The Miller family has five generations and more than 100 years of experience in the carnival business.
It all started in 1906 when the great-grandfather, Gene Miller, of current owner Fred Miller, formed Miller Concession based out of Little Rock, Ark. The business started by providing food for fairs across the country. The little business eventually grew when Gene’s son, Burt Miller, began managing carnivals and buying equipment.
The success evolved into creating their own carnival: Miller’s Gala Exposition Show, which started in 1958. From there the named changed to Miller Brothers Spectacular in the 1970’s to Miller Spectacular Shows in 1983.
Now Fred Miller, his son and father Johnny Miller, run the business. Fred Miller does most of the planning. His business travels as far northeast as St. Joseph, Mich., and as far southwest as Albuquerque, N.M.
“It all started years ago with seven food operations,” Fred Miller said. Now he owns 55 rides.
With 41 rides, 40 games and seven food trailers in the Du Quoin State Fair alone, Fred Miller said placement becomes key. Fred Miller said there is only so much space to layout all the equipment so he usually comes to the fairgrounds a week prior to the event, looks at how much space he has, then uses computer generated layouts to place rides, concession stands, games, generators and trailers to maximize space for function. The team of subcontractors, workers and ride engineers set up and test all the machines in about four days.
“We can do it in a day if we have to,” Fred Miller said.
One of the supervisors, Heath Douglas, has been with the Miller family for nearly 15 years. Douglas passes down his knowledge of the games and rides to younger carnival employees such Dierick Gray, age 16 of Du Quoin, who started working at the carnival for a summer job. Gray calls to patrons as they pass through the carnival, reeling them to his game with the prospect of winning a stuffed animal.
With more families staying home and not going out on vacations, Miller said attendance at his fairs have generally increased.
“There’s something for all ages,” he said.
Life on the road is normal for Fred Miller. He said there is new scenery every two weeks and it never gets boring. His day starts around 9 a.m. and ends around 1:30 a.m.
But even with the long hours, Fred Miller said he has one of the best jobs around.
“We are in the business of fun,” he said.