GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Hurricanes are old hat for Michael Reisinger. As the owner of Michael's Amusements, he's worked through 20 hurricanes over his 50-year career in the outdoor amusement industry.
In mid-September, all eyes were on the potential damage Hurricane Irma could inflict on the Carolinas as it made its way up through Florida and the southeast. As it turned out, it wasn't as bad as initially feared. The hurricane was downgraded to a tropical storm, passing through inland North Carolina with some high winds and heavy rain. The Sept. 8-17 event was closed on Monday and Tuesday before re-opening on Wednesday.
For Reisinger and his Fayetteville, N.C. carnival, extreme weather is par for the course for shows operating in the Southeast. Reisinger, who grew up on the old Dell & Travers Shows, books a route covering North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida.
"Fair season starts in September here and ends in Florida, so there's no getting around hurricanes," he said. "We've set our equipment down for a few of them. During Hurricane Andrew, it sucked the roots right out of the grass. I was working out of the Miami area and didn't own a show at that time."
Michael's Amusements made it through most of the 2017 season with "virtually no rain" until the Fourth of July, but over the past month, the show has been catching rain on the weekends, he said.
Michael's Amusements has played the Central Carolina Fair over the past seven years. It took over the contract from Deggeller Attractions after that carnival signed a deal to play the York (Pa.) Fair, which runs concurrently with the Greensboro event.
The Central Carolina Fair, held in the Greensboro Coliseum parking lot, is largely a still date now. There are no official agricultural ties to the event, but there is some rich history behind it. The fair started more than 100 years ago in Greensboro, and at one time, the Hamid family, well-known for its traveling circus, owned the event. In the early days of NASCAR, its founder Bill France Sr. held stock car races on site at the old fairgrounds as part of the event. Over the past 10 years, the city of Greensboro purchased the event from Jim Hamid and the coliseum now runs it as well as a spring festival, where Drew Exposition supplies the carnival.
Darrell Desgrange, a consultant, fills the role of fair manager for the event, said Matt Brown, executive director for the Greensboro Coliseum. Desgrange works with Scott Johnson, the coliseum's deputy director, to book entertainment that extends to the Fieldhouse, home of the NBA G League's Greensboro Swarm, and White Oak Amphitheater, a 5,000-seat outdoor venue. Both facilities are part of the coliseum complex. This year's concerts included Coolio, Slick Rick and Puddle of Mudd. The event has held its own despite being scheduled during the height of hurricane season and on the week following Labor Day, Brown said.
Michael's Amusements has been in operation for 25 years. The show has 45 rides and splits into two units for half the season. This year, the Expo Wheel made a cameo appearance at Summerfest in downtown Milwaukee. The carnival also rents its Vertigo at events in Chicago, Philadelphia and Las Vegas.
Two months after one person was killed in a tragic ride accident at the Ohio State Fair, Michael's Amusements is among the shows affected by individual states putting a temporary ban on the Freak Out, a smaller version of the KMG piece that malfunctioned in Columbus. The Freak Out has a different seat structure and is a smaller ride compared to the Fire Ball involved in the Columbus accident.
Separately, the carnival co-owns a Freak Out in a partnership with D&J Amusements' Joe Frankowski. Apart from Greensboro, Michael's Amusements plays multiple festivals in North Carolina, where the state's ban remained in place in September.
"North Carolina won't let me set it up, so it's a paperweight right now," Reisinger said. "Normally, it would be set up here. Illinois [where D&J is based in Chicago] lifted its ban. There are six of them in Chicago and Joe had it running up there."
At the time of the Ohio accident, Michael's Amusements was set up at the Shelby County (Ohio) Fair in Sidney, situated about 60 miles from Columbus. Unlike some other events, no media outlets showed up for reaction coverage, and fair attendance was not affected by the accident, Reisinger said.
"With so many other bad things happening in the world ... society has become numb to these things," he said.
Among the 35 rides set up in Greensboro was a new Zero Gravity, made by Batech. On his own, Frankowski purchased a Zero Gravity for his carnival and after seeing the revenue it produced for D&J Amusements, Reisinger bought one for his show.
"After making fun of Joe for buying an 'expensive Roundup,' I went out and bought one too," Reisinger joked. "This one's faster. Between the lights and all the technology, people ride it to no end. We love it. It's been a great piece."
Some older rides stand out on Reisinger's midway such as the Mulligan Sea Ray, a 21-year-old ride that was rebuilt five years ago and looks brand new, said Timmy Hutson, who's been employed with the show for 23 years.
One vintage attraction is the Superman kiddie ride, originally made by King in 1964. The individual supermen pieces supporting riders came from old Woolworth's stores. The carnival carries four ARM rides including the Vertigo and a 90-foot-tall drop tower.
In addition, the show still features a Childress musical chair ride, the first piece Reisinger purchased before starting his show in 1992.
Reisinger's wife Sherry, and their daughter, Whitney, both own equipment. Whitney's fiance', Chris Heaton, also works on the show. Ryan "Shrek" Hicks, Nick Kohloff and Albert Irwin, are ride supervisors.