SIDNEY — Billy Bigelow, the carnival barker antihero in Rogers and Hammerstein’s musical, “Carousel,” sings about the professions his unborn son might one day take up:
“… Or maybe bark for a carousel, that would be all right, too.”
There is no barker for a carousel at the Shelby County fair. There is no carousel, unless one counts the kiddy ride that features tractors instead of horses on the turntable. But there are carnies, the people who travel from place to place, operating rides and games, manning food booths and souvenir stands. And they think what they do is, indeed, all right, too.
Leon Troutman Jr., of Fayetteville, North Carolina, hasn’t been home in awhile. Neither has Stephanie Runyon, who hails from Lexington, Kentucky. That’s because they work full time, year round, on the carnival circuit. Troutman has been at it for almost three years. Runyon joined the ride company, Michael’s Enterprise Inc., six months ago to be with her fiance who hauls the rides from place to place.
“I love doing this,” Runyon said as she helped youngsters on and off the Hillbilly Hot Tub.
Tim Pridemore, of Pomeroy, is a seasonal worker who has logged 23 years from spring to fall — some 22 fairs per season — enticing people to play the Skee Ball game. The fun of it, he said, is “getting to meet different people.” He looks forward to reconnecting each year with those he has met in the various places he goes. When he’s not on the road, he repairs cars in his garage at home. For Pridemore, the best thing about being a carnie is the money. He earns about $600 per week.
“It pays my bills,” he said.
Teresa Miller and Robert Espinoza, both of Sidney, said they’d had a lot of players at the goldfish game they were working. It is his first year at the fair, her sixth, and they plan to operate the game next week at the Auglaize County Fair.
“We talked to the main director of the fairgrounds. He gave us the name of the owner (of the games) and we got hired just like that,” Miller said.
“I used to travel with the Offenbachen Show. They do rides from Tampa, Florida. My nephew worked for amusements to run at fairs and they were looking for someone who could speak Spanish,” Espinoza said.
Often, it seems, carnies get involved because they know someone who is already on the circuit. For Runyon, it was her fiance. For Troutman, it was someone he started a conversation with at a carnival. Pridemore was at his hometown fair and just walked up to the owner of the games and asked him if he needed help.
Miller and Espinoza work from noon to 10 p.m. each day at the Shelby County Fair.
“If you don’t have anything to do, it’s better than sitting at home,” Espinoza added.
Michael’s Enterprise has provided rides in Kentucky, West Virginia, South Carolina, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, New Jersey, New York and the Bahamas, Troutman said.
“We put certain rides on barges and ship them to the Bahamas,” he said, between rounds of running the Super Shot drop tower Wednesday. His favorite part of the job is watching the children on the rides.
“I like to see the expressions on kids’ faces,” he said. “When the kids get on, they’re amazed by how fast it goes or how high it goes. That’s my satisfaction.”
Runyon enjoys children, too.
“I was doing something else and I said, ‘I need to get out, get fresh air, be around kids,’” she said.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4824. Follow her on Twitter @PASpeelmanSDN.