Carnival guy’s spin: clean, fun business
Danny Brown doesn’t have a third eye, nor is he a rough-and-tumble outlaw, but he’s still a carnie through and through.
Brown, owner of Brown’s Amusements, which has set up shop at the Mesa County Fair this week, said carnival operators have a stigma that’s hard to shake.
“It’s a different time. Years ago this industry was rough, but now we’re no different than Main Street America,” Brown said from his air-conditioned office trailer on the midway at the fairgrounds. “People believe we have three eyeballs, but we really aren’t like that.”
Brown, a second-generation carnival man, remembers the way things used to be on the road as a child with his parents. The industry was less regulated then, and the shady characters that operated the rides were often the only ones willing to travel 11 months out of the year.
“It’s a stigma that I don’t know if we’ll ever get away from,” he said.
These days, though, Brown runs his carnival as smoothly as a well-greased Ferris wheel. For the seventh time in the past 14 years, Brown’s Amusements has been awarded the Circle of Excellence Award, the highest industry standard that can be given to a carnival for safety, employment and business practices, he said.
“In the past 10 years, the carnival business has made a dramatic change. (Brown’s Amusements) is a corporation, and we run it just like any other business,” he said.
Many of his employees are well-educated professionals, capable of working in any business in corporate America, Brown said.
Each February at the carnival’s winter quarters in Mesa, Ariz., Brown loads nearly 60 vehicles — including 30 rides, bunkhouses for the staff, RVs, generators and food trailers — to begin their 80-date tour, which ends in October. The show travels to nearly every Western state in the U.S., from Arizona to Idaho.
During the holidays, the carnival is often rented out by movie studios in southern California or for corporate business parties. January is the only month of rest for Brown and his staff.
“It’s really a moving city,” Brown said. “All we need is a flat, hard surface and a supply of drinking water.”
The carnival produces its own electricity and is virtually self-sufficient in every other way, he said.
Like most businesses, finding employees is one of the biggest challenges to operating the carnival, due to the constant travel required nearly year-round.
Brown must find 80 to 100 employees each year to move and operate the show. One way he solves this problem is by hiring legal foreign labor. Brown is able to issue 55 H-2B seasonal work visas to workers from around the world. Most are hired from Veracruz, Mexico, but there have been workers hired from China, Australia and Jamaica, too. The H-2B visa is issued to foreign employees of U.S. businesses and is different than the more commonly known H-2A visa, which is given to seasonal agricultural workers from outside the country.
Brown said prior to hiring foreign labor, he was hard-pressed to find anyone willing to work on the carnival.
The H-2B workers, he added, are tested regularly for drugs and alcohol and must pass background checks by the Department of Homeland Security.
“If there is any kind of problem, they can’t get back into the work program,” Brown said, adding these employees work hard and are unlikely to cause any kind of trouble because their families depend on their income.
The tiresome travel is not a problem for Brown, though, who has spent almost his entire life on the road. His favorite part about being a carnie is the friends he has made.
“We’ve met people of all walks of life, and we have friends all over,” he said.
His annual stop in the Grand Valley is one he looks forward to every year.
“We have family here, and I look forward to the Mesa County Fair,” he said.
He likes to play county fairs because there’s so much more to do than just the carnival.
“We’re just one part of the fair. There’s local food vendors, animals, entertainment; it’s just a lot of fun,” he said.
“We are incredibly proud to have a carnival with the highest safety standards here at the fair,” said Marsha Kosteva, Mesa County Fairgrounds manager. “We have a great business relationship with Brown’s, and we hope to maintain that for years to come.”
This year Brown’s Amusements is featuring two new rides, a kiddie motorcycle jump and the new PowerSurge, which is a tall, oscillating thrill ride popular with teenagers.
Ride tokens can be purchased for $1 each at the ticket office, located in the front of the carnival. Each ride requires three to five tickets, and many of the rides have a height requirement for children.
The carnival will be open from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. today. It will be open from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.