Step Right Up

Hauling for big-time circuses is one thing, but driving small-town carnivals is a completely different ride.

Some drivers grew up in the world of carnivals, and they wouldn’t think of doing anything else.

For Duane Case of Gibsonton, Fla., the carnival has been a way of life since he was 5 years old. His parents ran a 20-foot-long dime pitch, so they carted him around on various carnival tours. At 39, he looks back fondly on growing up in lots of different towns and getting all the free rides he wanted.

Driving carnival rides for a living was the logical career choice for Case. He hauls “kiddie rides” all over the South, and he goes as far north as Kentucky. He hauls for Myers International Midways, and his company is Case Rides and Concessions, of Gibsonton, Fla.
“I love working with the kids,” Case says. “We even have certain days we open early for handicapped kids.”

In addition to their time behind the wheel, carnival drivers have to do all the things that other “carnies” have to do. That means that after they unload their rides, they have to “paint stuff and fix stuff,” Case explains. Many of them also run concessions or rides.
On Case’s carnival, there are eight vehicles – five pickups, which also can pull rides, and three big rigs. Some of the kids’ favorite rides that he pulls are the Convoy, in which a semi, a Jeep, a dragon and a motorcycle go around in circles, and the Go-Gator, in which kids ride around in alligators. “Kids love that one,” he says.

“The set-ups and tear-downs are tough sometimes, but we make it,” he adds.
The carnival season lasts six to eight months, Case says. In the winter, things slow down, but a driver can still find work in the South. He just did a January run from Jacksonville to Gibsonton for $100 for Farrows Amusements of Jackson, Miss.

Gordon Sanders also loves driving carnival rides. “That’s the best part of the carnival business is driving,” he says. After eight years of hauling for Tip Top Shows Inc., of Riverview, Fla., he got a new gig with Exum Enterprises of Gibsonton, Fla.

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Sanders hauls rides with names such as “Flying Bobs” to carnivals all over Wisconsin when the weather is warm. In the winter months, he hauls carnival equipment from Texas to Georgia.
A carnival trucker has to be a jack-of-all-trades, driver Billy Redgate says. “When you work for the carnival, you’re a welder, a mechanic, a structural engineer. We can set up million-dollar carnival rides. We have to be able to do it all. If you see something wrong with a ride, you’ve got to shut it down, fix it and open it again. Because otherwise they’re losing money, and you’re losing money, too.”