PAULDING - Walk down the midway at the Paulding County Fair this week and grass is where the Ferris wheel should be turning, more grass is where the Tilt-a-Whirl should be twirling.
“There are no rides!” Lindsay DeLong declared, her eyes bulging. “Just a lot of animals.”
Lindsay, 13, and two friends were at the fair buying french fries and Cokes yesterday afternoon, and, despite the heat, there were no lines for refreshments. There were no lines anywhere.
“Most of the kids are back by the barns,” said Katie Lake, 14, of Grover Hill. “If there were awesome rides like Van Wert [County Fair], they'd be down here.”
Two days after the fair opened, Columbus-based Miami Carnival had set up only a kiddie train, an inflated Star Walk, and a miniature canoe ride. The wife of company owner Joe Stephens, who declined to give her name or answer questions, said Mr. Stephens was on his way with the Ferris wheel, but there was still no sign of him - or the big wheel - by early evening.
“We're no happier about it than anybody else,” said Judy Wells, fair board secretary. “One of the stories we got was they're stranded somewhere. They're broken down in Tennessee or - it depends on which person you talk to - they're in Columbus, they're in Akron. The other story we got is that he needs trucks and drivers to get them here. Either way, it leaves us without rides and looking bad.”
One resident who described himself as “a concerned taxpayer” called the fair board office yesterday and threatened to file a grievance over the lack of rides.
“We heard they got lost. This is the second year they've been lost,” said Melinda Kauser of Paulding, who was at the fair with her husband and two children. “I think if they want to bring the fair back to what it was, they're going to have to have good rides and make sure they're here on time.”
Larry Colley, vice president of the fair board, said the board has tried different amusement companies nearly every year with varying success.
There's not enough room at the fairgrounds for more than about 10 rides, which means the bigger vendors are not interested in coming to Paulding, he said.
“It's hard to find a reliable person,” he said.
Last year, the rides showed up on Wednesday, the third day of the fair. The damage was already done. This year's fair, which opened Monday, runs through Saturday.
“When you're halfway over, the word's already out,” Mr. Colley said.
The lack of rides meant some families didn't take their children to the fair, and food concessions suffer - as does the fair's reputation.
The fair board won't lose money on its ride contract, though, because it had not paid Miami Carnival and didn't plan to. The company was to operate the rides, sell the tickets, and give 10 percent to the fair board, Mr. Colley said.
Dan Weaver, who runs a Mexican/Amish food stand and a ring-a-bottle game, said his business was undoubtedly suffering from the lack of rides.
“There ain't no doubt about it. It has to put a damper on things,” he said.
Mr. Weaver said he believes the downturn in the economy is hurting everyone's business, but, he added, he doesn't think a fair has to have rides.
“You don't have to have rides to make a fair. But people's frame of mind is without rides, nothing can succeed,” he said.
Mr. Colley said fair officials were just hoping more rides show up before everyone decided to stay home this week.
“We've been through this before, and we've muddled through,” he said.