SHELBY, N.C. Reithoffer Shows' Orange Unit salvaged a valuable Saturday night at the Cleveland County (N.C.) Fair in late September.
A late afternoon shower soaked the midway for about an hour before the skies cleared and the crowds converged at one of the oldest county fairs in the Carolinas. The 2012 fair marked the 88th year of the event in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Reithoffer has played the fair since the late 1970s, according to carnival co-owner Pat Reithoffer. It is traditionally one of the show's best spots of the season. The fair now draws from five to six counties after some smaller North Carolina fairs went out of business over the past few years, he said.
The fair also serves as a point of transportation to help move equipment from points east on Reithoffer's Blue Unit. Carnival officials here sent 12 tractors to the Bloomsburg (Pa.) Fair to transport rides to upcoming fairs in Georgia, Florida and Alabama.
The Georgia National Fair in Perry, a 900-mile trek from Bloomsburg, the longest jump of the year, was the the next stop for the Blue Unit, followed by the Pensacola Interstate Fair in Florida and the National Peanut Festival in Dothan, Ala.
After Shelby, the Orange Unit was set for a short trip down Interstate 85 to Spartanburg, S.C. for the Piedmont Interstate Fair, before closing the season at the Western Carolina State Fair in Aiken, S.C., and a church festival in Dania, Fla.
Reithoffer, marking it's 117th season of operation, travels with more than 100 rides distributed among the two units. As a result, the high cost of diesel fuel has put a large dent in the show's bottom line.
Diesel costs $4 a gallon on averge and is priced higher in the New York region, Reithoffer said. "It's gone up and it hasn't gone down," he said. "I guess [the government] will save it for the election. They must think we're all idiots. We are biting the bullet.
"The hardest part for us is taking the show over the road and having enough drivers," he said. "Getting up and down is not a problem."
The Orange Unit has a new Himalaya that had full capacity most of the night, even during the rainy spell. The unit also added the Stinger from Technical Park, which is similar to a Freak Out, said Jim Byrd, a 38-year Reithoffer veteran who moves the show's Giant Wheel. Reithoffer took delivery of the European spectacular at the end of last season.
The carnival played a handful of new dates this year in New Year in addition to the Garrett County Agriculture Fair in Maryland.
At the Cleveland County Fair, Reithoffer ran a $20 wristband special Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. before taking regular tickets for the night crowd.
On Sunday, Sept. 30, gate admission was free with a church bulletin from noon to 2 p.m. The promotion works well, Reithoffer said. Fair officials also offered half-price admission for Saturday attendees displaying their ticket stubs.
The carnival also relies on advance sales at local retail stores and Megapass deals to bring people to the fair. It is up to the shows to get creative with ride specials in this recovering economy, Reithoffer said.
Reithoffer's children play key roles with the operation and help promote the operation through social media, he said.
Ryan Reithoffer, 23, and Patrick Reithoffer, 19, help lay the lot out with General Manager Nick Alberts and ride superintendent Tom Popovich. Patrick moves the Super Cat, a German attraction, his father said.
Jan Storza, Pat Reithoffer's sister, and her husband Jack run the office with Susie Blake, Pat's daughter. Mindy Kolbus handles the show's insurance programs.
Vern Sperano is head of maintenance. John Blake, Pat's son-in-law, and Mike Goodrich are show electricians.
Jeff Alberts, Nick's brother, is in charge of moving the Stinger and the Wild Mouse coaster.
Levio Christiani, an independent ride owner, books several kiddie rides in Shelby every year, Reithoffer said. The same thing is true for Mike Broski.
Reithoffer Shows has a side business where it makes chair lift rides for fairs. This year, the carnival installed one in Bloomsberg stretching a half-mile long, Reithoffer said. It's ride for all ages to enjoy from a vantage point high above the fairgrounds, he said.
Big picture, Reithoffer continues to see gas prices and other federal regulations as a hindrance to the carnival business.
"You can't talk bad about the government, they will arrest you," he said, half-joking. "It is not a democracy, it is an oligarchy."