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Small Events Add Up To Lots of Fun with Midway West Amusements
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As an attractions provider for a wide range of county fairs, carnivals, and city festivals, Midway West Amusements travels a lot of miles to bring amusement fun to smaller events. Michelle Jensen, who owns the show along with her husband, says her line-up ranges from 15 to 25 rides depending on the event. “Among my most popular are the Kamikaze, the Gondola Wheel, a Super Loop, and a YoYo, as well as kiddie rides. Likely the same kind of rides as everyone, I guess,” she notes. The Tilt-A-Whirl is another favorite.

Jensen's route takes the company from Arizona to Idaho, Montana, and New Mexico. “I do go quite a way,” she laughs. The show starts and ends its season in their home base of Arizona.

The Sun City, Ariz. company has been in business over 20 years. “My husband Nathan and I started out by buying 5 or 6 rides from Sam Johnson's Midway of Fun. We did part of his route the first year, then we moved back to Arizona and started doing our own route. But my family has been in the carnival business a long time,” Jensen explains. Nathan began his carnival career at Great Western Carnival; Michelle spent her summers growing up in Phoenix working for her parent's carnival games. “I have a sister and a brother in this business with us and two of my own kids who work for me. So, the next generation is coming up,” Jensen states.

Midway West has some new rides this year. “We just added a Mardi Gras Fun House, and I am adding a new YoYo that I purchased,” Jensen says.

The company has also added a few new locations to its route. “I added two last year, the Foodie Fest in Nevada, and a carnival in Moscow, Idaho, both went on the calendar last year.”

She terms all the events the company works as popular, but among the most fun events, she names “The Great American Duck Races in New Mexico. It's just fun to see the ducks racing. I'd never seen that before, and I like to watch the events, and see the little ducks racing along.”

Midway West is a complete carnival. “We own games, food, and rides. Our food concessions include all the good, traditional, fun fair food, like corn dogs, funnel cakes, and cotton candy. We also offer hamburgers and curly fries.” The biggest food seller? “Everyone loves cotton candy, and ours is some of the best. Sometimes smaller events have people making it who are not in the business, and the cotton candy comes out rock hard instead of fluffy.

When you have the experience of making it right, people can taste the difference, basically. My siblings and I, we have done fair food for a long time, and we know how to do it. It's definitely a popular treat for us.”

Among the show's most sought-after games are a duck pond, balloons, a derby, and a long-range basketball game. “We have ten games in all, and which ones we include varies by the event.”

Jensen says the company weathered the pandemic closures successfully. “I was fortunate enough to work three weeks, which really helped me pay the bills.

I was able to keep workers, but it was a challenge to figure out how to pay them. We did some trucking and things like that, and we got through it. It was rough, but at least I was able to work the next year in 2021,” she attests.

Things have changed since the pandemic, however. “Post pandemic, I have landed a somewhat different route. Even today, some of the events I had for many years, they still haven't come back since the pandemic. Those are mostly city events, and it's hard to tell the reason why. Maybe they lost so much money due to the closures that they can't fund the events anymore, or maybe they realized how much it cost the city to put an event on and have decided not to do that again,” she says.

As a smaller company doing smaller events, Jensen focuses on doing “whatever we can to make things work for people. In some cases, that may mean having less rides or what have you. I'm easier to work with on smaller events. Many people have a large payroll and a large overhead to cover, so they couldn't do the smaller events that I can. I can service a small fair as well as a medium sized event, and I'm open to working with a variety of different locations and sizes.”

Jensen is justifiably proud of raising six kids while also growing Midway West Amusements. “Most people don't understand the carnival life. My kids were all raised at the carnival, but they went to college, were active in sports, and all their friends and parents didn't realize what I do for a living until after they got to know me. I would often hear the comment, ‘Oh wow, that sounds like fun,' when they found out,” she says.

“And it is fun – as long as you like to work!” Jensen laughs, adding “But despite the work, what else would I do where you're bringing the fun for everyone? It takes a lot of work to make that fun, but this is a great profession for us, and I love it.”
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