Mighty Thomas Carnival

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KAHRIN DEINES Of The Gazette Staff

Some of the carnies visiting town for the Montana Fair have a new hobby: knitting hats for babies and neck-warmers for soldiers.

Self-titled the Itty Bitty Knitting Committee, the group gathers to share stitching knowledge and enjoy each others’ company in the months they are away from home.

“The carnival is pretty much a melting pot, but I would not normally be sitting down socially with most of these girls, so this brings us together,” said Margaret Atkins, one of the third-generation owners of The Mighty Thomas Carnival.

At Atkins’ urging, the group of about 15 food vendors, game operators and others began meeting to learn how to knit in May.

“It’s a difficult thing to learn because you drop stitches and make mistakes and so this gives them a support group,” said Atkins, who picked up knitting needles again when her first grandchild was on the way five years ago.

It wasn’t until she had lost two grandchildren, though, that she decided to start sharing the craft with carnival employees.

Atkins, 62, spent last winter knitting miniature booties for premature babies. The work offered therapy after her daughter’s premature twins died about 15 months ago. An anonymous knitter had left little booties for them when they were still alive.

“I’ve found that when you make things for people, you think about them,” Atkins said.

Despite days that often run 12 hours or more, the new carnival knitters have managed since May to knit 65 miniature hats for premature babies that they are now donating to Billings Clinic. And for their next group project, they are knitting wool neck-warmers for soldiers in Afghanistan.

“It’s very relaxing and after a stressful day it’s really nice,” said Laura Miller, a 31-year-old Billings native who joined the carnival 13 years ago.

Through the knitting group, Miller has also made her 3-year-old son a scarf and a blanket, and she has quit smoking cigarettes.

“It’s helped me,” Miller said. “It gives me something to do with my hands.”

While the meditative repetition of stitching row upon row can be a welcome release from the hard work of carnival life, the projects are also a chance to learn how to keep going when things don’t go well, Atkins said.

“Sometimes in your life you can’t fix your mistakes, but this is a process where you can,” she said. “I think that’s been good for some of them. Maybe they’ve never been challenged to make it as good as they can.”

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By KFBB News Team

With the Montana State Fair just a few days away, set up is underway at Expo Park to make sure everything is ready to go on Friday.

Tuesday was the first day of carnival set up at the fairgrounds.
More than 60 workers from Thomas Carnival spent Tuesday afternoon setting up rides that will open to the public on Friday night.

There will be 40 rides in total, including the Supershot, which was brand new last year and a big hit among kids and adults.
There will also be a separate shaded area that has fifteen rides and games for the little ones.

Organizers say there is a ride for everyone, including a new one this year that comes from across the world. John Hanschen of Thomas Carnival says, “We got a brand new one that was just brought in from Italy. It’s called the barn yard and it’s an actual barn looking type building that goes around and around and spins and the kids scream and it’s a family ride. The families and kids ride together and it’s a lot of fun.”

The Thomas Carnival started back in 1928 in North Dakota. The workers travel ten months out of the year, setting up carnivals across the United States. Their next stop is Utah.

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