Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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May 25, 2014

Entertainment for everyone continues at City Park

BLUEFIELD — Children pointed out the carnival rides they wanted to try while children and adults already being twirled or flipped screamed with glee. The Cole Chevy Mountain Festival continues Sunday with rides, wrestling, vendors, fireworks and more.

The carnival opens 11 a.m. Sunday, and fireworks are scheduled to begin at 11 p.m.

Sounds of the carnival continued outside an office trailer while Jimmy Drew of the James H. Drew Carnival spoke about how the carnival business has changed since his family’s carnival first came to Blue-field in 1951. The rides’ technology has changed considerably, he said.

“We sat right here on this dirt,” Drew recalled, pointing outside. “I was a little kid. It was in June back then, and my father (James H. Drew Jr.) would be here. I’d get out of school and usually the first place I’d come is Bluefield. And I’d be here for the summer.”

This long association has made Bluefield a home for the carnival and its people.

“I love Bluefield. I just don’t know where you’d find a place that’s prettier than this. The climate is wonderful, it’s just great, but I guess I’m acclimated because I’ve been here so long, part of the landscape around here,” Drew said. “Everybody knows about Drew shows.”

The carnival has four portable offices handling jobs ranging from ticket sales and inventory to drug testing. Employees are drug tested when they are hired, he said. Each year, the carnival is on the road for a little more than six months. Drew added that he expected to do 30 shows this year.

Since the 1950s, the carnival business has change much the same way America’s society has changed, Drew said. The business is more professional and has more technology. In the 1950s, many of the rides were powered by gasoline engines.

“Now with these fancy stuff, we’ve got hydraulics, we’ve got pneumatics, we’ve got frequency drive. Now we’re coming out with LED lights. We’ve spent a quarter of a million dollars on that one ride right down there. You’ll see it, the one that’s lit up at night,” Drew said. “It’s the Cyclops. That’s probably one of our most popular rides.”

Carnivals are still places where entire families can go for entertainment, he added.

“One of the cleanest forms of family entertainment you can find is at a show like ours if they do it right,” Drew said.

“We’re family originated. Carolyn Crayton, founder of the Cherry Blossom Festival in Macon, Ga., calls our company the Walt Disney of the festival industry,” he added.

Traveling carnival rides are inspected constantly, Drew said. Stationary rides at some major amusements parks might be inspected once a year, but portable rides are checked every time they go to a new state.

“Our rides get inspected every time we move them and every time we set them up. Next week, we get inspected by West Virginia, then we’ve got to get inspected next week by Tennessee,” he said.

And each state might look at different parts of the rides, said James Graybeal, the carnivals. Rides are inspected and lubricated each week. Graybeal is also instructs inspectors, Drew said.

Technology has led to the demise of some entertainment businesses, but traveling carnivals continue to draw audiences.

“Back in the 40s and the 50s, there was some of the biggest circuses touring around, bigger than Ringling, that toured over the railroad lines,” Drew said. “Well, guess, what: TV put most of those people out of business. Ringling had to downsize and they built coliseums about that time. They carried their coliseums until the 50s. They had a tent that was 200 feet by 600 feet.”

Unlike a circus, carnival rides have to be experienced directly.

“With us, the TV has put most of those big circuses out of business, but you can’t do that with us. You have to actually come and ride the machines,” Drew said. “We are the last remnant left of the old vaudeville touring shows.”

The carnival, in many ways, is a mobile community. There are families that home school their children and travel with the show.

“It’s like moving a city overnight. Because we don’t move just our rides and equipment. We move our homes, our electricity. All we need is a water hook up. We can’t take the water with us,” Graybeal said. “People ask how long it takes you to do that, and we say, well, it takes as long as you have. If you’ve got a day, you do it in a day.”

WV Championship Wrestling will be at 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. and 5:30 to 7 p.m. The show Horses, Horses, Horses, will perform 5 p.m. 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. and the Marvelous Mutt will perform 3:30 p.m., 6 p.m. and 8 p.m.

The Ridge Runner Train will offer rides from noon to 6 p.m.

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