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Success at Multnomah Fair

FAMILY IS TARGET - People like Angela Schafer, 3, Vancouver, Wash.,
and her mother, Carol, are the kind of patrons FunTastic Shows likes
to draw. The Portland-based carnival is in its third year.
Staff photo by Dale Swanson; Article by Web Ruble
of the Oregonian Staff; August 4, 1974

Clean, safe, reasonably-priced rides and a policy of hiring local, good-quality help is the stated "secret of success" behind FunTastic Shows.

FunTastic - a carnival now in this third year and, which, last week served the Multnomah County Fair the the third time - is trying to overcome the carnival-are-run-by-grubby-bums traditions.

Co-owners Ronald E. Burback, 46, Vancouver, Wash. and Robert Bollinger, 64, Portland, feel they have made moderate progress. One of the reasons may be the experience they bring to bear.

Bollinger owns the Oaks Amusement Park. His father founded it back just after the turn of the century.
**Mr. Ruble incorrectly gave credit to Robert's father for founding The Oaks. Built as a trolley park in 1905, Mr. Bollinger purchased it in 1925. Robert started working in the carnival industry at age 10 and was manager of The Oaks skating rink at age 16.

Burback has been in the carnival business since he was 16.

William Blake, 30, the fair's general manager, also comes from a carnival background. His father operated one for years and for several Blake and his father operated a small one out of Portland.

One of Six
There are but six large organized carnivals in the Pacific Northwest, Blake said. "but the other proprietors are not as thoughtful of the public as Bollinger and Burback."

According to Blake, being thoughtful means staying away from grumpy, dirty-looking people when hiring; buying only high-grade equipment; keeping it clean, and making sure it is safe.

"If you do this and you don't have a lot of competition, you ought to do well in the carnival business, as this is the greatest era in history for it," he said.

He elaborates: "People have more free time, but less fuel and spending money to travel. Carnivals, like fairs in general provide cheap entertainment. "It's a good deal for a family of four: Spend $20 for an evening of 40 rides."

When FunTastic tears down its show Sunday night at the Multnomah County Fair, Blake said the take should be greater than FunTastic managed the two previous years. The Portland-based carnival last year grossed 110-120 per cent more than the fair's previous carnival concessionaire did in 1971.

Ridership Up
Total riders Thursday numbered 15,267, far more than the 10,000 riders considered good for a Thursday. The carnival drew 17,570 riders opening day when patrons paid reduced fairs because of a promotion.

"More and better rides. That's what we promised them and that's what they got," Burback said.

He said rides are broken into three categories: Major rides, including three spectacular ones; traditionally popular rides such as the merry-go-round, and mild-mannered rides for tiny children.

"And we provide lots of flash," Burback said. "Try and count the lights. It's impossible. We have a beautiful show at night."

Of the 170 employees running the 25 rides and 25 games at the fair this week, 90 percent were Portland-area youngsters. "The Oregonian ran a small story saying we needed help," Blake said. "And, wow, did we get it."

Walker LeRoy, who is in charge of safety and ride operations at the Oaks, also does it for FunTastic. He is on the State's Ride Safety Commission, and insists that all of FunTastic's rides have interlocking systems.

"In other words," Blake said. "It takes a combination of several factors for our equipment to break apart."

The most popular ride is a German import, a night-time favorite with flashing lights call the Matterhorn. Also very popular is the scrambler, which at $30,000 is the best investment a carnival operator can make, Blake said. "It has appeal day and night and has a tremendous capacity - 1,200 riders an hour."

However, the merry-go-round especially if it is the old kind with wooden horses and chipped paint, never loses its popularity, and the same can be said about the Ferris Wheel Blake said. "People are nostalgic."

Although Multnomah Fair is a big one for FunTastic, Blake said the carnival's best engagement is the Western Washington Fair, which last year drew 600,000 persons in nine days and from which FunTastic grossed more than $400,000.

"We'll have a good stand at the Multnomah County Fair if the six-day turnstile count is anywhere near 100,000," Blake said. "And we are sure it will."

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Updated 01.16.2013