Michael Snow is hooked on his brand of show business. At 54, he’s still playing the same circuit he joined 37 years ago, but he loves what he does.
“I couldn’t imagine any other life,” said Snow as he prepared to bring his “Century Wheel” to the midway at the Will County Fair. “I started as the third man on the bumper cars. Now, I drive the semi and I’m mostly a teacher, showing the other folks how to put these rides together and keep them safe.
“I never dreamed I would have been in this so long, but I guess I’m like those people that visit Florida and once they get that sand in their shoes, they just keep going back for more.”
So, for 37 years, Snow has spent seven months of each year on the road. He learned how to cope with a sense of homelessness that others couldn’t endure.
“The movin’ every week … you get used to it,” he said. “It’s like people who live by the airport. They don’t notice the planes. But the visitors are duckin’ under the table. It’s all what you get used to.”
Snow is also used to the six-hour ordeal of erecting a Ferris wheel; the five-hour process of taking it down; and working with five to eight guys they call “green help” (noncarnival workers) to get the jobs done.
“My whole family was teachers, and I guess that’s what I wound up doin’,” he said. “But I never got married so I can do this. It’s not a good thing for a family. You gotta be all in to do this.”
The work has kept Snow in pretty good shape. He stands 5-foot, 10-inches and weighs in under 200 pounds. That’s pretty amazing for a guy who could have eaten like a “carni-vore” — with elephant ears, corndogs and lemon shake-ups daily — since he was 17 and convinced his parents that he would be OK on the road with the carnival.
“I did eat like that for a while, but I started developing high blood pressure when I turned 50,” he said. “The doctor told me to go with more chicken and turkey and I eat cantaloupe or watermelon just about every day.”
Snow said the road crew for the Luehrs Family Amusement Company feels like family to him. He still has his parents, four sisters and a brother back in O’Fallon (near St. Louis), but many more hours are spent with co-workers.
“Some of us bunk together in the crew trailers,” he said. “They’re like little hotel rooms really. Restrooms. Icebox. TV. Bed. Shower. They’re comfortable enough, but I have a camper now.”
And what about your treatment on the road?
“I love some of these towns, especially Peotone,” Snow said. “I enjoy the people. I like the food and the fairgrounds. I even like the folks at the little hardware store I go to.”
And a little farther down the road?
“I really don’t think about retirement,” he said. “It may sound unusual, but I’d like to do this right up to the end. I get to work with hydraulics and plumbing and electrical. Heck, I was once even asked to be like a groupie. Sawyer Brown was playing at the event where we were set up and the boss paid me to go to the show and buy some CDs and get them autographed.”
One more thing: Do you still get a sense of job satisfaction, even after all these years?
“Yes, there is a satisfaction of setting up a ride; washing it; replacing some light bulbs; and then giving the people an enjoyable ride,” he said. “And then when you teach someone else how to do all that … well, it’s like they kind of become a man when they learn how to do it by themselves.”
The annual Will County Fair opens its five-day run in Peotone on Wednesday. Snow arrived on Monday to set up his ride.
Will County Fair
WHEN: Aug. 26-30
WHERE: Peotone-Wilmington Road, Peotone
COST: General admission $3; children under 10 free. Grandstand admission is listed with every event. Must have a ticket if you are occupying a seat.
ENTERTAINMENT: Demolition Derby Aug. 28; carnival rides $1.50 or 16 for $20 daily, Aug. 28 Dollar Day when all rides are just a buck until 5 p.m.
FUN: Baby show 1:30 p.m. Aug. 30.
YUM: Carnival food; beer tent, air-conditioned restaurant.
DON’T MISS: WVLI “The Valley” 95.1 sock hop at the entertainment tent 3-4:30 p.m. Aug. 28.
INFO: (708) 258-9359, www.willcountyfair.org