Flashing lights, joyous screams and whirling rides are all a part of what makes a fair exhilarating. Visitors to the Effingham County Fair will see a different business running the carnival this year.
“It’s probably been 12 to 15 years that the carnival Miller Spectacular has been at the fair,” said Effingham County Fair Board President Phil Hartke.
But fair officials decided not to renew the Greenbrier, Arkansas-based company's three-year contract, Hartke said. Wanting something different, several fair board members visited a carnival hosted by Luehrs' Ideal Rides Inc., which is based in Belleville, Illinois. They liked the feel of the carnival and decided to bring Luehrs' to Effingham County.
The carnival portion of the midway is a key aspect to the Effingham County Fair because it typically brings in more than $10,000 in revenue. The number can fluctuate, depending on the weather, Hartke noted.
Fair officials hope Luehrs’ will create the desired exhilarating effect for fairgoers by bringing something new to the fair atmosphere.
“It’s unique because it owns all the rides and carnival," Hartke said. "It’s a top-notch carnival.”
Andy Schoendienst – nephew of former St. Louis Cardinals player, manager and coach Red Schoendienst – owns the carnival business. He took it over from his father-in-law, Hub Luehrs.
Schoendienst works with his wife and her sister, taking pride in creating a family-oriented feel for Luehrs’ Ideal Rides. The business started almost 60 years ago, and Schoendienst began his employment there almost 50 years ago.
“We’re a portable amusement park, and we're one of the top carnivals in the U.S,” Schoendienst said.
Schoendienst said the business has become more professional over the years. Luehrs’ Ideal Rides belongs to the Circle of Excellence – a groups whose members include the Disney theme parks. Membership depends on an evaluation of the carnival, which must meet high standards in safety and various other aspects of the operation.
“There are a lot of things that we’ve improved, and not just things that the state or the federal put out in regulation,” Schoendienst said.
A main focus is to keep the carnival family-oriented, he added.
“There are really nice rides and the employees have nice uniforms and they're showered and clean,” Hartke said. “We pride ourselves in the safe atmosphere of the county fair.”
Schoendienst and his group are as excited to be at the fair as the Effingham County Fair Board is to have them.
"You have a community that seems to work together and wants to be there," he said. "There are civic minded people and that matters to us. When you don’t have people who are community-minded, the fair seems to fail.”
To welcome the carnival, the fair made some adjustments. For instance, the grounds needed extra electrical hookups to handle Luehrs' power requirements.
This year the carnival will be full of thrilling rides for all ages and Luehrs’ Ideal Rides Inc. will even be bringing in a beautiful carousel that is 40 years old. Furthermore, the fair will have a gondola style Ferris wheel, capable of carrying four riders in each pod.
The carnival will still have armband nights and reduced ticket prices on Saturday afternoons, but armbands and tickets will not be sold by carnival workers. This year, community members from Effingham Sunrise Rotary will be working the ticket booths.
“Having local people selling tickets, there is no question of accountability. There will be friends and family selling tickets and that gives a hometown feel,” Hartke said.
"We're excited to be there and we can’t wait. We have fairs we’ve attended for over 50 consecutive years, so this is a new adventure for us,” Schoendienst said.