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McPhersonSentinel - McPherson, KS
  • Good judgment equals good fun at carnival

  • Monday’s traditionally slow opening of Toby’s Amusements didn’t seem to bother the carnival workers.
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  • Monday’s traditionally slow opening of Toby’s Amusements didn’t seem to bother the carnival workers.
    “It picks up speed as the week goes on,” a game operator said, munching on a chicken wing. He’d had a few people stop by, but not many.
    “Games don’t get the traffic of the rides,” he said. “Probably ‘cause with a ride, you know you’re going to get something out of it, the thrill, but with a game you may or may not win.”
    Asked about the odds of winning, he initially said they were high, but then admitted they were “not great. You have to have either luck or some skill.”
    Discussing the fairness of carnival games, he grinned sheepishly, then likened carnival games to going to Las Vegas.
    “You know the House usually wins, but that’s what makes it a challenge,” he said. “Then when you do win, it’s a bigger deal, you’re the hero.”
    The ride operators also had plenty of time between customers to chat about their rides.
    “You see the signs on each ride,” a carnival worker, or carny, said. His nickname is Doc (“All carnies have nicknames,” he asserted) and this is his second year with Toby’s. He recalls McPherson well, as it’s the place where, three years ago on his first tour with Toby’s, he got his one and only “winner”.
    “Only got one under my belt,” he said, “right here in McPherson on the Tilt-A-Whirl. Some guys get ‘em all the time.”
    A “winner” is someone who vomits while on the ride.
    Doc operates the bumper cars, where winners seldom, if ever, occur.
    “Biggest issue is little kids who don’t realize they can back up and they get themselves stuck in a corner, and I hafta go over and steer ‘em out of it,” he said. “Only danger riding the bumper cars is a bumped lip or nose from hitting the safety harness. And that only happens if Dad is in the car with the kid, and Dad’s having too much fun ramming people and forgetting he’s got a little one in there and doesn’t hold onto him.”
    The signage Doc spoke of begins by stating, “Your safety is our goal.”
    It notes each ride has height, age and weight restrictions; that riders must follow the instructions of the operator; that safety equipment such as harnesses must be worn when provided; that children must be of an age to hold themselves erect; that parents should watch the ride in operation first to be sure children can ride it safely; and that children should not be forced to ride anything that they are afraid of, as panic might cause them to try to leave the ride while in motion.
    Page 2 of 2 - In addition, the sign notes the types of force possible on rides: rapidly changing side to side and front to back motion, and rapidly changing heights.
    The combination of ingesting fried foods, heavily sugared foods, or anything the system isn’t used to, and then hopping on a ride where the body is jerked about is bound to produce a winner from time to time.
    “People are not prepared” for the movement, Leslie, a carny operating Spin the Apple, said of winners.  “And not just kids. Adults just as often.”
    Leslie is in his second year with Toby’s also. He works on the machines during the carnival’s winter quarters, in the five months of the year when the carnival isn’t touring. He says winners happen often on the Zumer, and nightly on the Zipper.
    “I absolutely won’t get on the Zipper,” Doc said. “Just look at it!” He gestured to the tallest ride, a collection of cages that spin independently and on an arm, moving the occupants upside down within the cage as the arm holding the cage is also turning.
    “I went on it as a kid with my brother, and he had the cage rocking so bad that it scared the fool out of me. No sir. I won’t even run it. Unless they’d make me,” he amended.
    When it comes to training, Doc said the employees are given adequate time to learn how to run the rides, and aren’t left to figure it out themselves.
    “I started on the Dragon,” he said, “But after an hour, I still didn’t have it down the way the trainer thought I should, so he moved me to another ride and I never got back to the Dragon. And that’s OK too,” he said. He operates the bumper cars, GoBerries, bikes, boats and the Tilt-A-Whirl.
    Doc’s mechanical skills come in handy working for Toby’s. “I’ve been turning wrenches since I was 12, working on a brake job with my dad,” he said.
    “I had three bumper cars on their sides this afternoon, figuring out which wire was loose.” The machines aren’t especially high-tech, so general mechanic skills are sufficient for most needs.
    Doc is confident that the public is safe on Toby’s rides, as long as they use good judgment.
    “Don’t check your brain at the gate,” he said. “Use your common sense. Look at the machines. They’re big and weigh a ton. The Tilt-A-Whirl takes six hours to put together with a good crew. The individual cars are super heavy. You don’t jump out while something like that is moving. And you don’t ride it if you’re squeamish and just ate a funnel cake and cotton candy and three hot dogs.”

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