Ken LaForce sits on the steps of the Eagle 16, a Ferris wheel ride that reaches 60 feet into a blue sky, backdropped by Lompoc’s southern hills.
He wears a white construction hat, greasy jeans and yellow T-shirt that tell the story of his labor.
His face is dark, burnt and as rugged as his job.
“Me and Rick put it up,” he says, nodding toward the big wheels, cushioned seats and lights above him. “We can do it in less than five hours — up and running, safely.”
A breeze blows away some of the heat from the afternoon sun, and in the distance the clank of a hammer on metal echoes across Ryon Park.
“Me and my wife got married on this,” says La Force, who is from Copperas Cove, Texas.
“We said our vows right there,” he says, turning to nod at the platform where riders stand before they climb aboard. “We went around, and we were officially married. It was a carny wedding.”
A collection of Butler Amusements rides stretches out in front of LaForce, all with bright colors and catchy names that promise thrills, screams and laughter — the Scrambler, Zipper, Tornado, Orient Express, Tilt-a-Whirl.
Those rides and others crank up today for the 57th annual Lompoc Valley Flower Festival, a five-day event that runs through Sunday.
Entertainment and food booths open at noon. The carnival begins at 2:30 p.m.
A short distance from the Eagle 16, two young women with a little boy and girl walk past a race car ride for children.
“I wanna go on that ride!” says Tatyana Chapman, 7, dancing and swinging in half circles while holding hands with her cousin, Sherita Hill.
“Me, too,” echoes Frankie Villalobos, 5, who clings to his sister, Myranda Buck.
Near the carnival entrance, where workers are setting up a pony ride, the sounds of Travis Tritt’s version of the Eagles classic, “Take it Easy,” comes crashing from the speakers of a white pickup.
“We may lose and we may win, but we will never be here again. So open up, I’m climbing in. Take it easy.”
The song is timely. An Eagles tribute band, Desperado, will perform at the festival Saturday night.
Across the park, at the entertainment stage near West Ocean Avenue, Rob Salzer of Luners Pro Sound & Lighting in Santa Barbara, is setting up the sound system, moving big, black boxes around the stage that come off a 24-foot truck packed with equipment.
“The main thing you’re amplifying is the vocals, because that’s the quietest thing coming off the stage,” Salzer says.
To the west of the stage, a row of colorful food booth signs — yellow, red, blue, green — offer a medley of refreshments and rations as diverse as Lompoc itself.
Here, between the entertainment stage and the carnival entrance, festival visitors will choose among quesadillas and tamales, jambalaya and pork sandwiches, corn on the cob and French-bread pizza. They can feast on rootbeer floats, strawberry shortcake, funnel cakes and cotton candy.
The food booths are important fundraisers for nonprofit civic groups and churches.
At the Kiwanis Club of Lompoc booth, president-elect Monika Bennett says the group raised about $4,000 last year selling cotton candy, and all of the profits went back into community projects.
“We’re not a huge money-maker; we’re honestly here for the community,” she said.
Bennett says she doesn’t expect the economy to hurt the festival financially. Instead, she says, she expects people to vacation near home.
“Small town, local. In my opinion it’ll be a good turnout,” she says.
Ray Garrett of the Vandenberg Village Rotary Club is checking out his booth’s decorations. The Rotary will sell funnel cakes and nachos.
“Most of the funds go to our scholarship program. We provide scholarships for Cabrillo and Maple high schools,” Garrett says. “Last year we raised about $13,000.
“We’re hoping for a great year.”