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  • Midway Millennials
    6/29/2015
    Midway Millennials is an ongoing series profiling the new generation of fair professionals

    Fairs often seem to occupy two time periods at once.They're steeped in tradition, showcasing the agricultural roots of a community and its love for the past. But to continue thriving, fairs need the latest technology and marketing to promote the event, enhance exhibits and make nostalgic revelry relevant to the current community.

    Steven "Stevie" Ianni, Train Master - and also manager of the Zyklon Roller Coaster -for James E. Strates 

    Shows, much like those fairs he has been around since childhood and working at since he was a teenager, straddles two eras. Now 28, Ianni is a tech-savvy millennial, but also holds a position whose lineage stretches back nearly a century.

    Strates Shows, founded in 1923, still travels its fair route - which spans much of the Eastern United States, from Florida into New England - by carnival train.  Back in the day, all carnival companies used this method of transportation but today, only Strates Shows keeps this tradition alive. Which makes Ianni not just the first Gen-Y Train Master, but the only Train Master in the fair business.

    Ianni is responsible for all the logistics of transporting an entire midway by rail from one fair to another. He determines what equipment goes on what flat car, makes sure that the crew and vehicles needed to load or unload the train are at the designated stop, and getting clearance and permission from the seven different railroad companies whose tracks the Strates train must traverse.

    Interestingly, before Ianni's family joined the carnival business, many of his ancestors were railroad men during America's golden of age of trains. Ianni's great-great grandfather, Carlo Marcozzi, who immigrated to the United States in 1896, worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad. 

    "I'm not sure how cost effective travelling by train is," said Ianni. "But it is a great tradition to carry to on."

    But it also hard work, and crucial to Strates Shows. Train Master is one of the more high-pressured jobs on the traveling units of one of oldest traveling carnival companies in North America. 

    "I make sure we are at the next fair in time to set up for opening day," said Ianni, who has held the position for five years.

    In addition to coordinating the train travel, he also helps facilitate promotional events featuring the Strates Carnival Train. The Erie County fair - which in 2014 celebrated both its 175th anniversary and the 90th anniversary of a Strates Shows midway at the fair - set up a banner across the tracks, which the States train broke through, to the delight of the crowd gathered for the occasion. This celebration harkened back to decades past when the fair would come to town, families would gather to welcome the carnival train as it rolled into the station.

    "You still see people gathering to see the train, but not as often," said Ianni, "but now mainly it's a few grandparents with their grand kids watching the train.

    While the tradition of carnival trainspotting may have fallen out of favor, the tradition of the fair is strong.

    Ianni grew up on the midway - his father, also named Steve - was Concessions Manager and it was in the concessions where Stevie entered the business. "I always loved the excitement of the midway and that the fair was such a big tradition for familiesto come every year."

    Ianni considers it an honor to maintain the carnival train tradition in the 21st century. Computers and smart phones make some aspects of the job easier, Train Master has always been a job heavy with responsibility. "Everything is in your hands, and you have to remember all the minor stuff that has to be done," he said. "You have to make sure everything is safely loaded, and on the right cars, and then you have to get the train off so it will be ready at the next fair to open the next week."

    He added that using a train, "is not like using an interstate highway. I have to coordinate with up to four different railroad entities to get to one fair," he said. Of course that scheduling is planned out months in advance, but not everything can be anticipated. To cross regions by rail, the Strates Shows Carnival Train uses freight and some passenger track lines. 

    The Carnival Train is at the mercy of these railroad companies. If there's a delay with another train system or rail yard, the repercussion is likely a delay for the Strates Shows train. 

    "Especially in the Northeast, there can be a lot of congestion and that can cause problems," he said.

    In general, it takes about nine hours to set up the midway, and really no leeway when it comes to having the midway ready when the fair opens. If there's a delay on the tracks, the train gets to the destined depot for the fairground later than planned,"you just have to work that much harder." 

    The entire midway cannot go by train to every fair. "We use 45 to 55 flat cars," said Ianni. "It's not like the old days where the personnel traveled by train, they use other transportation to get the fairgrounds. Our midway has about 50 rides. You have to know every ride dimension and load dimension, so the right piece gets on the right car, or if we have to play a smaller event with a smaller midway, how those rides will be transported to the spot. You have to have trailers ready to drive that equipment to where it has to be." 

    Once the train is at the fair and the dozens of midway components are unloaded, Ianni's secondary position begins: Zyklon Roller Coaster Supervisor. 

    The Zyklon is a signature piece of the Strates Shows midway and Ianni is in charge of its assembly and operation of the roller coaster. "It's a vintage piece, something we are known for," he said. 

    When the fair opens, and the Zyklon is rolling and the midway pulses with energy, the most important objective for Ianni is staying alert. "You have to be ready for anything. There's a lot of little problems that need to be solved every day. You have to be flexible, there are times I have to my welder's cap or do something else on the midway. You cannot just have the mindset that something cannot be done, or that it isn't your job."

    The main difference for Ianni between his generation of midway professionals and the older colleagues is contrast between attitudes about technology. "Some of the older generation, they don't believe in the new technology, and that can keep them from being able to understand technology, and how it help the midway," said Ianni. 

    For example, Strates Shows has switched to a ticketless, smart card system. "It is a more efficient system, but some of the older guys were against it, they were just set in their ways and liked the old style. But once they realized it worked better and were taught the new system, they changed their minds."

  • Skerbeck Entertainment Group Takes Delivery of Luna Park Carousel
    6/26/2015
    Niki Skerbeck, vice president of Skerbeck Entertainment Group, Inc. reported a solid start to the 2015 season at the recent D Day Remembrance Carnival, a new event this year in Charlotte, Michigan.  The carnival has experienced good sales at a number of events this spring including the opening date in Taylor, Michigan followed by Grand Rapids, the Holland Tulip Festival, Kalamazoo, New Buffalo, Milan, and Niles. 

    Skerbeck said the biggest challenge of the 2015 season has been the rainy spring Michigan weather, with numerous events experiencing rain during tear down.  Despite this heavy rain, Skerbeck said the crew has done a great job.  This year has provided some of the wettest and rainiest tear down nights that anyone on the show can remember.

    Skerbeck Entertainment Group took delivery of a Luna Park kiddie carousel this spring.  The ride was purchased at IAAPA in November, and also was displayed in Gibtown during the annual February IISA trade show.  The ride made its debut on the Skerbeck Entertainment Group midway at the John Ball Park WestFest Carnival in late April in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  The brightly colored piece has been very popular with children and families, and includes a number of different themed tubs including cars, trucks, motorcycles, ATV's, a rabbit, and carousel horses.  The carnival is pleased with the addition to their ride inventory.  

    Skerbeck also reported that an older elephant ear trailer was completely refurbished during the off-season, and the show now carries four food units:   two elephant ear concessions, a popper, and a grab.  The show also has 26 rides as well as 20 game concessions, a bungee jump, and rock wall. 

    Skerbeck splits into two units three weeks of the early season, and then forms back into one  in July for the Battle Creek Field of Flight Airshow and Balloon Festival and the county fair season which begins July 13 with the Laporte (IN) County Fair. 

    Along with Skerbeck, other show owners include Jamie and Sonja Skerbeck as well as John and Tori Burrows.  The show also has a new game manager this season, cousin Robin Baumgartner.  

    The show is very excited about the fall delivery of a KMG Inversion purchased last winter.  A name and theme for the ride has not yet been announced.  Skerbeck was pleased with the start of the year despite the rainy weather, and looks forward to the upcoming county fair season.









  • Bird Bans Imposed on Hundreds of Fairs Due to HPAI Outbreak in Poultry Industry
    6/24/2015
    Poultry will be absent from hundreds of state, county and local fairs this season. Beginning in March and escalating through the spring, the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) infected poultry flocks on farms throughout the U.S. 

    As a precautionary measure, Departments of Agriculture in more than a dozen states are forbidding the public exhibition of all forms of fowl, affecting 4-H competitions, exhibitions, swap meets, petting zoos, game bird and waterfowl.

    H5N2 and H5N8 are the two strains of HPAI, the influenza that has been found on more than 170 farms in 20 states and 2 Canadian provinces. More than 35 million birds have died or been euthanized as a result of what officials call the largest avian influenza outbreak in U.S. history. Several nations, including Canada, South Korea, Phillipines and Austarial, have banned imports of all non-cooked poultry products from states where HPAI has appeared.

    The Center For Disease Control has stated while "no human cases associated with this reassortant virus have been reported, it's possible this virus could infect people and cause serious disease."

    There may be no imminent threat to the human population, but the U.S. poultry population - and a multi-billion dollar industry - is now at a deadly risk. 

    Rapid Spread
    "It is something moving very quickly," said Marla J. Calico, CFE, Chief Operating Officer, International Association of Fairs & Expositions (IAFE). "The fairs don't have any choice. They have to follow what the Department of Agriculture or Director of Veterinarian Services says."

    Many fairs are an off-shoot of a regional agriculture industry, and curtailing animal exhibitions at a fair to eliminate potential threats is nothing new. For example, in recent fair seasons,, H1N1, the "swine flu" curtailed pigs and hog competitions and exhibits at some fairs. There was an even an outbreak of avian influenza in 2011 that "caused a lot of concerns among fairs," said Calico. But the scope of this outbreak - the fear with H1N1 is that humans could be infected - and the banning of poultry at the fairs "is unprecedented. This disease threatens the entire poultry industry." 

    As of press time, states banning poultry from fairs are: North Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Kansas, West Virginia, New York, North Carolina, Michigan and Nebraska. Montana and Idaho have a limited ban, affecting only water fowl. Not all states with reported outbreaks have implemented a ban on live exhibits of birds yet and some states who have imposed poultry bans at fairs and other events have yet to experience an HPAI outbreak, imposing the ban as a precautionary measure. 
    Calico pointed to that the disease may be showing signs of dissipating. "The data on this disease is that it thrives in cool and moist conditions. Once we get into the summer, when it is hotter and drier, the anticipation is that the disease will peak, then fail." On June 9th, it was reported that a turkey farm in Pope County, Minnesota - the first farm to detect a strain of HPAI, back in March - was finally restocked with birds. 

    A clean bill of health for one, previously infected farm does not mean the poultry industry is out of the woods, but at the least the recovery for the poultry industry has started. While all states are considering a poultry ban at fairs as part of the response to HPAI, some states are delaying the to-ban-or-not-to-ban decision. 
    "We have not banned poultry at the fair for 2015 and neither has the State Veterinarian's office," said Greg Hicks, Vice President, Communications, State Fair of Virginia. " We are all waiting to see how things progress throughout the summer and will make that call as close as we can to Sept. 25th." 

    Exhibition Changes
    But as Spring turns to Summer and the year's fair season gains momentum, the impact of the poultry ban on states is yet to be determined. What is known is that, due to absence of live animals, the poultry part of the fair will be very different without live animals, and fairs are testing the limits of their ingenuity to find new ways to present poultry at their annual fairs. 

    "I anticipate no impact to the attendance of fairs," said Calico. "I am sure that 4-H students will find very creative ways to finish their projects." 

    Besides having no avian representation at any exhibit at the fair, including petting zoos, Calico pointed out that, "some barns will be empty, but that is an opportunity to showcase the impact of the disease and educate the fairgoers about the poultry industry. The fairs are doing a fantastic job in coming with ideas for alternatives to replace the poultry exhibits at their fairs." On June 4th, the IAFE conducted an online webinar that covered the HPAI crisis - more than 200 fair professionals tuned in to participate. "Fairs are stepping up to the plate and ensuring they remain true to their mission of promoting agriculture. They are responding in a very positive way." 

    Carcass Judging
    On June 2nd, Ric Crawford, CEO of the Shiawassee County Fair and President of the Michigan Association of Fairs & Exhibitions, learned that the Department of Agriculture banned poultry from all fairs in the state, affecting approximately 88 events, including county fairs and the two state fairs, the Michigan State Fair and the Upper Peninsula State Fair. There were no reports of HPAI in Michigan, but all the states bordering them did experience outbreaks. 

    "We were kind of surprised," said Crawford. "We knew there were other states with the ban, but didn't know that they would ban all poultry. 
    Crawford says that at Shiawassee County Fair the 4-H program and other exhibits expected more than 200 birds, "not just chickens, but turkeys, ducks and geese, all of them show birds." 

    The fowl show at the Shiawassee County Fair, which Crawford said is in the heart of the Michigan poultry industry, will go on, albeit in a new format. "We're still going to have our auction," said Crawford. But this year's 4-H poultry competition will be different. Participants will take photos of the animals and there will be what is known as a carcass judging, which means that the birds will be slaughtered at a processing plant, where winners will be "judged by the meat itself," said Crawford. "There will still be prizes and awards, and we will follow guidelines for carcass judging put out by the Department of Agriculture. What you don't want is for the kids not to be able to complete the process or sell the animal at the auction."

    He added, "We are doing a few extra projects, like having exhibits about avian influenza. We are going to have a life-like model of a bird, and this will encourage showmanship, have the kids point out the different parts of the bird and answer questions from visitors." 

    Crawford estimates that state-wide, the number of would be 4-H poultry competitors and other poultry exhibitors affected by the ban "number into the thousands. Pretty much our hands our tied." 

    95 Fairs
    "All 95 fairs are affected by the ban," said Darrel Cubbison, president of the Ohio Fair Managers Association, and president of the Muskingum County fair. The 95 fairs he is referring to are the members of the Buckeye Eye State fair association. "We have very mixed feelings about the ban. It's a sad thing, the person who has been exhibiting for 10 years is not able to take his or her project this year."

    The Ohio Department of Agriculture issued a report that the state ranks second in the nation in egg production and ninth nationally in turkey production. The state is home to 28 million laying chickens, 12 million broilers, 8.5 million pullets and 2 million turkeys. Ohio's egg, chicken and turkey farms provide more than 14,600 jobs. In 2015, out of the 69,653 total youth enrolled in 4-H organized community clubs, 9,113 4-H had poultry-related project. 

    Carnival Warehouse spoke with Cubbison only a few days after the ban was announced. Most fairs in Ohio are still determining how to feature this year. "Some fairs will have contests, but not have the birds on the premises and have the judging after the animal has been harvested at a dressing plant," he said. "At our fair, we will have empty pens in the poultry building, but have posters and that sort of thing. People who usually exhibit will be there to answer questions and educate the public." 

    Like other fair managers, Cubbison does not anticipate a drop in attendance at Ohio Fairs. "We may even get more people coming, just out of curiosity, because (HPAI) is so much in the news."

    Fairs & Farms
    While the scope of the ban may new, Robert Simpson,  President of the New York State Association of Agricultural Fairs and fair manager of the Jefferson County Fair said, "this is really part of doing business, it is something we have been on top of. Fairs are subject all kinds of regulations, and we are part of the agricultural industry in the state." 

    The possibility of the ban had been a hot topic of conversations at recent industry, and "by the second week of May, we knew we were going to ban poultry in New York," he said. He estimates that 49 fairs are impacted by the ban - not all members of the Empire State's fair association are agricultural events. 
    "I don't think attendance will be affected," said Simpson. "Most of the people who have poultry, the 4-H kids, are still going to be there, the biggest thing is that we are seeing of people being upset about the fact the kids who have been working with their poultry may not have chance to get the ribbon. There are several fairs that are putting on educational programs about the avian flu, which 4-H is participating with."

    Last year, a swine virus led to ban of piglets and milking sow at the New York State Fair, which did not negatively impact attendance. "In fact, we had one of our very best years ever," said Dave Bullard, spokesperson for the New York State Fair. "This should not affect attendance."

    No live fowl will be on the premises, and the Youth Poultry Show has been cancelled. Bullard said 48 youngsters entered 63 birds in this event last. The interior layout of the Poultry Barn has also been re-designed. "The Poultry Barn has always been the home of not only all poultry but rabbits and cavies as well," said Bullard . "We'll spread out the rabbits and cavies and we are creating some fun events to highlight the rabbits. We'll also use this as an opportunity to educate Fairgoers about the avian flu issue, just as we did last year when we were forced to ban piglets and nursing sows." 

    The New York State Fair will still hold the 4-H Poultry Bowl, which Bullard described as a "knowledge competition." There will be one poultry exhibit with live birds at the New York State Fair., a baby chick birthing exhibit featured in the Youth Building. "The baby chicks are permitted because they are from one source and housed separately," explained Bullard. 

    According to Simpson, the fair he managers - the Jefferson County Fair - will also feature a baby chick hatching exhibit and ironically, it will be the first time an onsite chicken hatchery will available to fairgoers. "A 4-H Club has got an incubator and so we are allowed to have a hatchery just like the state fair," he said. "That really gets attention at a lot of fairs and because it is new here, that might help our attendance." 

  • Midway Millennials
    6/22/2015
    Midway Millennials is an ongoing series profiling the new generation of fair professionals

    Nick Strates, a 4th generation Strates, one of the most renowned midway families in the fair industry, is the current Midway Designer for Strates Shows. In outdoor amusement business parlance, he's a "Lot Man," and at 25, he is one of the youngest lot men in the business. A lot man decides what goes where, determines the optimum layout for each midway, balancing not just the location of individual rides, but where all the various midway parts - food vendors, game concessions, generators, cables, ticket stands, trailers, etc. - should be positioned for the best presentation and fairgoer comfort and flow. 

    You would be mistaken if you think the Strates midway can be an off-the-rack, one size fits all proposition. Midway design means each layout is custom-fit, tailored to each fairground. Often the layout is not even the same for a fair one year to another. 

    Strates always either adds or switches rides each fair season and the fairgrounds is usually modified each year. "You have to work around a new tree or garden they've added, or they built a new entrance and now you have to find a different location for a generator," said Strates. "Every fair is different, and you have to meet with the fair managers and scout out the fairgrounds a few weeks before each fair."

    Meeting this challenge of coordinating a multitude of details and personalities is what Strates finds most rewarding. "Logistically, there are a lot of moving parts," he said. "There can be whiners and complainers, but it is constant stimulation because of all the decisions you have to make. And, even when you have a layout, when you get there to open, things still have to be moved." 

    Most of the fair managers, concessionaires, unit and ride managers within the Strates organizations are older than this millennial lot man. What he finds most frustrating is a set-in-the-way mentality that can sometimes prevail when it comes to midway design. Some colleagues are not interested in an improved outcome, they often just resist change for the sake of resisting change. "Some people want to do things the same way for no other reason than because that is the way they did it last year," said Strates. "That does not mean it is the best location for that ride or stand this year."

    While what the fair managers, board or other fair staff insist upon is generally the final decision, convincing other colleagues - both other Strates Employees and subcontractors - can sometimes be problematic. For Strates, he sees this stubbornness to do something differently not just for a midway layout at a particular fairground, but a tendency pervading in the overall industry. Gen-Y is known for its lacking this resistance to change, and even though there can be reluctance, the fair industry's willingness to change is growing. "As far as I'm concerned, the business I'm in has changed. The midway is much more efficient at most fairs. We've thinned out excesses and have adapted to the times. It is a smarter business because of these changes, like the LED lights which use less energy and look so much better. The fair industry needs to stay thinking of new ideas." 

    The earliest fair memory for Strates is sitting on a "pop-a-wheelie" ride while his mother supervised him. "I was just spinning around and around, it was so much." He grew up working the carnival.

    Strates graduated from the University of Central Florida with a degree in Finance in 2014 and this season is his first in a fulltime management position. Besides having an inclination towards planning and a mind for detail that was well suited to the open position of Midway Designer, he said he has an uncle with a Masters Degree in finance already handling the books for the company, so he opted for a more hands-on post-college position. 

    "I switched majors from a general business degree to finance, and took a lot of marketing courses," he said. "The degree and college experience gives you a different way of looking at things other people in the industry take for granted, but my family traveled all the time and I just like the lifestyle. I thought about being a stock broker, but sitting at a desk waiting all year for your 10 days of vacation just didn't appeal to me." 

    He added, "most people like vanilla ice cream, but I want Rocky Road. But once you really get a taste of the carnival life, you just love it. At least I do. If you don't love it, you wouldn't last two weeks out here." 

    Carnival Warehouse caught up with Strates during the Brookhaven Fair, which runs through mid-June, the day before he had to hit the road by himself to do preliminary, fairground surveying on major July and August fairs, which include The Oswego Harborfest, in Oswego, N.Y., and The Champlain Valley Fair in Essex, Vermont, before rejoining the Strates crew before the June 19th opening of the Palisades Fair in West Nyack, N.Y. 

    His process for midway design typically begins with using Google Earth Maps to get a better idea of the topography of the location, and after he arrives and meets with the fair organizers to address any issues and concerns. "I meet with the fairground staff, and go over the lay out with them, then it's just me and an empty field," he said. He walks the midway location, "taking measurements, stringing it out, and then using orange marker paint, I paint out the locations for the rides, the concessions stands, all the parts of the midway."

    Then he more specifically allocates the positioning of the multitude of components of the Strates Midway. "It will be the first time I will be at the Essex fairgrounds," he said. 

    Nick has worked most of the fairgrounds on the Strates Shows route, albeit in a capacity other than lot man. This will be the first year the company plays the Champlain Valley Fair, thus the first large midway he designs entirely from scratch. There's no previous Strates midway layout to use a guide. "It's why I love this business, there is always something new. I am very excited about designing the Champlain Valley midway. For me, that's where the rubber meets the road." 
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The Industry Buzz
Wood Entertainment's Magnum gets another facelift
Michael Wood announced another update to his Mondial Magnum this spring.  In addition to an upgraded LED light system from Denny's Electronics that was installed last year, the ride's backwall sceenery was repainted with a new mural.  Wood hired a artist from England who specializes in painting amusement rides and flew him in to give the Magnum a completely new look.  The ride is currently playing the San Diego County Fair in Del Mar, CA.



CLICK HERE to view additional photos of the ride
  Posted by Matt Cook on 6/29/2015
Long time Wade Shows employee Bill "Shag" DeGrace passes away at the age of 55

Bill De Grace, known by all as Shag because of his affinity for long unruly hair, died suddenly on Tuesday, June 16 of unknown causes.

A lifelong Wade Shows employee, many wondered how he got away with wearing his long hair when the practice was forbidden by show rules. When asked, Wade Shows owner Frank Zaitshik  replied "Shag is just Shag and I guess he got grandfathered in".

"He was truly an 'old school' Carnival guy said Frank Zaitshik. "He was with us for 35 years doing a variety of jobs. Prior to joining WADE shows he was with Art Lampkin who owned Johnny's United Shows", he added Shag initially made his mark as a Sky Wheel foreman, but for the past 15 years he moved the show's Zyklon Coaster. Ironically, the show recently sold the coaster after the Florida State Fair to make a new purchase and Shag  was excited to get a crack at moving the new Cyclone Coaster that is being delivered later this summer. 

Shag was known as a talented, kind-hearted co-worker who would do anything to help a friend or any fellow showman.  Shag is survived  by his Father William De Grace, sons Joseph and Daniel Akers, Grandaughter Alexis Ackers and  ex-wife Tina Griffen.

He is fondly remembered by his friends and family at Wade Shows.  

  Posted by Ron Weber on 6/20/2015
Rio Syrup Celebrates 75 years
Saint Louis, Missouri based Rio Syrup is celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2015.  The company was founded by Stuart S. Tomber in 1940 and is currently in its third generation, headed by Phillip S. Tomber.  Rio Syrup manufacturers beverage flavors for Shaved Ice, Slush Drinks, Sno Cones, Fountain Drinks, Icees, Punch Drinks, Malt and Milk Shakes.  Posted by Matt Cook on 6/8/2015
Skinner's Amusements takes delivery of NEW Chance Zipper
Illinois based Skinner's Amusements took delivery last week of a brand new 2015 Chance Zipper during the Harvard Milk Days festival in Harvard, IL.  The Zipper is the first produced by Chance Rides since 2001 and features many upgrades over older models.  One of the most noticeable upgrades is a state of the art LED lighting system from by Denny's Electronics.


  Posted by Matt Cook on 6/8/2015
IN THEIR OWN WORDS
In our efforts to chronicle the history of our industry, we could think of no better way to further this endeavor than to interview industry pioneers and preserve their videos for posterity.

KMG is a leading builder of spectacular amusement rides such as the Freak Out, Fire Ball (Afterburner), Speed, Inversion (Nemesis 360), and many more.

Triangle Poster & Printing is your source for carnival posters, signs, tickets, coupons, and more for special events, carnivals, fairs, festivals, and circuses.  Visit www.triangleposter.com for more info or call 412-371-0774.

FOOD & GAME HELP WANTED FOR  TOP NOTCH midwest spring route followed by a GREAT summer route in Wisconsin.   Call Louie Rucobo at 920-251-3001.  Living quarters available and TOP EMPLOYEES GET TOP PAY!

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