RICHMOND, Va. — Familiar midway amusements and attractions are brought to the State Fair of Virginia every fall through a massive behind-the-scenes effort.
Andy Deggeller, third-generation operator of Deggeller Attractions, recently visited Virginia Farm Bureau Federation leaders to share details about his family’s business and insights into the amusement industry. Owned by VFBF, the State Fair is held each year at The Meadow Event Park in Caroline County and attracts 250,000 fairgoers annually.
Deggeller Attractions has provided the State Fair’s midway attractions for over 50 years, “which is quite remarkable,” said Marlene Pierson-Jolliffe, The Meadow’s vice president of operations and the fair’s executive director. “This has been a long partnership, and in our industry, partnerships are tested in many ways.”
Deggeller is board chairman for the Outdoor Amusement Business Association. He discussed issues shared with the U.S. agriculture community—safety, labor challenges and family tradition.
He said practically every carnival in the country is a multi-generation operation.
“Our problems change, but the way that we do business hasn’t,” Deggeller said. “We are a family-centered company. It takes families to run these businesses who understand the sacrifices that need to be made.”
The company provides services for state fairs from Pennsylvania to Florida, and many more events throughout the eastern U.S.
“They do this all season,” Jolliffe noted. “They basically build a city, take it down and move their operation.”
Two hundred foreign and domestic employees and a fleet of 150 semitrailers move games, rides, food stands, business offices and a mobile school to a different location every 10 days. Their route spans about 3,400 miles in the 10-month season.
The H-2B visa program, which permits U.S. employers to temporarily hire nonimmigrants, affects the business.
“It’s very difficult to get Americans to work with us,” Deggeller shared. “Nobody wants to commit a 10-month season where they don’t go home at night and don’t have weekends off. So we rely heavily on H-2B visas to get employees from Mexico and South Africa to come work for us.”
Setup and teardown are the most time-consuming and labor-intensive parts of the operation.
“Once we’re set up, we go through a rigorous inspection process,” Deggeller continued. Employees must complete training and certification to safely assemble and operate midway rides.
Andy and Jamie Deggeller’s own children live and play on the midway when not in mobile school.
“They’re on those rides all the time,” he added. “I don’t think there’s anyone who takes ride safety more seriously than my wife and me.”
Midway rides undergo safety checks during Deggeller’s setup process; inspections by Caroline County officials before opening day; and ongoing safety checks daily by an independent, state-certified inspector.
The 2022 State Fair will run from Sept. 23 through Oct. 2. Information is available at StateFairVa.org.
–Virginia Farm Bureau