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Published July 30, 2012, 09:22 AM

Carnival thrills

Some people like carnivals and midway rides, some people don’t. I’ve always been one of the likers.

By: Ryan Taylor, Agweek

TOWNER, N.D. — Some people like carnivals and midway rides, some people don’t. I’ve always been one of the likers. Something about the thrill-seeking expositions traveling the countryside amuses me, just like it’s supposed to in the amusement park business.

Maybe it’s because my birthday always coincided with our state fair. I spent a lot of birthdays marking another year on my personal calendar while hitting the midway on the fairgrounds. The games of slim chance, the food with questionable health repercussions, the rides that you can’t help but inspect and check the welds on as they whirl you around.

This year, I shared the whole experience with my kids. Mostly, with the boys, because we were all over 48 inches tall and could do the really scary rides. I did ride the Ferris wheel with our little girl though. She was tall enough to get on that ride, but still little enough that she buried her face in my chest as I held her near the top.

I rode the Tornado, the Hurricane, the Starship 2000 and others with my 8-year-old and 5-year-old boys and my nearly teenaged nephew, who joined us.

It was one of our first midway ride riding experiences all together as a family. That’s probably a good thing because when I tallied up the cost for the “ride all day” wrist bands for my wife and me, our three children and our nephew, it came to $180. And that was with the Co-op Day discount! Paying that tab is what gave me the chill for our day of thrills and chills on the rides.

Genetic code

There’s affection for carnivals in my blood, though, that helped me get over the sticker shock. I found an old letter in our family photo box to prove my genetic carnival connection. It was written to the elder cousin who was the father figure in my dad’s life after his father died when he was just a toddler.

It was written by one E.L. Pheister of Northern Exposition Shows, Hazelton, N.D., to Gordon Taylor in 1942. The letterhead said his show featured the highest Ferris wheel ever exhibited in North Dakota, and his agent’s name was Dusty Rhodes — a great name for an agent in the traveling exhibition business in the dirt road days.

It seems Gordon, my horse ranching ancestor from Culbertson, Mont., was toying with the idea of getting into the show business and Mr. Pheister had a “nice chair plane to sell” for $2,000, provided Gordon would book it on the show. It was in fine shape, he said, and came with everything — truck, fences, lighting, engine.

The Northern Exposition was having a tough time keeping workers and operators on the show circuit during World War II. The letter said the draft took about half of his men so there was an opening for Gordon, who was past fighting age at the time.

Well, he never bought the chair plane or became a carnie. He kept raising and selling horses and the generations of Taylors after him would have to buy their wristbands like everyone else to get that magical midway experience.

Maybe that’s just as well. As I think about it, one day of riding the rides and experiencing the whole carnival culture spread out across the pavement on a hot July day, is probably enough.

At least until next year.

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