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Rides take fair by storm

March 04, 2002|By DARREN SIMON

Staff Writer

Scrambler … Ring of Fire … Fire Ball … Energy Storm. The names say it all. They are just some of the more than 30 rides at the California Mid-Winter Fair & Fiesta, many of which test your stomach as they twist you, turn you and flip you in every direction.

Thousands of people this week will line up to test their endurance on such rides.

Take the Energy Storm, for example — one of the newest rides. It moves you at 2Gs — a force against your body equivalent to two times your weight — and is meant to provide a similar sensation to that experienced by fighter pilots.

On Friday, Steven Adkins, Savanna Rodriguez and Alyssa Suarez, all 13 and of El Centro, became the first Imperial Valley residents ever to ride the Energy Storm at the local fair, since this is the first year that ride is here.

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"I like the way you stay upside down so long," said Steven moments after the ride.

"I thought it was cool; exciting," Savanna added. "All the blood rushes to your face."

Added Alyssa: "It was something different."

For those who are not speed junkies, there are plenty of tamer rides and there are the kiddy rides, all of which — those who organize the carnival hope — will add to the enjoyment for Imperial Valley families.

For three years the carnival portion of the fair has been provided by Butler Amusements Inc. of San Jose, the largest carnival company in North America. Butler is a family-owned company that has been in the carnival business for three decades.

The company was started in 1970 by George Butler and his son, Earl, known to most as "Butch," with seven rides. The company now has 120 rides available.

On a recent day, as the rides were being built in preparation for the start of the fair, Kurt Vomberg, a carnival manager for Butler, met with a reporter to talk about what goes into bringing a carnival to fruition.

It is no easy task.

It takes time.

It takes money.

It takes experience.

It takes manpower.

Vomberg manages a team of up to 150 carnival workers, all of whom last week were busy on a warm, bright afternoon putting the final touches on the rides.

"It's a challenge," said Vomberg, who, at 46, has been managing carnivals for about 30 years. "It's a very sophisticated and complicated system."

He added, "It's something I really enjoy doing."

Vomberg described the California Mid-Winter Fair & Fiesta as a large fair requiring a large carnival. He pointed out there is about $20 million in equipment on hand for the carnival, from the more than 30 rides to the seven power generators and miles of power lines and other equipment. The carnival uses about 2,500 kilowatts of power, roughly enough energy to serve more than 2,000 homes.

Vomberg explained there is nothing random about a carnival production. Every ride, every game, even every bench is strategically placed to be pleasing to those visiting the carnival grounds — known as the "midway."

"There is an art to laying it out," Vomberg said, pointing to the canvasses, all of which are color-coordinated and draw the eye from one ride to the next throughout the midway.

Tom Yentsch is the man assigned the task of deciding how the rides will be organized. He knows the task. He's been doing it for about 10 years, but he's been in the carnival business since he was 19. He's 54 now.

His entire career has been spent with Butler, even before it was a full-fledged company.

"You try to pick out your corners," Yentsch said of the midway. "You need to draw the people from one end to the other.

"You have to know the dimensions," he added, explaining how rides — with their lights gleaming — attract the eyes of those visiting the carnival.

Demographics also play a role.

Butch Butler, who has run the company since his father died, said industry studies have looked at demographics and have found Hispanic populations prefer rides closer to the ground as opposed to the taller rides.

He said that information, at least in part, helps him determine what rides are brought to the California Mid-Winter Fair & Fiesta.

Still, Butler said people can expect to see a complement of taller rides at the local fair.

Another demographics issue, Butler explained, is the Imperial Valley has been found to be more family-oriented than other areas, and so the kiddy section is larger than might be found at other carnivals.

Butler offered one other piece of statistical information — one males might find surprising.

It has been determined that females are more daring in the kinds of rides they are willing to try, and, he added, they can stomach rides better than males.

Along with an artful touch, a bit of statistical information and a lot of money, it takes labor to get the carnival ready.

At one corner of the carnival a group of eight workers led by Wade Meade worked with a group of men on the Ferris wheel, a 100-foot mammoth ride towering over the fairgrounds.

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