Have you ever wondered how the life on the carnival industry works? Well let me tell you it is no picnic. First of all there is a lot of stereotyping associated with that kind of work. Being called a Gypsy, Carnies, trash, scam artist, homeless, etc is enough to make a person want to quit. What people do not realize is that those people who they call all those bad names often work days lasting 20 hours or longer at times, have every persons safety in their hands while operating a ride, they have the responsibility of making your child smile by giving them a prize, the knowledge to cook your food properly so you don't get sick, the ability to count back your change and tape a wristband on your child so they can have fun and many other public relations duties such as helping a lost child or helping care for a fallen person. I am going to give a brief rundown on what life out there is like.
I started working on a carnival at the age of 14. I was a runaway and needed a way to survive. When I first started working out there my father was also out there as well as my brother but my things happened and I ended up there to survive.
My first job there was blowing up balloons in a game and learning how to run a game. A short while later I was running what is considered to be kids games . Those consist mostly of prize every time games. I worked for a small carnival so we were only open 3-4 days at a time. I would start my day at around 9:00 AM by stocking games with prizes and helping make cotton candy. By 11:00 AM the midway would be open and nonstop packed until 11:00 PM with only two 15 minute breaks and a half hour lunch. That was the usual start from Friday. By Sun we would open the midway as usual however we would close around 7:00 PM and begin the tear down process which sometimes lasted 24 hours straight. After a long night tearing down we would load up in the trucks and head down the road to the next destination sometimes starting to set up after arriving. Set up and preparations were done through the rest of the week until opening.
After leaving that carnival I then moved to another show and worked with rides. By the age of 16 I was able to run almost every ride that the midway had offer as well as work on the set up, tear down and maintenance. The one lesson I was taught first was always to watch my riders and the ride. Customers don't like to walk around a midway covered in vomit or see their child in tears from fear and nothing being done about it that is why that was my first lesson. Secondly I had to learn the ride and learn to listen for unusual sounds that may indicate the ride may be malfunctioning during anytime that the ride is in motion with or without riders. I learned to grease my ride and operate it correctly so that a breakdown was less likely to happen. I was also supervised and shown the correct way to bring down a ride in the case of an emergency during operation. Without this knowledge it could have been tragic. That was a physically and mentally stressful day every time we opened the midway. Just knowing that every person on that ride has entrusted you with their lives is enough to cause some people stress at first. But it is people like that who work everyday to make people happy and make sure they are safe. Trust me working the rides is by far the hardest most physically grueling job on a midway. You run all day round and round let riders in, walking them out, taking their tickets, securing their safety equipment and operating the ride. After a long weekend of that you begin the tear down process all over again.
I also worked with the food wagons as well. There you work longer weekend hours and fewer during the week. My day would start around 7:00 AM to begin prepping and making foods then serving the public during the open hours and then another 2 hours for the cleaning process that has to be done nightly. When you work with the foods you have to learn sanitary rules to prevent cross contamination of foods and bad bacteria or cleaning agents. Without that knowledge someone would have probably gotten very sick from a bacteria such as salmonella or ecoli.
And one other job is the job of the supervisor he has the bulk of the whole show to worry about. He has inspections for the rides, maintains and repairs equipment, controls the set up and tear down every week, makes sure employees are doing their jobs, hires and fires,electrical wiring, and has many many other responsibilities.
The moral of the story is before you judge a person for their lifestyle or their job consider what it is they are doing for you. Yeah those carnival folks all live in travel trailers or small 6x4 bunk rooms they share however they are not only working hard to bring you happiness they are also putting their life on the lines for you. Every set up and tear down of the rides can prove deadly. I know I have lost a very good friend during a tear down malfunction with hydraulics that killed him. Not only for those reasons but did anyone ever think that they like to travel and make people happy. I know for every child I handed a prize to I handed it with a smile. I hope maybe this article may have given some folks an insight to that style life and maybe made a difference in their opinion. As with any job there could always be a bad person lurking in the shadows it's not just from the carnivals but everywhere, so please before you stereotype have that thought in your head.