As fried-food-laden fairgoers wandered among looming rides, colorful eatery stations and games Saturday, a crew of more than 350 people worked to make sure the State Fair ran smoothly.
Some workers called out on speakers from their basketball-throwing, ring-tossing and air-gun-shootings games. Others orchestrated the main attractions: the death-defying thrill rides that toss and swing people dozens of feet in the air before plummeting them toward the earth.
North American Midway Entertainment, the company that hauls in the food, rides and games for the State Fair, visits 140 communities, 20 states and four Canadian provinces a year.
For Dylan Lindsey, who wore a dark hoodie and sported bright-green hair as she manned the air rifle Shoot Out station along the midway Saturday, that many events means a lot of work.
"It feels good to work hard," Lindsey said. "And it's nice when you like the people you work with. We eat, work and live together here. It's like a family."
Like many of the people who work in the carnival industry, Lindsey said she loves the travel. Lindsey, a native of Alberta, Canada, where there was a foot of snow in her backyard Saturday, said that on her off days she loves to explore whatever new city she has landed in.
Working on the fair circuit means being flexible, willing to work odd hours and pick up a handful of unusual and interesting talents. Lindsey can repair an air rifle, for example, and scramble up the side of her game trailer to unleash the marquee.
Natalie Hatton, who was getting ready for her shift in a lemonade stand Saturday morning, can shake three lemonade cups at once, make cotton candy and elephant ears, and deep-fry just about anything.Gallery: 2019 Arkansas State Fair
"It gives you that sense of adventure every day," Hatton said.
Lindsey said the nature of the work -- the endless flow of children, teens and adults passing by -- has changed her.
"I can talk to people now," she said. "I couldn't do that last year."
Lindsey said she is introverted by nature, and although she had worked at a carnival back in Alberta, being part of a larger operation where she sees hundreds of customers each week helped pull her out of her shell.
Gary Oldham, a 33-year veteran of North American Midway Entertainment, said he can see the change in Lindsey since she first joined the troupe two years ago.
"I think we've changed her a bit, but she's changed us, too," Oldham said. "You can't help but blossom out here. You learn how to navigate life."
It's an irony, he said, that a job filled with children makes you grow up.
"The carnival is like a trade school to me," said Mark Keller, a supervisor of the fair's thrill rides. "You learn about hydraulics, painting, welding, physics. It takes skill to level out the rides to make sure the hinges aren't bearing too much weight."
The company helps interested workers get their commercial driving licenses, so they, like Keller, can help haul the movable fest. After starting with the carnival back in the 1980s, Keller said he took a break for a while and drove 18-wheelers across the country.
He worked in a factory for a while, too, but said he decided the carnival was his calling.
"I'm glad I came back," he said. "I love the people."
Being an international operation, Oldham said the fair work draws all kinds of people from all kinds of places. The company also helps employees get work visas for the United States or Canada.
For some people, Oldham said, the thrill is not getting on roller coasters or strapping into the Ring of Fire. It's moving each week to a new city or town, feeling the high-pressure adrenaline of setting up the attractions and the long days of making people smile.
"Lindsey, she has her own identity, and I think everyone here does," Oldham said. "The thing is, here there is no discrimination. It doesn't matter what you look like or what color you are. Everybody is welcome."
Campbell Hodge of Conway screams Saturday as she gets flipped around on the Mach 3 ride at the State Fair. More photos are available at arkansasonline.com/1013fair/. For video, go to arkansasonline.com/1013fairvid/
Jill Emerson, 12, of Prairie Grove blow dries off her cow, Happy, after it won grand champion Hereford heifer Saturday at the State Fair. More photos atarkansasonline.com/1013fair/. For video, go to arkansasonline.com/1013fairvid/
Riders soar Saturday on the Tower Swing at the Arkansas State Fair. More photos are available at arkansasonline.com/1013fair/. For video, go to arkansasonline.com/1013fairvid/
Jessica Shaw tries to hold on Saturday while her ladder gets flipped over while playing the Luna’s Ladder carnival game at the State Fair. More photos are available at arkansasonline.com/1013fair/. For video, go to arkansasonline.com/1013fairvid/
Samantha Donaby and her daughter, Alanna, 6, both of Jonesboro slide down the Euroslide at the State Fair on Saturday. More photos are available atarkansasonline.com/1013fair/. For video, go to arkansasonline.com/1013fairvid/
Metro on 10/13/2019
Print Headline: Carnival crew makes fair work