One of the first major fairs of the season, The San Diego County Fair, Del Mar, which operated in three different months from May 31st through July 4th, and where Tim Fennell is CEO and General Manager, drew attendance of 1,531,199, which was down from the 2016 record total of 1,609,481.
Guy Leavitt, who owns Ray Cammack Shows with his wife, Charlene, had the majority of rides, along with Dave Helm and Sons. The top ten rides included the number one Sky Ride from RCS and the number two Big Wheel. The G-Force from Southern Cross Rides, which is owned by one of the Leavitt's sons-in-law, Ben Pickett was fourth. Fifth was Cammack's Rave Wave, and eighth was their Alien Abduction.
Others in the top ten were the Crazy Mouse Roller Coaster of Steve Vander Vorste's S&G Entertainment, third. In sixth place was the Fast Trax Slide of Tom and Mary Talley's State Fair Spectaculars. Wood Entertainment, owned by Michael Wood, had his Magnum in seventh place. Ninth was the Olympic Bobsled of Helm & Sons, and tenth was the German Funhouse of Guy and Susan McDaniel's Fun Attractions. Guy Leavitt was OABA Chairman in 2006 and Wood held that role in 2015. Ray Cammack Shows moved from Del Mar to Costa Mesa for the Orange County Fair, which opened July 12tand will run through August 11.
When reached for comment, Leavitt said he was pleased with the results at Del Mar, but added he would have been happier if the fair had closed on the Sunday after July 4th. The way it worked out, “We opened and closed a weekend early. Some with the state said the reason was to avoid a tight move to Costa Mesa, but we've had tight moves before.” Leavitt said that Pickett was more or less in charge of the show during the Del Mar run. He is the son of the late, great Tas Pickett, who owned TPA Shows in Australia with his mother, Emily. Ben said his brother, Jamie, is now running that carnival, which is going under the name of FJF Amusements.
Asked about their season, he said, “It's basically a year-round operation, with four major dates. One was the Royal Easter Show in Sydney and the others are in Brisbane, Adelaide and Melbourne. They travel with between 20-30 rides and games and 15 food stands.” Asked if the labor situation is as big a problem as it is here, Pickett answered, “It is, but there is no H-2B Visa program, which our show in the U.S. benefits from greatly. They are forced to navigate for whatever help they can find. It is a major issue and concern.”
Pickett pointed out it has been 20 years since he married one of the Leavitt's daughters, Joy, who is Chief Financial Officer of the company. They have six children. Concerning Del Mar, Pickett stated, “I'm extremely happy, even though our crowds were slightly off. For the first time, we took over the majority of the games, and the fair took over our Fun Pass cashless system.”
He said he had no complaint with the dates this year and said, “Since 2020 is a leap year, we will remain open until July 5th.” Commenting on the Fun Pass use, he added, “We usually go after full contracts, so this was out of our usual line of doing business.” He said that Annie Kastl, who is a regular with RCS still has her own games operation and booked independently, as did some who had been there before, including John Taggart, Paul Nemeth and Adam West.
When Ben and I talked about his Dad, it brought back great memories. He was probably the first Australian to ever be a member of the Outdoor Amusement Business Association. He definitely was the first person from his country to join the International Independent Showmen's Association in Gibsonton, Florida, and he never missed any of that group's February Trade Shows.
We had a tradition for probably more than ten years where I took a picture of him for Amusement Business with Laura Sedlmayr, whose parents, Carl and Egle, had owned Royal American Shows, and Terri Swyear, of Swyear Amusements. When Tas died, Ben called and wondered whether I had any ideas on how we could pay tribute to his fun-loving, always smiling Dad at the next Trade Show. I suggested he buy a round of drinks for patrons at the bar and we would drink a toast to Tas.
Before that, I contacted David Starkey, a former President of the Gibtown Club, and more plans were made. One involved a picture of Tas in the corner of the bar with the words “Rest in Peace” under it. I emphasized to Pickett to have it done on a day that Christine and I would surely be there. Never did I dream his Mom and her entire family, including brother Jamie, would show up. It was one of the happiest, classiest and most festive occasions I've ever witnessed at the bar, where the crowd was overflowing. At some point, after four or five rounds, one of the bartenders said she had been told to cut the drinks off. Ben looked aghast and exclaimed, “Me Dad wouldn't like that. Keep it open.”
Some other fun facts from the Fair that were provided by Media Contact, Annie Pierce, included the fact Carmel Dyer Pittroff used 11,200 pounds of potatoes and 6,720 pints of oil to deep fry her Australian Battered Potatoes. They were covered in 192 gallons of Ranch dressing, 40 cases of cheese sauce, 160 pounds of bacon and 120 pounds of sour cream. Carmel's husband, Fred Pittroff, operates the Giant Slide at the Minnesota State Fair, St. Paul, where Jerry Hammer is General Manager. Biggy's Meat Market, operated by Dominick Palmieri, another Leavitt son-in-law, sold nearly 3,000 pounds of Big Ribs. Brett Enright's Juicy's sold an estimated 22,000 orders of turkey leg tacos, and Pignotti's Gourmet Italian Stand brought back their highly acclaimed spaghetti donuts and sold more than 1,400.
A belated Happy Birthday to Gary Magyoran, Concession Manager for Rich Wyatt's Unit of North American Midway Entertainment, who celebrated the event July 10 at Frontier Days in Arlington Heights, Illinois, with Lauri, whom he has been with for 21 years. “I call her my Buffalo Girl because I took her out of Buffalo.” They met when Magyoran was with David Robb's Fun City Shows. A native of Cleveland, Ohio, now 65, he has been in the business 45 years, starting with Hal Eifort's Unit of Floyd Gooding's Million Dollar Midway. Before joining NAME, Magyoran was with Gene Chaffee's Amusements of Buffalo.
If you've never met Gary, you should. He's a Class Act. When I tried to give him a compliment, he said, “I try to treat people the way I like to be treated.” He said his mentors have included his former father-in-law, Neil Carlin and NAME's Jeff Blomsness. I broke out in laughter after asking him if he preferred working with rides or games. He answered swiftly, “I never moved no iron. I'm blessed to be in this business. It's a great chance to travel and meet different people.” Magyoran and Carl Snoddy have most of the games on Wyatt's Unit.
Speaking of birthdays, I'll be celebrating (not like I did when I was 20 or 30) my 86th on Thursday, July 18. My 85th was a big one, staged on a huge scale at the local Knights of Columbus Club by my beautiful wife, Christine, and four wonderful children, Julia Mulherin, who came in from Yorktown, Virginia, Alice Powell Stanley, who is again taking dictation for this column because of my gout, Tommy, who is a nurse practitioner in Minneapolis, and Kevin Powell, a mechanical engineer who lives in Nashville. Guests included Gary McNeil, one of the great Balloon Peddlers, Dennis Carollo, who owns an Iron Mine Attraction in Iron Mountain, Michigan, Bob Skoney, Manager of Municipal Auditorium and about 100 other friends and family. I'm hoping it's a lot more low key this year, and if Christine and the kids want to repeat the efforts they extended for my 85th, I urge them to wait till I'm 100!! I'll drink to that.
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Have all great days and God Bless.