That one time when I was a ride operator – personal post

Ben and I recently drove down to the county fair… something I’ve wanted to do for the past several years but didn’t have a chance until this year!  I just love everything about the fair, the colorful lights, the chaos, the dizzyness from the rides, the smell of funnel cakes and cotton candy, the screaming people, the ride operators, even the livestock and vegetable areas.


What?  Don’t you love the ride operators too?  They are an interesting bunch, and I imagine all sorts of stories for their lives and what they see while they travel with the fair.  I also feel I can relate to them in some way…. when I see some specific familiar expressions.  I bet most of you never knew I used to be a ride operator.  But, not at a traditional fair… I worked in the CountRy Fair at Tweetsie Railroad for 2 years during college.  It was all at the same time the most boring and most interesting and most eye opening and most annoying and most memorable job I’ve ever had outside of working for myself as a photographer of course.




It was boring because some days I would be assigned something really slow, like Carousel Operator.  The Carousel is a fairly safe ride, so people of all ages want to ride it… meaning there is always SOMEONE in line.  I say “fairly” safe because people are people and there are always some looking for ways to break the rules.  Even on a Carousel… once an old man kept sticking his cane out each time he passed his group that was waiting for him outside the fence… one time around his cane accidentally snagged on my Bell pole and his cane went flying through the middle of the ride and nearly knocked out about 20 kids.  Yea.


You can’t really look at the Carousel for very long without getting dizzy, so imagine 8 hours of constant spinning in front of you.  I often found myself staring at and analyzing each horse over and over as it passed.  Making little comparisons and notes about what could be better about each one and picking out the one that I would take home if they decided to get a newer one.  It was a very pretty Carousel and I hope they never update it.  But really not much is involved in operating the Carousel… you open the gate, let the flood of people jump on their horse or bench of choice, slowly make your way around the perimeter to make sure everyone is seated correctly, and that babies are strapped in, ring the big bell by pulling on a string, and then you simply turn a dial that is basically a kitchen timer and away it goes… with that lovely music that just isn’t so lovely after you’ve heard it 127 times a day.  I would turn up the timer as far as it would go so that my customers could enjoy a nice long 6 minute spin.  That would usually get them their Carousel fix for the day and I might actually get a 5 minute break from the constant line of people wanting to ride 😉


It was the most interesting and eye opening experience because of the people.  Not only the people I worked with (a range from college students to mountain men and women who drove about 45 minutes from Tennessee each Summer to local kids my age who were also sort of mountain men and women) but also the people that visited the park.  There were a lot of similarities about the people who visited Tweetsie.  It was very interesting, and I might fill you in on some of my (and others) observations in person… I might not.  On another note, I learned how to give very clear and specific directions while working at Tweetsie.  Each day was a new day to try out a better way to instruct people on how to do a specific thing.  And while my direction giving was perfected, some people will still refuse to hear you.  I’ve never seen so many people get knocked out by a MOVING chair and then act SURPRISED afterwards.  I’ve never seen so many kids slam a “race” car that goes 1 mph into the side of a building.   But luckily, I only saw one kid fall/jump out of the little round-and-a-round boats and into the (very shallow) pool of water… and it wasn’t while I was operating that ride (don’t worry, he was quickly scooped up by mom before he really even had a chance to get wet!)


It was annoying because of the constant repetition.  In the beginning it was also annoying because they didn’t trust me (as a girl) to operate the rides I wanted to do… like the Ferris Wheel (one of the oldest and fastest in the world, btw.  i have a picture of it’s year built stamped into the side of it somewhere around here and if I remember correctly it was around 1921)… and the school bus (yes a real school bus that drove people with strollers/wheelchairs up and down the mountain if they didn’t want to/couldn’t use the sky lift or walk).  But eventually I was able to talk them into letting me give both a try.  The Ferris Wheel I LOVED… favorite ride to operate hands down… well… maybe tied with the Tilt-a-Whirl.
The Ferris Wheel was a bit more challenging physically and you also had to keep it balanced or it would spin out of control (I exaggerate, but it was very important).  Time also sped by while working it because you were constantly getting people on and off without much downtime to get bored or think about it.  Only the people in line would get bored waiting… it was always a long line, as most Ferris Wheel lines are.  Once a little boy was so bored waiting he entertained himself by sticking his head between the wooden fence posts.  It wasn’t so funny when he COULD NOT get his head back through.  They first tried vaseline, but eventually had to pry the poles apart to get him out.  yea.  The bus on the other hand… not for me.  While I knew how to drive a standard, the bus was in a league of it’s own, especially going up and down a very narrow, winding, steep mountain path.  Terrifying.  I refused to ever try it again after my first up and down.


On the other hand it was very memorable because I mean, how cool is it to know how to operate all those fun rides?!  While I absolutely hated driving the Mouse Train (really it was mostly just the mouse mine and cheese song that i couldn’t stand), it was really fun driving a train!  It was fun getting to know all the behind the scenes stuff that goes on in a theme park.  It was fun pretending to be the dead girl whose chairlift fell off the cable and lay in shambles underneath during Halloween Ghost Train.  It was fun being able to lie flat on our backs on the cement in the pitch dark and watch the fireworks explode RIGHT over our heads for the 4th of July.  It was fun riding the tilt-a-whirl for as long as we all could stand after the park closed… and learning tricks to make it spin faster and longer.   It was fun hiding out in the games booth on days the rain just wouldn’t quit and learning how to beat all those tricky little games that everyone spent tons of money on but rarely won.  I could pop a whole wall of balloons without missing one.


So, anyway, now you know a little something more about me and I wasn’t expecting this post to happen, it just sort of wrote itself!  Hopefully it’s okay that there isn’t really a point to my story… I’ve just been reminiscing a lot lately about the different eras in my life.  I’m trying to prep myself for the next era of our life, which is Portland, OR.  Will it be a long one or a short one?  Hopefully it will at least be full of memorable and worthwhile experiences, either way… so that I can say I even liked the livestock 😉

Happy Friday!

we’re moving and will soon be portland oregon wedding photographers!


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  • sue rakes - Oh Crystal! Portland! What a great pick! I love Seattle, Portland areas (lived in Juneau and flew through both alot)! Portland would have been my pick too….I know you will miss Carolina Blue skies, but folks in Ptown make it way way worth the drizzle, promise! I know you will do well and I am sad to see you go. We will catch up somehow and I will continue to follow you like mad….you are a genious both behind the camera and in so many many ways this post cannot begin to address…love your recent post! Be well, stay warm and settle gently,

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