Frank Zaitshik, owner/operator of Wade Shows, had 46 rides set up in Raleigh at the North Carolina State Fair as a subcontractor to Powers Great American Midways. On October 24th, an accident occurred with an independent ride and the industry veteran was on the lot at the time.
"All of us are shocked, saddened and concerned and wanting some answers so this never happens again," Zaitshik said.
The 2013 event marked the ninth consecutive year Wade Shows has booked with Powers Great American Midways in Raleigh. Over the past decade, the two carnivals have enjoyed an excellent safety and inspection record at the fair, Zaitshik said.
"Why it happened, I don't know," he said. "We need to learn from this to make things better and safer. It's the only good that can come out of something like this. As carnival owners, we always feel a responsibility and an obligation to provide the safest midway we can. That hasn't changed since the accident."
Ride income was down in Raleigh but Zaitshik could not say whether the decrease was tied to the first Vortex accident. There was some cold weather toward the end of the fair that might have been a factor, he said.
"Putting an asterisk" next to Raleigh, Zaitshik said, Wade Shows otherwise experienced a profitable season tied to a very powerful route that now includes both the Tulsa State Fair and the Nebraska State Fair. Wade played both those events for the first time this year.
This was the fourth year the Nebraska State Fair was held in Grand Island after the event went through a reorganization and moved further west after it spent many years in Lincoln. The city of Grand Island has a population of about 50,000 and makes up the part of the state Nebraskans jokingly refer to as "the rest of Nebraska" after considering Omaha and Lincoln in the eastern region, Zaitshik said.
In Grand Island, Wade Shows set up 38 rides, including a roller coaster and they posted a 52 percent increase in midway revenue over last year's event despite attendance being down slightly, Zaitshik said.
At Tulsa, Wade subcontracts through carnival owner Jerry Murphy, who holds the fair's contract. Operating as Spectacular Attractions, the Wade-produced midway equaled the fair's best run ever despite losing half a Saturday due to weather and a decrease in advance sales, Zaitshik said.
In both markets, local newspapers the Omaha World-Herald and the Tulsa World gave a thumbs-up to Wade Shows with positive reviews, he said.
Wade also enjoyed record years at the Missouri State Fair, Ozark Empire Fair and the Alabama National Fair. In a testament to the strength and depth of the Wade operation, the carnival had equipment set up at four events at the same time at four fairs in late September and early October. In addition to Tulsa and Alabama, the show ran the midways at the Coosa Valley Fair in Rome, Ga., and the Robeson County Fair in Lumberton, N.C. Coosa Valley had a record run as well but Robeson County was plagued by three solid days of rain, Zaitshik said.
The economy continues to improve but Zaitshik firmly believes Wade's midway presentation plays a big role for increasing ride per caps at the events it plays in a clean, safe environment.
"We are one of the few companies left out there that move large multiple truck rides," he said. "There are shows out there that say they are downsizing but when you do that, you also downsize the thrill factor and ride capacity. There are tradeoffs both ways. You may be moving less equipment over the road but that translates to less income over the long run."
New equipment this year includes a Zamperla Surf's Up, which Wade took possession at the Delaware State Fair in July. The carnival also purchased a Schwartzkopf Wildcat roller coaster from Jerry Murphy, which was themed as the Comet II. The ride is 215 foot long, 75 feet deep and 50 feet high and moves on 10 trucks and trailers, Zaitshik said. The ride will debut at fairs in Puerto Rico and south Florida.
Two existing rides were upgraded, including the Giant Wheel, outfitted with a new LED light package and rebranded as the Cheese Wheel, a theme tied to the carnival's deal with Kraft to sponsor a few rides.
The show's Tip Top was previously re-themed as the Mac & Cheese Slinger. The blue ride tubs carry Kraft's logo and color scheme and look like bowls of macaroni and cheese. this is the third year Wade rides have been sponsored by Kraft. Zaitshik would not disclose the financial terms of the deal but said he expects more rides to carry the Kraft theme in 2014.
The other upgrades were made to the Huss Rainbow, which underwent a major refurbishment that cost about $400,000, Zaitshik said. The ride did play the Oklahoma State Fair but was brought back to winter quarters for further work and will resurface at the South Florida Fair in January. "We've got some bugs to get out," he said.
Wade Shows' cashless point-of-sale system remains a work in progress since the carnival rolled it out on a full-time basis in 2013. Using wireless technology, patrons can buy tickets and armbands by credit and debit cards without using cash. The technology makes it easier for the carnival to issue refunds for kids not tall enough to ride an attraction because it tracks every ride they've been on, Zaitshik said.
"There is a lot of information that can be gleaned from the system and our plan is to expand it to games and food," he said.
All told, with the exception of the unfortunate events in Raleigh, Zaitshik remains bullish about the industry and feels good about his show's position among the elite traveling amusement operations.
"We play Florida and Texas in the winter and spring and the Midwest and South in the summer and fall," he said. "It's a winning combination of wonderful events."