Editor’s Note: First in a series about the people who bring the annual Exchange Club Fair to Albany.
ALBANY — For many, carnival life is a family tradition.
As the 73rd annual Southwest Georgia Regional Fair visits Albany this week, many lifetime carnival families are in the area for a short time. These hard-working people travel the country with their families and their “carnival family.” They bring traditional rides, food and games to town, and they shop, eat and repair equipment, which brings revenue to the community.
After spending time with the carnival family and the traditional families that make it a success, a fascinating story unfolds. James E. Strates Shows has been a family tradition since 1923. James E. Strates, a Greek immigrant, came to the United States in 1909 and by 1923 the James E. Strates Shows was on the road. It is still traveling the country today.
John Strates has lived the carnival life all his life. He is in Albany this week carrying on a family tradition. The Strates Show is America’s last show on rails. The show still moves equipment by train from town to town across the country.
Strates has a lot of responsibility on his shoulders as he takes care of the daily logistics of the show, proudly carrying on the family tradition.
Fair Concessions Manager Gerald “Cully” Culbert was kind enough to introduce a few of the traditional carnival families, who offered a glimpse of their lives on the road. Shelby, a food concessionaire, comes from a traditional carnival family. She is a fifth-generation member of the carnival. Her shop has traditional fair foods, featuring her specialty: turkey legs. Her mother, who is in her 80s, still travels with the fair. This week she is in another state working a carnival while her daughter is in Albany.
“We can’t get her to stay at home,” Shelby said.
Rosie has assumed the responsibilities left to her with the passing of her husband, adding to the workload she already shouldered. She drives the truck. She pulls the food shop. She sets up the concession site and mans the booth, along with her staff. This woman holds to the traditions of the carnival life her family has known.
Clarence, who, it is widely known, “can fix anything,” and his wife, Nelda, who sells tickets in a fair booth, have been living the carnival life for five-plus decades. They have been married for 58 years; he was working the carnival before they married. Travel is the life they love to explore together.
Brian is here with his carnival game setup to bring fun and laughter. He is the guy with games that has been with this group the longest, for decades. He says that he has seen times and people change, but people still love to play the games.
Jeff and his wife, Yan, have been traveling with the fair for 22 years and love it so much that they bought a brand new “rig” for this season. After 21 years in the Air Force and years as an accountant, Jeff decided it was time to travel. His wife loves to cook and he loves to travel, so they bring wonderful oriental cuisine to the midway.
New to Albany this year are Tony and his rolled ice cream station. It’s a treat not to be missed. Also new to Albany are Ana and her husband, Jonathon. They bring the opportunity to turn moments into memories with their souvenir booth. Their equipment puts your memories in frames, on mugs and many other items to preserve a special moment for fairgoers and their loved ones.
It is a pleasure to meet and talk with the families that are part of the bigger “carnival family” it takes to bring the fair to town. A lot more goes on than meets the eye to bring the bright lights, big rides, and great food that come with a trip to the annual fair. The people that bring the fair to your family love their way of life and are happy to share it.