FRUITLAND TOWNSHIP — About the only thing missing in Ray Genter’s creation is the sounds of happy children and the smell of cotton candy.
From Ferris wheels and bumper cars to carnival-goers and Sno-cone stands, Genter’s elaborate miniature carnival features small versions of seemingly everything that make full-size carnivals popular and fun. A carnival fanatic and stickler for details, Genter even went so far as to put miniature portable bathrooms, fake generators and replica electrical wires on each section of his mini carnival.
In theory, a person standing 1 or 2 millimeters tall would have a memorable and fun day on Genter’s mini-display.
The mini-carnival is 24 years in the making. Genter, who owned and operated a full-size carnival called Great Lakes Amusement in the 1980s, collected, painted and, in some cases, made the more than 15,000 miniature pieces that cover the display.
Some pieces he bought at hobby shops and painted with small, precise brushes. Others he made from scratch. Some of the miniature items took a week to make, others three to four weeks. The small figurines are measured in millimeters while the roller coaster is 3-feet long.
“Once a carny, always a carny,” Genter said, describing the enjoyment he experienced while working the ticket booth of his full-size carnival and while designing the pieces of his miniature version. “It got into my blood.”
Genter’s miniature carnival includes 127 rides, 74 shows, 275 concession stands and about 15,000 other miniature pieces, including men, women and children. The display, which had been set up in his basement, started with one 3-foot by 4-foot table and grew to cover 16 tables. He actually had additional items to cover two more tables, but he ran out of room in the basement.
Likely one of the largest miniature carnivals, Genter’s display is being donated to a carnival-preservation group in Gibsonton, Fla. Ivan Arnold, president of the International Independent Showman’s Museum Corporation, was in the area recently to pick up the miniature carnival and was impressed with the Genter’s attention to detail with side shows, trucks and little banners.
“I was amazed by it,” Arnold said of Genter’s collection. “He obviously put a lot of work into it.”
Arnold said Genter’s miniature carnival will be displayed in one of the rooms of the museum, which is under construction. Museum officials are hoping to have the museum open in 2010.
Paul Becker, president of Fun and Games Inc. in Muskegon, appraised the miniature-carnival collection at $78,575. Becker has been appraising hobby displays for 30 years.
“It’s been a lot of fun making it,” Genter said. “I want the stuff to be preserved.”
Genter, 74, admitted that he will miss the display, but he plans on making more miniature pieces for a new display.
Genter’s wife of 40 years, Sharon, has grown accustomed to her husband’s obsession with carnivals. They never miss a carnival in the area and she knows that he will check ahead on scheduled carnivals before they take out-of-town trips.
Regardless, she will miss the miniature carnival display, too.
“It’s a lot better than him being on the road,” Sharon said of her husband previously spending 22 weeks a year on the road when he operated a full-size carnival.
Ray and Sharon Genter are the owner/operators and namesakes of the three Flowers by Ray and Sharon stores. They own the floral stores in North Muskegon, Muskegon Township and Norton Shores with other family members.
Genter, who opened his first floral store 33 years ago, followed a unique career path as a carny and a florist.
Born and raised in Ludington across the street from the West Michigan fairgrounds, Genter took an early interest in the carnival business. As a young boy growing up during the Depression, he was forced to work at carnival if he wanted to attend.
His mother didn’t like the idea of Genter pursuing a career working at a carnival, so she pushed him toward the floral business when he was 16.
“I outfoxed her,” Genter said. “I did both.”