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On The Earie by Tom Powell, OABA News Ambassador

Thu, August 22, 2019 5:03 PM | Sue Gallup (Administrator)

These were the busiest times of the year during my 34 years as editor of Amusement Business, as the number of state fairs taking place was heating up and with a limited staff we were attempting to attend as many as possible.

Personally, I would attempt to hit Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky on the same trip, winding at one at the beginning, one in the middle, and one at the end. I remember asking Paul King if he were still manager at Columbus one day and he laughed and said the last time he checked he was. In those days, when the governor changed, so did the fair manager. I believe that may still be true at the Illinois State Fair. Buddy Lee Attractions used to book the talent there and Mike Dubois, who now works in Nashville with former Buddy Lee President Tony Conway, who is managing Alabama, was fair manager.

I have great memories of all the fairs I attended. At Indianapolis, Estil Callahan introduced me to the governor of Indiana as being the editor of the Cadillac of trade papers. When I asked where to park, he pointed to a space with his name on it and said that while I was in town, that was mine.

I remember when Norb Bartosik, now in charge of the Midwest Fair Managers Association, was starting his career as manager of the DuQuoin, Ill. State Fair. Enough of that.

Attendance at the 168th annual Wisconsin State Fair, West Allis, held Aug. 1-11, was 1,130,572, according to Shari Black, Chief Programs Officer to CEO Kathleen O'Toole.

We had record attendance on five days, both Fridays, Thursday, Aug. 8, and the final Saturday and Sunday. We also had three record days of ride and games gross,” said Black. The ride and game gross was up 10.6 per cent over 2018.

Bobby Myers and his mother, Gloria, were presented with the inaugural Outstanding Service Award. O'Toole was quoted as saying, “It's important that we recognize their efforts.”

She referred to the independent operators on the what is known as the SpinCity carnival midway.

Bobby Myers was set to open at the Minnesota State Fair, St. Paul, when he was contacted and said, “We're happy we impressed them for doing our job. It was a nice surprise and great honor.” Myers booked a Wave Swinger, Monster Trucks, New York New York Funhouse, and a new Gosetto-manufactured Haunted Castle in West Allis. The Funhouse and Monster Trucks were booked earlier with Arnold's Amusements at the Ionia, Michigan Free Fair.

James E. Strates Shows reached an all-time single day gross record revenue at the Erie County Fair, Hamburg, N.Y., on Saturday, Aug. 10. The all-time record attendance for the 180th annual fair, held Aug. 8-18, was shattered as 1,238,456 attended. That was up by 3.3 per cent over 2014 and topped the old record of 1,220,101 that was established in 2014.

Celebrating its 95th year of providing the midway, gross revenues were trending 25 per cent over those of 2018. John Strates, the show's operations manager, was quoted early on as saying, “This past weekend we recorded three all-time high ridership days. Since 1924, when my grandfather, James E. Strates brought his show to the Erie County Fair, it has never had a run like the one we just experienced. To say we had the biggest day in our history during the 95th year makes the milestone even more special.”

Other ride operators at Wisconsin included Reithoffer Shows, B-Thrilled Attractions, Derek and Kitty Long's D&K Amusements, Wisdom's Laser Fair, Michael and Thomas Lauther Amusements; Michael Wood, Lorraine Kedrowicz's Rainbow Valley Rides, Arnold Amusements, Sunny Hill Attractions, Donnie Massey's Alpine Amusements, Mr. Ed's Magical Midways, and International Attractions. Among those with games were Candy Anderson, Michael Winchester, Joey Fowler, Oren Concessions, Dennis Voss, JBS Concessions, Kim O's, and Midwest Concessions.

Attendance at the 129th annual Orange County Fair, Costa Mesa, California, held July 12-Aug. 11, was 1,393,482, slightly under last year's record number of 1,470,636.

Terry Moore, Communication Director to CEO Kathy Kramer, said, “We are extremely happy with this year's numbers. We had fantastic weather, several new events, and a great entertainment lineup.”

Guy and Charlene Leavitt's Ray Cammack Shows provided the carnival midway for the 25th straight year, causing Guy to reminisce. “Becky Bailey-Findlay was in charge in 1995.

RCS had its biggest ride gross in the history of the fair this year, and the second highest food and games gross.

We had 2.4 million riders this year. Attendance for the 17-day fair back then was 400,000. Our ride revenue, for 23 days now, was up by 446 per cent over that of 1995,” said Leavitt.

In 1995, the top five rides, in order, were the Looping Coaster, Hydra Slide, Top Spin, La Grande Wheel, and 1001 Nachts. This year's top five were the Sky Ride, La Grande Wheel XL, Rave Wave, G Force, and the new Titan, which at 160 feet high is the tallest portable ride in North America.

In the games department, Leavitt said Bank A Ball had 40,000  players; One Ball, 31,000; Tubs, 30,500, Top Glow, 30,218, and 375 Big Water Race, 30,057. “Our management team has tripled in size since 1995. From who we had then, all have remained except for three who died, and three who retired.”

A $40 Super Pass was good for adult gate admission on all 23 days of the fair; $33 for 60 and up, or between six and 12. Adult admission was $12 on weekdays, $14 on weekends.

A solid lineup of entertainment in the Pacific Amphitheatre included Rebelution, Justin Moore with Josh Phillips, Brandi Carlile with David Rosales, Why Don't We, Ziggy Marley with Toots and The Maytails, Pat Benatar & Neil Giraldo with Melissa Etheridge, The Happy Together Tour with The Turtles, Chuck Negron, fomerly with Three Dog Night, The Buckinghams, Gary Puckett & The Union Gap, The Cowsills and The Classics IV, Styx, Brothers Osborne with Chase Bryant, Chicago, Smokey Robinson, Dwight Yoakam with Midland, Kool &The Gang with Evelyn “Champagne” King, The B-52's with Dead Man Party, Michael McDonald with Chaka Khan, The Fab Four, Viva El Mariachi, Lindsey Stirling with ZZ Ward, and Weird Al Yankovic with the Pacific Symphony.

Honesdale, Pa., home of the 157th annual Wayne County Fair, which took place Aug. 2-10, is 32 miles from Scranton, where I was born and raised and lived until I graduated from the Jesuit-run University of Scranton in 1955. It seems odd that with it being so close, I've never been to it.

Roger Dirlam, who also owns Dirlam Lumber Company, has been president, and my source of information, since 1998. He became heavily involved when his dad passed away in 1978.

Of this year's fair, Dirlam said,”We had a good little run, despite having five inches of rain on Tuesday. Attendance was 91,000, up from 74,000 last year, when weather was horrible.

“We had the Black Cat Hell Drivers and the rain, of course, hurt them.” I asked where he found a thrill show since we both acknowledged they have just about become a thing of the past. He wasn't sure, but believed they were heading next to Malone, N.Y., for the Franklin County Agricultural Fair. When Charles Belknap had his thrill show, before joining the management team of Powers Great American Midways, he always booked it at Honesdale. It doesn't seem that long ago when Joie Chitwood, Danny Fleenor, and Jack Kochman had shows that were thrilling crowds at fairs and racetracks.

Veteran stunt drivers Tonny Petersen, who was Belknap's stalwart, Johnny Wiser, Jim (Crash) Moreau, and Justin (Wrong Way) Bellinger comprise the Black Cat team.

Wade Shows again provided the midway with Ketcham, Mike Thomas and Jimmy Danton on hand from the show. “It works well on their schedule, coming from the Delaware State Fair on the way to the New York State Fair in Syracuse,” said Dirlam. “They bring in 30 rides all we can fit.”

A Pay-One-Price of $10 is good for gate admission, unlimited rides, and entertainment. Attractions include Best of the Eagles, Luongo Brothers, horse pull, demolition derby, harness racing, Terry Lee Goffer, The World's Great Johnny Cash Experience, Gino Mercuri, 15-year-old Elvis Impersonator, and JM Productions Monster Truck Freestyle.

Please send news to tomp@oaba.org, or call 615 280-7257.

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