“Don’t call us carnies. It’s considered a derogatory term these days,” Alan Cockerham said smiling. He’s the owner of Carnival Americana, the Fort Worth-based company that provides the rides and attractions at the fairway at the rodeo.
The most popular aspect of the rodeo every year is the carnival. Rides, funnel cakes, and games pack the midway next to the Foster Communications Coliseum. Arguably, more San Angeloans will attend the fairgrounds than sit inside the coliseum to watch the rodeo.
Above: Veritgo, the fast swing ride, is the most popular scary ride at the rodeo. (LIVE! Photo/Joe Hyde)
Last night, while snapping photos of the rides, I ran into Cockerham and we talked about the carnival business.
Cockerham said that his job is to provide a great time, and value, for every one of this year’s attendees. Each ride requires tickets, or you can purchase a wristband for unlimited rides for the day ($30), or unlimited rides for the entire 17-day stretch that the carnival will be open this year ($90).
He said his company chooses what rides to operate based upon their popularity, as measured by ride counts. “The most popular ride is the Ferris wheel,” he said. Second in popularity is the large yellow slide. The most popular scary ride? The orange tower swing ride called “Vertigo.”
Above: The slide is the second most popular ride overall. (LIVE! Photo/Joe Hyde)
Cockerham said that safety is a very big undertaking for his crews who set up and run the rides. “It’s probably more dangerous driving here than riding our rides,” he said.
He has been the carnival operator at the San Angelo Stock Show and Rodeo for many years. “Successful fairways don’t do well when the committees change carnival operators year-over-year,” he said. The primary reason is that every locale that a carnival sets up has its own personality, or wants and desires.
In San Angelo, like many places I suppose, the focus is on value for the revelers.
The value proposition is best described by how Cockerham approaches the midway games. He said that fairway games are designed and priced to allow winners, and what you win has value.
For example, consider the basketball toss booth. The oval shaped and smaller hoops are sometimes cited as a way carnivals rip-off the consumer. Cockerham said that he is transparent, as the non-regulation size and shape is announced on signs around the booth. “You or I could probably spend $15 shooting baskets there and win a large stuffed animal. That same toy could be purchased at Walmart for $15 as well,” he said. But it wouldn’t be as much fun as shooting hoops to win one. And, maybe you’re better than the average basketball player and you can get that toy for just $5.
The most popular game is the water guns, where contestants attempt to bust a balloon by shooting water into a clown’s mouth. “People love the group games,” he said.
The carnival is open Feb. 13 – Mar. 1 usually by noon. Today, the carnival opens at 5 p.m.