Rides at Red River Valley Fair typically only replaced if they stop making money
WEST FARGO, N.D. – Ask an unscientific random sample of fairgoers what they think the oldest midway ride is, and you’ll hear “Ferris wheel” a lot.
Not quite. The two wheels were manufactured in the early 1990s, which puts them in the old-but-not-ancient category among the other rides there.
And while one of the rides at the fair this year predates the foundation of tech giant Apple, nobody in the unscientific sample could guess its identity.
That’s probably because fair workers inspect rides daily, making sure everything works properly. A well-maintained ride can last 50 years or more.
People come to carnivals such as the Red River Valley Fair year after year, but they may not know why their favorite rides stop making appearances or how new rides get chosen.
Replacing a ride is mostly a matter of cost, said Larry Rost, general manager for Murphy Brothers Reed Expos, the company running the rides at this year’s fair. Rost’s company travels around the country workings fairs.
Trucking costs for one ride run about $2 per mile. If a ride stops bringing in money or becomes too expensive to maintain, Rost said, it gets the boot.
That means popular rides like the Himalaya and Kamikaze are usually safe bets.
A lot of research goes into buying a new ride, too. Rost says he does his homework to be sure the ride will make money before he buys it, and he’s never picked a dud.
“We don’t just go buy a ride because it’s the newest ride,” he said. “We’ve never had that happen where we’ve had a ride that just totally bombed.”
He’s lucky. A larger ride can run a carnival operator $750,000 or more if bought new, Rost said, and the company rarely buys used ones.
The deals start at trade shows, where manufacturers and brokers show off the latest in carnival entertainment.
It’s a small industry, and Rost said word gets around quick. If a carnival operator is trying to sell a ride, everyone will know by the end of the day, he said.
About half of the roughly 40 rides at the fair this year were manufactured in the 2000s.
The dinosaur of the group, according to inspection records, is Clown Around, a pre-Carter administration funhouse manufactured in 1975.
Age doesn’t matter to many
Whether a ride is old or new doesn’t seem to bother many fairgoers.
“I go on everything,” said Shanah Milbrett, 14. “I don’t really think about it.”
Some rides, like the flipping Zipper, go through several iterations. The one at this year’s fair only dates back to 2001, but Rost said the company owned the first prototype of the machine.
Brennan Wallach, 14, guessed the Zipper was one of the oldest rides at the fair because it looked “beat up.” But that didn’t bother him, and he claimed it’s a favorite of his.
Rost said the Zipper is a perennial hit among fairgoers. It’s a nasty little contraption wherein two people are strapped into a box barely bigger than they are and churned around until they come out confused and somehow smiling.
“I’ve been in it three times, and every time I cried,” said Amber Cox, 20.
Wallach swears it’s fun.