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Sunday, Aug. 28, 2016

'Carnie' job is not all fun and games

Thursday, September 26, 2002

SIKESTON -- When Craig Moore began work as an amusement ride operator in 1972, the job was profitable and fun. Today, he says, it's neither.

"You travel a lot. But this," Moore explained, looking around at the Ferris wheel he was operating at the American Legion Cotton Carnival Wednesday, "is all you see. It's a lot like the military."

Originally Moore got into the amusement ride business when his friend and boss Richard Tinsley started Tinsley Amusement Company in High Hills. The two dreamed of someday opening a relaxed amusement park in High Hills for children and the elderly.

"You know there's a disease -- and I can't think of the name -- where people can't do the same thing day in and day out. And I think I have that disease," Moore said.

It's Moore's dream of opening a park that has kept him in the business over the past 30 years. In that time, he has seen a lot while working as a "carnie," or amusement ride operator as they're now called.

Moore estimates an amusement ride operator works at least 100 hours each week. From setting up the rides to running and fixing them to traveling, life as an amusement ride operator can be exhausting, especially if they're like Moore and only get three to four hours of sleep each night.

"Take care of your feet and you'll be all right," Moore advised.

Costs of operation, labor and insurance are so high, it's difficult to actually make a profit in this business, Moore said.

Moore estimated the company spends about $70,000 to replace equipments' light bulbs broken from driving on highways in bad conditions.

And turnover is big.

"In the old days, we would have a regular crew for at least a summer. Now it seems as thought there's a different set of workers each week," Moore said.

Moore thinks carnival workers are often stereotyped.

"We're not all bad," Moore stated. "Yeah, you get people who don't care about their job, but everyone's not like that."

On a scale of one to 10, Moore rates the amusement company he works for as a nine. A really bad company is about a three or four, he said.

Moore said it's difficult to get loans in the amusement industry because banks think everything they own is on wheels, which isn't true.

"We're just like anybody else," the secretary for Tinsley's Amusement said. "We own homes. We own cars. We have our own families. Our kids even go to college."

As secretary, Sandy, who preferred not to give her last name, keeps the business going using portable facilities. "We take a vacant lot and turn it into a city. We're a business on wheels."

Sandy talks to her daughter daily, she said. Two of her granddaughters and one daughter are in the amusement business.

"When kids grow up around a carnival, they see both sides of the world. They learn to deal with situations other kids may never have seen," Sandy explained.

One thing Sandy thinks the public may not realize about the amusement industry is that a certain amount of their profits go back to the city, she said.

"We bring in our main supplies, but anything else we buy in the town we're in. We stay at motels and eat at restaurants. And Thursday is payday so I'm sure a lot of our workers will go shopping," Sandy said.

Tinsley's Amusement Company works in a 300-mile radius and at a few state fairs, Sandy said. A work season for them usually begins in April and ends in October. She said the workers use the winter months to repair equipment.

"Everything has upgraded so much within the last 10 to 15 years for amusement companies," Sandy recalled. "We have national associations and trade shows. We also have scholarships for our kids."

Although Tinsley's Amusement doesn't, some amusement companies that travel across the United States have school teachers and care centers for the children of amusement ride operators.

"It's a typical business. It's structured like any other business. It really is a lot of fun," Sandy said.

And as for Moore, he'll keep on working in the amusement industry. He'll keep working until his dream comes true. He thinks Faith Park is a good name for the park he and his boss envision.

Moore explained: "Because without having faith, you couldn't really be in this business or even life in general."