COLUMBIA — It’s Wednesday evening at the Boone County Fair and the ground is still soggy and damp from Tuesday’s rain. Mothers push baby carriages through the mud as fathers lift children up on their shoulders. Groups of teenagers jump over murky puddles. Neon green wristbands can be found on hundreds of people as they flock to the carnival, put on by the Lowery Carnival Co.
Contemporary music blasts from unseen speakers. Brightly decorated booths advertise cotton candy, hamburgers, fries and funnel cakes. The men and women working the carnival wear cerulean polo shirts embroidered with the company name in white letters.
Cindy Hillerman, her son Robbie, and his friend John Chester stand at the entrance for the Cliff Hanger, a ride than imitates what it would be like to hang glide. They wait for a man to finish tightening bolts at its triangular top.
“This is our third time coming to the carnival,” Hillerman said. “Robbie likes to come and ride the rides, and I always have him bring a friend. It’s more fun if the kids have a friend.”
Next to the Cliff Hanger is the Chainsaw, a taller ride where small seats are attached to a larger section that rotates slowly. The seats can fit two small people or one large person and can spin forwards, backward and upside down independently from the larger section. The line quickly grows long for the Chainsaw.
“It’s fun until you start going forward,” Alyssa Hohlt said after she stepped off the ride, her hands still shaking. “I was really scared, but I want to do it again.”
The men and women employed through Lowery are responsible for keeping the carnival together and come from all over the world. Jamie Rodrigez, an operator of the Sea Dragon — a ride shaped like a large Viking boat that swings back and forth and almost upside down — is originally from Veracruz, Mexico.
“Half of the people are from South Africa and speak a very different language. Some speak more English than others,” Rodrigez said, who was interviewed with the help of a translator — his friend, Manolo Siaden. Siaden makes and sells jewelry in a booth at the fair.
Bianke Allan and Quintin Prinsloo, both from Nelspruit, South Africa, work a lemonade stand at the entrance to the carnival. Allan and Prinsloo got involved with the carnival through an agent in South Africa and have been working since April.
“This is the first time we get to travel in America,” Allan said. “We’ve been to the Arch and we’ve been to the zoo. It’s a lot of fun.”
They plan to return to South Africa in November.
“It’s an experience,” Prinsloo said. “We’re seeing America and just traveling.”