TRIBUNE — As the train took its first few trips around the track Wednesday night, Byrom Myers stood back and watched.
He’s been helping with the Greeley County Amusement Association Carnival for about a decade, and attending the fair since the 1970s. Myers didn’t build the train, but he’s done his fair share of helping to improve the cars and the track over the years.
The train, the Greeley County Eagle, rolled by Myers as he watched a particular spot on the track.
“Every year, you’ve just got to constantly work on the track. I just watch it, like this, and find little problems in it, like the one we’ve got here,” he said, pointing to a flaw with his boot.
“It’s just not quite right here. I just go around and look at that stuff, so I know where to go when we get ready for next year,” he said.
It’s people like Myers who keep the Greeley County carnival going each year. This year’s carnival ran Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights in Tribune as part of the Greeley County Fair. The fair started in the mid-1970s and is completely community-owned and operated.
Monty Moritz has been a member of the amusement association for 14 years. The construction company owner downplays his role in all of it— the repairing of rides, organizing of operators, and encouragement of volunteers.
“I’m a business owner here. I just do my part,” he said.
Moritz said he does do repairs and maintenance as needed.
“We make a list of repairs that need to be made, then set aside a time during the winter to make those repairs,” he said.
Each year before the fair, the amusement association and volunteers start putting equipment together and do inspections.
“We go through all of the rides, and any repairs or improvements that need to be made before the carnival starts, we make sure to do them,” he said.
Moritz said most often it’s just normal wear and tear on the equipment, some of which has been in operation since the inception of the fair. He said there’s an advantage to being community owned and operated.
“For one, you’re going to know all of your operators around here. They ensure the safety and well-being of all the community members,” he said.
For Moritz, that’s what the Greeley County fair is all about — getting together in a safe environment and enjoying the community.
“You just get to see all the people. This is the county hub. Everyone comes to gather," he said. "You don’t have to make plans, you just know you’ll see them at the carnival grounds."
Starting from scratch
Moritz is thankful for all of the volunteers, both past and present.
He said being part of the Greeley County fair is a rich tradition full of history.
“We definitely appreciate everyone for all they do, and all they continue to do,” he said.
Chuck Elliott and his family are part of that tradition. He was a part of the group of community members that organized in the 1970s to create the community carnival.
“In 1975, we organized and started the association. We didn’t have much when we started but a couple of homemade rides. We had a couple of guys that could build, so we built,” he said.
The rides included the “kiddie-car” and a swing ride. Both are still in use today.
"Well, parts of them,” Elliott said. “They have been updated.”
After a few years, Elliott and amusement association members visited an antique dealership in Great Bend, where they acquired a small Ferris wheel and merry-go-round for young children. He and a crew took a truck to Great Bend, loaded up the equipment, brought it back to Tribune and put it together.
“That was basically the start of our purchased rides,” he said.
In the mid-1980s, Elliott and other amusement association members flew to Springfield, Mo., to visit a man who had been in the carnival business.
"He had these carnival rides and wanted to sell them. Well, we wanted to buy them,” he said.
The rides included a larger Ferris wheel, train, roller coaster and other miscellaneous carnival items.
“We negotiated a deal for $28,000 and bought it all. He had to deliver it and set it up in Tribune. I don’t think he had any idea how far Tribune was away,” Elliott said.
Elliott said he and the association members learned how to operate and maintain the rides.
“But most of the time, those rides just stayed up. We did take half the Ferris wheel down because I was always spooked about having an ice storm and losing it," he said. "We didn’t have enough money to buy insurance. We just had operating instance for the days we operated it out of the year."
Community, family treasure
Elliott backed off from amusement association volunteering in the early 1990s as his children grew up.
Elliott said it’s neat to have brought his children to the carnival for so many years. Now they help with it along with his grandchildren.
“My kids grew up out there. They enjoyed it. I hear them talk about it yet, how much fun they had when we were just out there working. Now my grandkids are about to outgrow it, too. The carnival is really a special part of the fair,” he said.
Elliott still clerks the livestock auction as part of the fair.
“I’ve being doing that for 40-plus years, and that’s how it is around here: Once you get a job, you don’t get out of it. And that’s OK,” he said.
Christy Hopkins, Greeley County community director, said the community-owned carnival that has stood the test of time really is a reflection of the attitudes and work ethic in Greeley County. She commended the group from the 1970s for their drive and foresight to start the strong tradition.
Wednesday night, Hopkins helped with the carnival and volunteered at the “hammer” ride with friends. She has been heavily involved in the planning and helping with fair activities since she became the community director in 2005.
“In true what I’m seeing as Greeley County fashion, they saw a problem and found a way to solve it," she said. "We are not afraid of community-owned ventures. We have a community-owned movie theater, carnival, and the golf course started out that way. We do all these things for the betterment and overall good for our community. I think the carnival is just one more example of how people in Greeley County come together to see that the things people want to have happen, happen."
Hopkins sees being a community-owned carnival as an advantage.
“We know who is running the rides, and we know where those rides have been. We know what the maintenance has been. People are very concerned with safety because these are their friends, family and neighbors riding the rides and taking part in activities,” she said.
Keeping it going
Hopkins said residents are determined to preserve the rich history.
“People are eager to continue these traditions. It started two generations ago, and now the third generation is getting involved in making all of this come together. It really is like family tradition,” she said.
She said it’s the volunteers that make the fair possible, consistent and enjoyable.
“I can’t say enough about the people who are willing to come out and put out the time and energy. People know it wouldn’t happen any other way. So it’s important to us all. Everyone is busy, so we know time is valuable,” Hopkins said.
Helping with the carnival and participating in the fair allows visitors and residents to be a part of the best tradition in Greeley County, Hopkins said. It’s the time of year when the town really booms, she said.
“I think some people are almost more likely to come help during fair than they are at Christmas or Thanksgiving. It’s one time of the year that alumni who may not live here, or retired people who have moved away, come back to enjoy Greeley County. They really get to see that piece of America that they miss so much of the time, or may not be able to experience where they live,” she said.
Tava Ingram Foster is one of those alumna. She lives in Montclair, Va., just south of Washington D.C. Most years, she makes it back to Tribune for the fair with her family: husband Chris and sons Gunnar, 14, Lincoln, 10, and Khyber, 8. Foster is originally from Tribune.
She doesn’t know how many Greeley County Fair carnivals she’s been to.
“My parents, Eddie and Beverly Ingram, were on the original amusement association to get this all started. My brother and dad were some of the first people to ride and test the Ferris wheel," Foster said. "I remember being here so late at night, we would just want to go to sleep because we were so little."
Foster said she loves the tradition and the environment at the carnival.
“When we come to western Kansas with our three kids, it’s nice for them to have something to do. It also allows us to use the best of our time to see as many people as possible," she said. "Classmates are coming home, friends from high school are coming home. It’s nice for the kids to get that independence, and that small-town feel."
Hopkins hopes the rich history and community traditions propel the carnival into the future.
“Fair is really something we’re proud of here. Our community goes above and beyond to ensure the event continues every year," she said. "It shows the resiliency and vibrancy of our community."