While some “carnies” seem to have a reputation as hardened roustabouts, the workers that travel with Bates Brothers Amusements take pride in their employer’s company and equipment.
Joe McDonnell, who hails from Ohio said that the fair board in Little Valley, N.Y., told them “Everything was so clean, and they did a great job. Kids were stopping in to the fair office just to say what a good time they had on the rides.”
He and John Mays, of Leon, New York run the Wild Thang Bungee Trampoline which is wildly popular with the (mostly) younger set. Generally the kids range in age from 2 to 15 years old, but the only real limit is weight 20 pounds to 180 pounds. “Last week a grandmother rode it and had a great time,”McDonnell said.
“Each week there is at least one kid who comes every day to jump and flip on the ride. One little girl rode it 20 times in one day,” he continued. And at a cost of $5, that’s $100. Mays agreed, saying, “Kids love this ride.”
McDonnell claimed he was born to travel with amusement rides. “Mom has a picture of me in a baby carriage while she ran the kiddie airplanes (with a different company).
He said a lot of the workers come and go, but the good ones are there to do a good job, so the customers have fun.
Mike Pencak, from Natrona Heights near Pittsburgh and Josh Garvin run the Ring Toss game. “Kids love it, parents love it. It’s the best game at the fair.” Pencak said that if you like travelling, the work is fun. “Dad started me off when I was 17, and now I’ve been doing it for 30 years.” He said he also has a car dealership in Pittsburgh that he runs in the off-season, and he has a friend run it while he is on the road.
Steve Cushman, of Wellsville, N.Y. agrees with Pencak. “I used to put up tents for a living. I love it (travelling). I get to meet new people, see new places and get to go places most people never see in a lifetime.” When asked if people called him a “carny,” he said, “Nope. They call me Opie.” He runs the Ferris wheel, technically named Eagle 16, but said, “We just call it the wheel.”
Cushman noted that the season lasts about 13 to 14 weeks, and he had been with Bates Brothers for about one year.
He also noted that based on comments from the public, “The communities like us. They praise the cleanliness and friendliness.”
Gary McCann of New Castle said he has been with the company for three years, running the Fireball Loop rollercoaster, although it was down for minor repairs Wednesday morning.
Mays noted that their boss, who had been with Bates Brothers for 40 years, started out like them and moved up to foreman and now handles maintenance and repairs.
Rachel Fowler of Sarasota, Fla. doesn’t work for Bates; she and her husband run Fowlers Candies, selling taffy and candy apples. “My husband’s family has been doing this since 1917, and we have our own route through Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio and other states that takes half of the year.” She said their next stop is in Smethport.
The Bates Brothers will hit three of the biggest fairs in Ohio over the next three weeks.