One of the nation’s biggest operators of mobile amusement parks is in Farmland, around 90 minutes northeast of Indy. North American Midway Entertainment owns more than 200 rides, games, and concession stands, and for years, it has provided pretty much everything you see at our state fairgrounds’ midway—along with about 150 events all over the country.
Just as you always suspected, most of the rides are put together pretty fast.
It takes a week or so to install the midway, and three days to take it down. The BulletTrain roller coaster (which fills four semitrailers) and the water flume (which takes up six) each require four days—and huge cranes—to assemble. But some kiddie rides, like the Circus Train, take just five hours—less time than your dad needed to set up a pop-top camper.
Still, Uncle Sam says they’re safe.
Once the rides are up, NAME’s work is checked out by inspectors from the Indiana Department of Homeland Security. To play it safe, a ride called the Fire Ball was pulled last year after one owned by another company came apart and killed a rider at the Ohio State Fair.
If it seems like the layout doesn’t change much from year to year (or decade to decade), it’s because it doesn’t.
The midway’s roughly 55 rides, 60 games, and 15 food concessions don’t move around a whole lot, because the traditional layout optimizes traffic flow. And psychologically speaking, people seem to like finding the Tilt-A-Whirl just where they left it last summer. The only variable is the new ride the company unveils every year. This time it’s that BulletTrain coaster, which climbs 33 feet in the air before sending riders on sharp turns, banking curves, and breathtaking drops.
The game lineup is just as you remembered, too.
“We’ve found over the years that fairgoers like to play the same types of games year after year,” says NAME spokeswoman Amy Girton. The company does unveil at least one new game a season.
Hottest midway attractions? The classics.
Elephant ears and lemon shake-ups are tops at the concession stands. Shooting hoops, the biggest game. And the most popular rides are the Ferris wheel, merry-go-round, and giant slides. Teens go for the roller coasters and the Freak Out (basically a swinging, twisting pendulum).
Speedy spinners like the Tilt-a-Whirl have caused many a midway patron to toss his corn dogs.
But the grand champ has to be the Zero Gravity—what was known as the Gravitron back in our day—in which riders are pinned flat, as if suctioned, against the walls of a round, fast-rotating room. “There will be more than one garbage can positioned near that one,” says Girton.
Taking selfies while riding is a no-go.
The Instagram generation is mostly out of luck on the midway, because waving your phone around violates the strict “secure all loose objects” rule. And selfie sticks are downright forbidden, because they might catch on the ride’s structure or get ripped from your hands during a high-G turn.
No, the games aren’t rigged.
They don’t have to be. Most are so tough to beat that the carnies who staff them need as much as a month to master the techniques. Pro tip: Before playing, ask the carny to demonstrate how it’s done. Just remember that while a guy who has run the Ladder Climb for six years can probably scramble up it like a spider monkey, your results may vary. Still, someone out there is winning, because at every Indiana State Fair, NAME forks over some 30,000 stuffed toys as prizes.