09/29/04 — Gates open Thursday at 4 for 56th annual fall attraction

View Archive

Gates open Thursday at 4 for 56th annual fall attraction

By Sam Atkins
Published in News on September 29, 2004 1:59 PM

A "mobile community" has arrived and will spend a couple of weeks in Wayne County providing thrills and excitement for all ages.

Power's Great American Midway is celebrating its 25th anniversary and is the main attraction for the sixth year at the Wayne Regional Agricultural Fair.

Marc Janas, Midway manager, is from Rochester, N.Y., and travels to around 60 fairs every year all over the eastern United States with relatives and Midway employees.

"We meet so many great people," he said.

Around 300 employees begin their year in Jacksonville, N.C., in March and finish in Wilmington, N.C., in November. In between they go to events in Virginia, Pennsylvania and New York. They are on the road for nine months of the year traveling around 6,000 miles.

They came to Wayne County from the Mountain State Fair in Asheville, where they had to deal with bad weather from the hurricanes. Janas said that although they were delayed setting up by one day, they still managed to have all of the rides in place and inspected in two days.

He said the excessive rain caused some difficulty, but they are always prepared for any kind of weather.

"We are used to adapting to all conditions," said Janas.

During the off-season, Janas spends time meeting with fair managers and trying to get new accounts. Employees also work at their winter headquarters in Burgaw, N.C., doing ride maintenance and painting the rides. All of the rides are parked at the shop, and some are completely repainted while others receive only a partial makeover.

Ron Thomas, a Midway employee, said they have four mobile maintenance shops they use to service the rides while on the road. The shops have all kinds of backup parts, some of which are made internationally. They also have a computerized sign and graphics shop on the road.

The first step in setting up for the Wayne County fair is marking off 40 acres with string and wooden sticks so the Midway employees know exactly where the rides and concession areas go. The mobile community began arriving Monday to set everything up. Some of the attractions are so large that it takes two tractor trailers to bring them in, said Janas.

Most employees stay in RVs, which are lined side-by-side at the fairgrounds. Midway operations are based out of a trailer in the center of the carnival.

Several children attend Midway's mobile school, which started last year. They attend class five days a week while on the road and are taught by a certified teacher from Texas, said Janas.

The employees add to the local economy while here. They purchase many things, including between $12,000 to $15,000 in diesel fuel for the generators. They go to the local dry cleaners, supermarkets, fast food restaurants and sometimes have to get new tires before heading to their next event.

Midway has grown from having five rides to over 50 in its 25-year history. There are four new rides this year worth $1 million combined. They are "The Haunted Mansion," "Zero Gravity," "Starship" and "Scooter."

Eighty-five percent of the rides are 10 years old or newer, said Janas, and they are all inspected by the state.

"Safety is number one," he said.

They emphasize customer service by constantly having employees around the carnival with radios to handle any situation and answer questions from fairgoers, he said. They have guest relation booths, nursery and diaper stations, hand washing stations, numerous trash receptacles, benches and light towers with different colors so children know where to go if they are lost.

"We really try personalize everything," said Janas.

A new rule this year is there is no smoking allowed in public for safety reasons and to help maintain a good appearance, he said. People will have to be out of the public view to smoke.

Janas said his favorite thing about the job is traveling to the different parts of the country meeting new people. Midway has many volunteers that help set up the rides.

Cornell Carlton spent Tuesday setting up The Haunted Mansion. He is a Mount Olive native and lives in Florida. He came back to Wayne County about a month ago to escape the hurricanes and stay with relatives. He plans to return to Florida in a couple of weeks.

Janas said he looks forward to this year's event and continuing to develop a relationship with the Wayne County community.