When Shane Turner and his wife Nicole bought Gambill Amusements from his family in the winter of 2018, he was following a long line of family ownership of the show. Turner’s great-grandfather started the show and he is now the fourth generation of owners.
The show originally started in Ohio with two units. One of the units played in Ohio and the second in West Virginia. The show spawned other shows in turn, as carnival owners such as the Bates Brothers worked for the show before creating their own unit in Ohio.
The West Virginia unit remained in the family, but the show continued to play in West Virginia, visiting various fairs, festivals, and community dates.
Turner has worked on the show all her life, helping her parents with operations and working with committees and the like. He said the show’s course has remained very stable with a few stops on the course for 75 years or more. “I would say most of our events have been on the course for an average of 20 to 25 years,” Turner said. Counting his children, who are now in the business, there have been 5 generations of his family playing in these West Virginia communities. The show, and the family, have truly become part of the fabric of these towns and events.
When Turner bought the show in 2018, the carnival consisted of around 20 rides, mostly major and children’s rides. The only issue was that the show rides hadn’t been updated in many years and much of the equipment, while clean, was older. With a recently purchased show, Turner had to work hard to pay off her purchase before making any big financial moves. In just a few years, with hard work and the help of his family, he was now able to afford the show and he focused on updating the show and its equipment.
Last year Turner added a Pirate’s Paradise (Raiders), a Slide, a new office, a Dizzy Dragon, a Balloon Wheel and he is awaiting delivery of a Groovy Bus. He also has his sights set on a spectacular new ride on which he hopes to strike a deal shortly.
The new rides, while a significant investment for the show, will go a long way in updating Gambill Amusements and its presentation. “It was time to update,” Turner said of the purchases, and he did so in a big way.
Turner isn’t planning on increasing the number of rides so much as updating what he already has. He thinks a show with around 20 rides is the right size for him and his family and he expects to remain as a single unit, primarily in West Virginia, for the foreseeable future.
Despite intending to stay primarily in West Virginia, Turner and his family are working hard to get the show in shape so they can venture outside of their home region in the future, which they have been doing little by little. small since they bought the show.
Currently, the show opens at the end of April and ends around the end of October. In 2019, Turner started heading to Florida with a handful of coins to earn some extra money in the winter. He plans to bring his Eli Ferris Wheel, Groovy Bus, Casino and another coin or two this year.
During Covid, he was able to keep his crew together, booking with Robert Briggs’ Modern Midways in Florida, a move that Tuner says really saved them at a tough time. He has worked on several events with Modern Midways, helping run the show whenever he could, and last year he had the opportunity to work with Frank Zaitshik and Wade Shows, booking at Florida State Fair in Tampa, an opportunity he is very grateful for.
This winter, he plans to return to Florida to visit Tampa again, then the Central Florida Fair, also with Wade Shows, and the Okeechobee Fair with Modern Midways, before returning to West Virginia in April to prepare the show for the start of the season. Last year he played a Christmas event with Modern Midways in Bonita Springs, but he hopes to take November and December this year to relax and rejuvenate with his family.
Turner really has no complaints about the business climate this year so far. While he understands that gas prices are high and labor is expensive, these factors haven’t affected him much yet.
Turner doesn’t use H-2B workers and, he adds, “the aid situation hasn’t been that bad.” He has had many long-term employees, including an electrician who has worked for him for 45 years.
On the fuel price front, Turner is fortunate that his show only moves about 100 miles on average per hop, so the impact of fuel price increases is minimized. He has to pay the truckers more because of the raises, but he’s happy to have trucks to move the show every week.
Halfway through, Turner is aided by his children, who are training to become the 5th generation of family owners for Gambill Amusements. His 19-year-old daughter, Brooke, took over as amusement ride superintendent, a role she learned from her father or “it’s just in her blood,” Turner said. Brooke oversees setup and teardown, and Turner hopes to pitch renovation projects to her during the offseason.
Other family members run the popcorn stand and funnel cakes and are considering adding another food stand to the mix. The show’s games are handled by longtime dealer David Knox, who operates around 15 plays.
“So far, things are going really well for us right now,” said Turner, happy to work with his longtime family and committees to continue the family tradition that runs Gambill Amusements.