June 30, 2013

Carnivals a labor of love for Clinton men

Despite challenges and negative stereotypes, they give their all to a business that they were born into.

By JESSE SCARDINA Morning Sentinel

CLINTON - The carnival industry isn't a business that someone just decides to get into. Sure, it may sound fun, owning all those games and rides, snacking on nothing but corn dogs and candied apples, but the idea of hauling those giant rides and working long, hot summer weeks while almost everyone else is relaxing on vacation or at the town fair can be exhausting and challenging.

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East Coast Midways owners are Billy Swafford, left, and Faron Young.

Photos by Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

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Adam Trott, 25, left, and Tim Siwek, 32, install a horse on one of the company’s merry-go-rounds Tuesday in Fairfield.

It's that challenge that Billy Swafford loves about his business. Swafford, who is co-owner of East Coast Midways in Clinton, grew up in the carnival business before starting his company three years ago.

"I just love it," Swafford said on a hot, sticky Monday in Fairfield as he and his crew worked throughout the day to set up for the Fairfield Days celebration.

"I love pulling into the town and meeting new people. We dealt with country folks last week. Before that we were in Philadelphia," he said. "It's really the challenge of constantly being on the move. The new challenge is what I love."

Swafford, 33, has faced a variety of challenges throughout his business venture, whether it be the issues that come with being a start-up in an old-fashioned industry, working with a variety of safety regulations that change with the location, or dealing with the stigma that comes with the carnival industry.

 IT'S 'IN YOUR BLOOD'

Swafford has been around the carnival industry since he can remember. His parents owned an independent company that he helped with in Rhode Island.

Independents have a small number of rides, games and food. Large carnival companies and smaller fairs can contract with independents to provide the bigger fairs with more options.

"I would set up rides, I would grease equipment, I would set up all the toys on the walls. Anything my parents needed, I'd be right there," Swafford said. "I'd travel all summer long and I'd work. Something like this is in your blood. You're born into it."

Swafford said he was 13 when he stopped looking at carnivals as amusement and began looking at it as a career. It was also around this time that he met his business partner and best friend, Faron Young.

Young's sister worked at the same carnival that Swafford's family worked at. Throughout his teenage years, Swafford saved money until he eventually started his own independent service in North Carolina, where he and his family had moved. Young also started an independent service in Massachusetts.

"Basically, he had his business and I had mine," Swafford said. "We both had games and I had food. Up until two years ago, all the food and games at the Clinton Fair were ours."

In 2009, Swafford met Clinton resident Denzie Dorr at the fair and moved his independent business to the town the next year. He continued to store his games and trucks at Young's mother-in-law's property in Connecticut -- where they had a building to shield it from the elements -- while they ran their services throughout New England.

Soon afterward, Swafford and Young were joking around one day, talking about buying a ride or two and starting their own full-carnival service. After a couple of months of floating the idea around, Swafford was on a plane to Wisconsin to buy the duo's first ride -- the Alpine Funhouse.

"We sold some of our games to purchase our first rides," Young said. "It just kind of happened."

Swafford and Young have invested heavily in East Coast Midways since they started the company in 2010.

"We used a lot of savings. We financed a lot," Swafford said. "We're probably in excess of a million dollars in debt for the equipment."

(Continued on page 2)

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