Patrick Carlson is a big burly fellow of 49 years. He’s well liked by friends and family, who know him affectionately as “Bear.” He likes children, which is a good thing, because he has seven of his own.
There’s just one other thing: he’s a carnie.
For many, the word brings up images of con artists hustling children and adults alike out of a hard-earned dollar. People think of them as travelers without proper homes living out of tents, possibly in need of a shower.
As a veteran of more than 20 years as a carnival worker, Carlson has heard it all before.
“People say we’re robbing them,” he said, as he manned the slide at the Kandiyohi County Fair in Willmar on Friday. “I say, ‘no, you’re giving us your money.’ Besides, they’re getting something in return. They get the enjoyment of it.”
Carlson is one of many carnival workers who moved into town on Tuesday. They came in out of Rock City in a caravan of trucks towing trailers packed with all the amusements of the midway: the ferris wheel, the tic tac toe games, the space-age Gravitron.
Overseeing the whole operation is 3rd generation carnival worker John Magel, the owner of Magel Carnival Midways. His grandfather, Leo Magel, started a concession stand on Harriet Island in the 20s. Just two generations and 80 years later, and his grandson John Magel is the lord of the midway.