Farming family brings carnival to VEISHEA

Carnival-goers maximize the Fun Slide at the 2008 VEISHEA carnival.

File photo: Iowa State Daily

Carnival-goers maximize the Fun Slide at the 2008 VEISHEA carnival.

Katherine Klingseis

The VEISHEA carnival is a popular event for people of all ages. Behind the rides and games, the Smith family works to keep it all running smoothly. 

Steve and Vicki Smith live on a farm in Stratford. In the late 1980s, the Smith family realized that the farming business in America was beginning to decline. Instead of twiddling their thumbs and watching their seeds grow, the family decided to enter into another business: the carnival business.

“Basically, it was in the 1980s, and we owned farm ground … and farming wasn’t the best,” Vicki said. “We knew the carnival business, and so we started buying rides and games, and started our own carnival that we could do in the summer time — get the crops in, go out on the road and do the rides, and then be home to get the crops out in the fall.”

The Smith family has a long history in the carnival business. In fact, Steve’s father owned a carnival in the 1960s.

When the farming business became sour in the 1980s, Steve and Vicki decided to follow in Steve’s father’s footsteps, and begin Smith’s Amusement.

“Before we had rides, we had food stands,” Vicki said. “Our son and daughter-in-law now run the food stands.”

When they starting buying rides, the Smiths first purchased four kiddie rides: an inflatable pillow, a pig train, a boat ride and a fire truck ride.

“About every other year, we would buy a new ride, and we started buying larger rides,” Vicki said. “Now, we own 12 rides, but we usually carry about 8 or 10.”

The Smiths buy rides from all over the country. In the past, they have purchased rides in Iowa, Minnesota and Oregon. Currently, they are purchasing a giant slide from Schaller.

“We look for rides that can ride a lot of different people at one time, so you can fill your rides up with a lot of riders,” Vicki said.

Traveling a 100-mile radius around Stratford, the Smiths attend several town festivals and county fairs in the summer.

With the help of 20 hired employees, Vicki and Steve must transport their rides from their farm to every location they need to go. Vicki said that this takes a lot of time and effort.

“It’s not just operating the rides when they’re opened; we’ve got to get them there, set them up, and then tear them down,” Vicki said. “So yeah, it’s a lot of work, but it’s a good family business.”

In addition to summer fairs and festivals, Smith’s Amusement also operates at VEISHEA. This will be the company’s fourth year at VEISHEA.

“For VEISHEA, we plan to bring 6 or 8 rides in,” Vicki said. “We try to bring in rides that ride mainly adults, since that’s what we have at VEISHEA.”

For VEISHEA, they anticipate bringing some popular rides like the Sizzler, similar to a scrambler; the Dizzy Dragon; like a tilt-a-whirl; and the Sidewinder, a swinging chair ride.

For VEISHEA 2011, the carnival will be held in the Molecular Biology parking lot. It will run 5 p.m. to midnight April 15, and 11;30 a.m. to midnight April 16. Tickets are $1 each, and the rides will cost between two and four tickets.