Scenes from the Interior Provincial Exhibition in Armstrong can jump into your mind like a flashbulb popping.
There are people playing midway games, families boarding the ferris wheel and kids eating ice cream cones while an aroma of frying donut batter wafts by.
But most folks attending the fair between today and Sunday won’t consider the hours put in by employees posted in game stalls and workers running all the rides before the fair even begins to make those experiences possible.
On Tuesday, carnival workers were busy putting the final touches on their displays. For many of them, it will be the final festival in a long summer of travelling around the circuit.
For Ron Dalgliesh, who owns several classic games on the midway including Wac-A-Mole, Duck Pond and Balloon Pop, it’s impossible to imagine doing something different.
“It’s all I’ve ever done,” says the 45-year-old. “I can’t compare it to anything else. Every day there’s something new, you think you’ve seen it all.”
Each year, carnival employees pack up trailers and head out on the road. Some will make as many as 30 stops during the summer in places like Dauphin, Estevan, Lloydminster, Vermilion and Armstrong.
The fair season goes from March to September for Dalgliesh but his job doesn’t end when the last trailer is packed. He’s always getting organized over the winter to do it over again. This is his 30th year on the circuit.
As he’s talking a mop-haired teenager ambles up. He’s looking for some work during the IPE.
He says he’s 16 and Dalgliesh sends him to speak with someone about working one of his games.
“Happens all the time,” says Dalgliesh. “I figure I’ve done good in people’s lives. I see them years later all mature and they tell me how much I’ve helped them.”
To set up and run a game stall or ride for a fair that might last four or five days just to take it all down, drive to a new spot and do it all again, takes a lot of elbow grease.
Wilf Duguay, who works at one of Dalgliesh’s games, says it all depends on the cohesiveness of the team of workers.
“If you have a whole crew working, it’s not a problem,” says Duguay, who has worked on and off in the carnival circuit for 13 years. “The heat is a problem. You have to drink lots of water and keep yourself replenished.”
Further down the midway, another team of workers knows what Duguay says is true. They’re assembling the track for the Orient Express, hefting heavy pieces of steel for the ride. As the sun rises higher, a bottle of cold water is as valuable as anything.
“It’s fun but it can bring a sweat,” says Rena Lafleur, 21.
“You drink lots of fluids and try to get everything done before the sun gets hot.”
Lafleur is in her first full summer on the circuit and teams up with Joe Severight and Bill Hallett to get the Orient Express up and running at each fairground. They have the routine down pat.
“Bill and Joe do the track and I pull the pins,” she explains. “When (track sections) are on the trailer, me and Bill pass them to Joe.”
It’s a job that requires people who aren’t afraid to get their hands a little dirty. Lafleur is no exception.
“I don’t care. They don’t get much cleaner than this,” she says, turning her palms up to reveal thick black smudges of grease.
From one ride to the next, it’s the same story but by the time you get there, everyone will be sporting a fresh face, hoping to make the 110th IPE a success.