crowd from all over for us,” Hoss says.

Overall attendance is stronger than pre-pandemic at Rainier's venues overall. “It's leveled out from where it was right after the closures ended, however,” Hoss relates. “People have gone back to other travel plans. At first, people were just looking to get out after lockdown for so many months while still staying close to home.” She points out that Pacific Northwest states stayed locked down longer than many others elsewhere in the U.S.

At present, one of the biggest challenges for the company is staffing, an issue shared by many in the carnival industry. “Prior to the pandemic, we used local area residents as staff, and we had a solid traveling crew. Now we are fully immersed in and dependent on the H2B program. When we only get a portion of our workers, our set ups and tear downs take longer. Sometimes people have to work longer hours and receive overtime, which increases our payroll. That's one of the biggest impacts on us.” Hoss believes that during the pandemic many of their former staff members pursued jobs outside the carnival industry. “On top of that, a lot of the younger folks just aren't coming in as entry level workers. For whatever reason that this is occurring, we are super thankful for the H2B program. This will be our third season in it.”

Another economic impact Rainier Amusements has felt involves the costs of goods and wages. “Overall costs have gone up across the board in Washington and Oregon. Our minimum wage is now $17 an hour, and that affects us, too,” Hoss explains. “And of course, the costs of goods and everything else has gone up along with that. We've been looking at our contracts to see if we can cut back a day or open later or close an hour earlier at some of the fairs.” She notes that cost increases “really impact our business. Our margins are a lot smaller. So, if you want to be a smart business today, you really have to evaluate everything and see where you can make changes to grow your profit. In the carnival business, so much of your profit needs to go back into the business just to stay relevant and up to date.”

Rainier prides itself on promoting and branding, and has added their logo on tents and a large inflatable seating area positioned by their food stands, as well as on prep tents. The company also promotes via social media such as Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok prior to events, promotions that Hoss hopes her children may take over. “We are not sure if they are going to come into the business full-time as yet,” Hoss says. “We have one in college and one in high school, so for now they work with us during the summer months.”

The company is a family owned and run operation however, with Hoss's brother and sister-in-law and nephews working with Rainier during the summer as well. Her husband was born and raised in the carnival business, while she married into it. Over the years, the company has grown from 18 to 45 rides in all and has more than 60 years altogether working in the industry.
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