Amusement Ride Operator Delivers A 'City on Wheel'
by Debbie Watcher Morris
Source: New Castle News
Dana Peck, left, and his stepson, Nick Brown operate the rides and the Lawrence County Fair.
The main entrance to this year's Lawrence County Fair screams bright lights and fun.
Music and lights from the amusement rides prompt children to squeal with delight and pull on the hands of their parents. They drag them off the midway into the chaos of up-and-down, back-and-forth motion.
The rides, games and concessions at the front of the fairgrounds have stepped into the limelight this year as perhaps the fair's biggest attractions.
The fair has been livened up by Dana Peck and his family, owners of Midway Rides of Utica. The contracted firm runs the rides, carnival games and brightly decorated and appealing food concessions, including a popcorn trailer that also sells cotton candy and candy apples.
Peck started the business 29 years ago and has developed it into an art and a lifestyle, taking pride in the satisfaction he delivers to fair-goers of all ages.
His rides and concessions are immaculately run.
We get most of our rides by going to conventions,” he said, noting those events are largely based in Florida and display amusements from around the world. He picks and chooses those he feels will be the biggest hits.
His most popular is the Himalayan, a brightly lit ride that spins quickly. He often runs his own Ferris wheel, but his personal favorite is the tumbling Rock O Plane.
“I ride everything we have at least once to determine if the public will like it and to see the motion it has,” he said.
Fair-goers can choose from 18 rides. New this year are the Vortex, a swinging pendulum ride that rises 71 feet off the ground and is known to nauseate those with weaker stomachs; and the Wind Glider, where people lie on their stomachs and it spins them in a circle and lifts them to a 70-degree incline.
A large Scrambler for adults and a smaller one for children give riders a fast, dizzying spin.
There also are tamer rides, such as a deluxe carousel with an antique flair. It features a menagerie that includes an elephant, giraffe, chicken and a Dalmatian Peck fondly named Seymour Spots after Peck's own deceased hound.
The carousel's design was inspired by Gustav Dentzel, the son of a German carousel maker who founded the Dentzel Carousel Co. in Philadelphia in 1860. The merry go round is set to music by an MP3-driven calliope.
Midway sets up shop at about 30 fairs and carnivals a year from Albany, N.Y., to Pittsburgh. The show will move to the Hookstown Fair next week, Peck said.
This is the company's second year at the Lawrence County Fair.
“It's a win-win situation,” said fair director George Rodgers.
Midway is a quality company that provides the fair with bigger and better quality rides and a bigger selection than in the past, he said.
He considers Peck “a very good businessman. What he says is what he does.”
How it Started
Peck's start in the amusement business was influenced by his father, the late Allen Peck, a concessionaire in the 1950s.
With his parents' support, he started his own show in 1978 when he turned 21.
“At the time, I was the youngest show owner in New York state,” he said.
Peck has a staff of more than 25 involved in each show, with he and his wife, Rosanne, their daughters, Andrea and Rachel, and stepson, Nick Brown, as regulars.
Andrea runs the popcorn trailer, Rachel is proprietor of the ice cream stand, Rosanne works the ticket booth and does other jobs, and Brown balances the ledgers, does repairs and upkeep of equipment and is operations manager.
“Nobody runs a more family oriented business than Dana,” Brown said.
A crew of workers are trained to set up, tear down and run the rides.
Peck, a licensed Pennsylvania inspector, noted ride regulations have become stricter, and insurance companies are enforcing size, age and height rules, he said.
“We have an excellent safety record and we are respected by Pennsylvania and New York for the job we do,” he said.
Peck also acts as electrician, safety inspector, personnel manager and bookkeper.
“I have to wear all of those hats as a first-generation owner,” he said.
New to the business is Santillo's food stand, which sells sausage sandwiches and other food and beverages, including strawberry smoothies with whipped cream on top.
The concession, run by Michael Santillo, is at the front of the midway. Its bright lights and red canopy beckon hungry fair-goers to try some of the mouth-watering food being prepared in front of them.
It is one of several food stands in Midway's entourage.
Santillo calls the entire operation “a literal city on wheels.”
One Admission Price
People who attend this year's Lawrence County Fair can ride all the rides they desire after paying one admission price.
The price is a great value compared to going to an amusement park that costs $30 or $40 for a single ticket, fair director George Rodgers pointed out, adding, “We have other things amusement parks don't have.”
Fair-goers enter the gates and purchase a two-part ticket as general fair admission. One portion is for the rides. They are to take that portion to the large ticket trailer in the ride area, where they present it and receive hand or arm stamps good for the entire day, Rodgers explained.
The rides open daily at 1 p.m. and stamps are good until 11 p.m.
Three rides at a time are shut down on a rotating basis between 3:30 and 5:30 p.m. to provide dinner breaks for employees.
“There are always at least 15 rides running, even during break period times,” Rodgers said.
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