LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, BOYS AND GIRLS... welcome to the big top blog of Douglas McPherson, author of CIRCUS MANIA, the book described by Gerry Cottle as "A passionate and up-to-date look at the circus and its people."

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Carter's Steam Fair Part Three: Life on the Road

For all the fun of the fair, running Carter’s Steam Fair is far from cushy.

Pulling down and packing away the fair begins on Sunday night and continues all through Monday, with around 20 workers involved. On Tuesday, the fair travels to the next town. Typically, the fair has 16 or 17 lorries in operation at any one time, but even with that many vehicles moving in convoy, there are so many loads to move that Joby and Seth often make three or four trips back and forth.

Wednesday, Thursday and Friday morning are spent putting the rides back together, after which the fair is open all weekend, from noon until 11pm.

The fairground season extends from March to October, with additional shows at Christmas and, apart from the sheer heavy lifting and long hours, the weather is a constant enemy.

“The worst thing is high winds,” says Anna Carter. “We dread that, because it can do so much damage.”

Rain is another problem, turning grassy showgrounds into muddy quagmires.

A taste of the 50s
“We try hard not to damage the ground,” says Anna. “I’d like to say we lay down a state of the art roadway, but we can’t run to that, because they’re about £25,000. Hiring in tracking is also expensive, because when the weather’s bad everyone wants to hire it.

“So when the ground’s wet and muddy, we put down plywood boards to make a length of road and move the lorry and the load along that. The plywood doesn’t last very long, and there’s only so much we can carry. So you have to keep taking it up from behind the load and keep moving it to the front. It’s unbelievably hard work, and if its raining, it’s really miserable.”

In one respect, though, Carters’ vintage rides and lorries have a big advantage over their 21st century counterparts.

“Modern machines are unbelievably heavy,” says Joby. “Show them a bit of mud and they sink beyond recognition.”

Carters rides are much lighter. Many of them, after all, were designed to be moved when the only transport was horse-drawn.

In addition to their permanent staff, the fair attracts a wealth of volunteer labour.

“There’s something about the fairground business where people want to be involved,” says Anna. “They love the atmosphere... and they probably think we’re so mad they want to help us.”

For her own part, Anna says, “The best thing about this life is we’re doing something very different - it’s a bit off the wall, isn’t it? The fair is completely unique and I’m very proud of what we’ve all achieved.

“There’s also a lot of camaraderie. We all socialise and have fun together and if anything goes wrong you can always rely on everyone else to help.”

With no thoughts of retirement in mind, Anna concludes, “I’ll probably be doing this until I die.”

Joby feels the same, adding, “It’s a hard life, but if I didn’t love it, I wouldn’t do it.”

Like his father before him, Joby’s a born collector and for the future he plans to add yet more rides - and lorries - to the family’s ever growing collection.

“I can’t help myself,” he grins. “It would probably be better if we stopped and just travelled what we already have. But the thrill of it is there’s still old equipment around that other people have given up on. So suddenly you think, yes, I’d love to have a ghost train!”

For more information on Carters Steam Fair visit or call 01628 822221.

Roll Up, Roll Up for a Great Circus Read.

If you like fairgrounds and circuses, you might enjoy Douglas McPherson’s book, Circus Mania - The Ultimate Book For Anyone Who Dreamed Of Running Away With The Circus.

Described by the great showman Gerry Cottle as “A passionate and up-to-date look at the circus and its people,“ Circus Mania can be ordered direct from: Peter Owen Publishers on 020 8350 1775

Or from Amazon by clicking here.

Martin 'Zippo' Burton
- interviewed here
on Tuesday.
Click here to read an interview with Zippos' owner Martin Burton, looking back on a "tremendous" year.

And if you'd like to buy a circus of your own, click here!


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