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Running W.Va. State Fair carnival a hard lifestyle

Register-Herald photo by Rick Barbero David Hlay III makes waffle cones at Trudy’s Ice Cream Stand at the State Fair of West Virginia. Among the flavors of ice cream available for fairgoers enjoyment is German chocolate.
Register-Herald photo by Rick Barbero
David Hlay III makes waffle cones at Trudy’s Ice Cream Stand at the State Fair of West Virginia. Among the flavors of ice cream available for fairgoers enjoyment is German chocolate.

FAIRLEA, W.Va. — They roll into Fairlea each summer, turning a large, open field into their own small city, complete with electricity, water and even homes.

For nine days they serve up delicious foods, operate thrill rides and convince fairgoers to give their games a shot — “Everyone’s a winner!”

Then, while everyone else sleeps, the neon lights turn off and they tear it all down, pack it up and shove off to their next stop where they do it all over again, and again, and again, and again . . .

The life of the employees and concessionaires that travel with Reithoffer Shows is definitely not for everyone.

Most people leave home in the morning and return eight hours later. When Reithoffer leaves home, its vendors and employees return eight months later.

“It’s a hard lifestyle,” said concessionaire Dawn Knox.

Carnival life is definitely not what Knox had in mind as a college student in 1974.

“I worked at Ponderosa 40 hours a week but was still short on tuition,” she said. “My mom told me to get a job at the fair in the evenings.”

The rest, as they say, is history.

“I fell in love with the goldfish man,” she said, with a smile.

Knox finished school but married that goldfish man, with whom she raised five children, until his sudden death, 18 years into their marriage.

“When he died, I almost left the business, but I had five children under 12 including a new baby,” she said. “So I stayed out here and took care of my children. The carnival had a school so we were together.

“The show really looked out for me,” she continued. “It’s been a blessing.”

• • •

Concessionaire Patty Hrudka has carnival life in her blood as her grandparents and parents before her were vendors…

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