Billy Tucker is doing his best to keep Dixieland Carnival Co. among the top carnivals in the country.
The show has acquired 14 new pieces of equipment over the past two years and is looking to expand its route with winter dates in Florida and Indiana over the next year, said Tucker, owner/operator of the Phenix City, Ala. company.
Dixieland's current itinerary covers about 25 fairs and festivals in Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and Mississippi. Sixteen fairs are in Georgia alone.
The Indiana portion would effectively replace two summer dates in Mississippi with the show hitting Florida from November through mid-January. The Tucker family previously dropped Kentucky dates as officials search for the most profitable events, Tucker said.
"There are a few spots in Florida with good grosses that are hard to turn down," he said.
The new additions include: an Owens Fun House, owned by Terry Tucker, Billy's father, an ARM Flying Dutchman, a used Street Fighter from Jeremy Floyd and a Zero Gravity.
The Flying Dutchman and Zero Gravity are new to the midway this year after Tucker ordered both rides in 2011.
The show spends an average of $1 million a year on new equipment with some expenses incurred over the objections of some family members, Tucker joked.
"My dad told me 'if you don't have it by age 35, you won't have it,' but I'm 42 and still going," Tucker said. "I am not a greedy guy but I have an ego that won't quit. My wife says 'you're nuts.' For me, it's a pride thing anymore."
Early this year, grosses were up by as high as 40 percent at some shopping centers in Georgia, and Dixieland had a big run at the Atlanta Fair, a monthlong event at Turner Field, home of the Atlanta Braves.
Peachtree Rides holds the contract for one of the country's largest inner city fairs with Dixeland booking several rides at the ballpark.
The Georgia State Fair in Macon followed Atlanta, an event that switched from the fall to the spring a few years ago. Dixieland combined with Dom Macaroni's Family Attractions to provide a 43-ride midway.
Amusements of America played the spot for about 60 years before Dixieland took over. It's a smaller state fair but holds its own, Tucker said.
A spring fling in Lanett, Ala. was forgettable after rain cut the event short to one day of passable weather, "We spent 12 hours trying to get out of the mud," he said.
Billy's wife, Stacey, and their 16-year-old daughter Elizabeth form the nucleus of the show, running the pizza wagon and the Fun House. Terry Tucker, and his wife, also named Terry, will come on the road in mid-August with about a half-dozen games.
The Tuckers can not complain about the economy. Where they live in Alabama is near Fort Benning, Ga., and the Army base, supported by government money, keeps the local community strong when other parts of the country have suffered through the downturn, he said.
On the flip side, it has been a "strange year" for labor, he said. Normally, Dixieland will hire 20 new people every season and replace half of those employees that don't work out over the course of the season.
This year, the show has experienced unusually high turnover and "burned through" a few dozen workers less than halfway through the season. Tucker did not have an answer for why that part of the operation has gone south.
Diesel prices have dipped below $4 a gallon with off road fuel running about $3.50 a gallon. Those costs have been coming down the past six weeks, Tucker said.
The Tucker family has learned to take the good with the bad, Billy said. Terry Tucker the father owned three separate shows over the past 30 to 40 years, Terry Tucker Shows, Great Western Carnival and City of Fun.
Dixieland Carnival goes through the same issues those long-gone operations experienced, Billy said.
"We go through it and the show rolls on and the ride grosses get bigger," he said. "We have an amazing ability to adapt to whatever is thrown at us. It's not that big of a deal. The smarter operators will survive and thrive."