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Better Late Than Never, Kids Swarm to the Midway

County Fair: Attendance improves as youngsters demonstrate their intestinal fortitude. Carnival opens after two-day delay, caused by scheduling conflicts.


Camarillo resident Nichelle Thrash and her cousins, Dillon and Chris Oehninger, came to the Ventura County Fair on Friday with a mission: to go on as many gut-twisting rides as they could without getting sick.

By 2 p.m., the three teenagers said they had been on nearly all of the 40 attractions in the carnival--including five rounds on the Zipper--and the corn dogs and chicken teriyaki bowls they had for lunch managed to remain in place.

"I feel great!" shouted Nichelle, 13, raising her arms in a victory pose.

The fair's carnival and midway opened Friday, after a two-day delay caused by scheduling conflicts on the fair circuit. Fair attendance figures, so far, reflected the change. On Thursday, 47% fewer people passed through the turnstiles than on the same day last year, said fair publicist Teri Raley. On Wednesday, the numbers were down by 41% for the opening day.

But judging by the lines that stretched from the front gates into the parking lot, more than 30 minutes before the doors opened Friday morning, the turnout will be back to normal through the weekend. Today, the fair parade starts at 10 a.m. and will travel on East Main Street from Catalina to California streets.

The gates will open at 11 a.m., and Raley expects attendance to continue to climb.

"We really don't think we're going to lose the people who didn't come the first two days," Raley said.

Wednesday and Thursday may have been a nice change of pace for those visitors more interested in the petting zoo and gemstone exhibits than in trying their luck at squirt-gun games or a ride on the Inverter, but on Friday, thrill-seeking kids ruled.

By midafternoon, the grounds were swarming with pint-sized fair-goers, many of whom got in free, as Friday was Youth Day.

Among them were cousins Freddy Simpson, 11, of Ventura and Bobby Valenzuela, 10, of Ojai, who set out to try their favorite rides early in the day.

First came the Tornado, an elaborate contraption that could best be categorized as a spinning ride.

"My head hurts," Bobby said after stumbling through the exit gate, though he was grinning ear to ear.

"But it gets us pumped up and gets us going," Freddy said.

Passing by the Inverter caused Freddy to hold his stomach and groan.

"I got sick on that last year," he said. Bobby went on anyway, and a little peer pressure worked on Freddy later in the day. "I had to face my fear," he said.

By noon they had gone on about 10 rides--the hands-down favorite being Starship 2000. Standing inside a spaceship-shaped pod, the boys defied gravity, twisting themselves around on the vertical walls as the attraction revolved at somewhat less than warp speed.

"That's my favorite ride," Freddy said. "It feels freaky when you're upside-down."

Behind the scenes, employees of Ray Cammack Shows, an Arizona-based midway operator, completed last-minute ride inspections--the big roller coaster didn't open until later in the afternoon--and tried to make sure the first day went off without a hitch, said marketing director Tony Fiori.

The extra two days gave the workers more time to make sure the rides were safe, he said.

The carnival is its own community, made up of 300 to 500 people who travel from fair to fair for 10 1/2 months out of the year. In trailers stationed beneath the Hi-Miler coaster, three assistant general managers and nine supervisors--each in charge of a group of rides--oversee the operation.

Carnies buy their uniforms and any incidentals they may need through the 10 days of the fair at a general store trailer and can get haircuts and manicures in a mini-beauty salon, also housed in a trailer. The first haircut is free, Fiori said, and workers are encouraged to keep up their appearance by laundering their uniforms daily--a service that costs $1.

Carnies also must take a drug test before starting work at the carnival, and Fiori said the on-site drug-testing center conducts at least one random check during the course of the fair.

But all the backstage details didn't seem to matter to Megan Philpott, 6, who looked delightedly dizzy after exiting the Tornado.

"I lost my stomach, but it was so fun," she said.

Getting to the Fair

Departure and arrival times for Metrolink trains to the Ventura County Fair today and Sunday, as well as Aug. 12 and 13. Schedules are subject to change. Fares are $10 round trip or $6 one way from Chatsworth, $8 round trip or $6 one way from Simi Valley and Moorpark, and $6 round trip or $4 one way from Camarillo and Oxnard. Children 5 and younger as well as monthly pass holders ride the trains free. Tickets may be purchased the day of travel at train stations or in advance weekdays at Simi Valley, Moorpark and Camarillo city halls. All stations and trains are wheelchair-accessible. For information, call 808-LINK.



Chatsworth 9:00 a.m. 11:00 a.m. 1:05 p.m. Simi Valley 9:15 a.m. 11:17 a.m. 1:20 p.m. Moorpark 9:29 a.m. 11:33 a.m. 1:34 p.m. Camarillo 9:41 a.m. 11:50 a.m. 1:48 p.m. Oxnard * 9:53 a.m. * 12:05 p.m. * 2:06 p.m. Ventura 10:20 a.m. 12:25 p.m. 2:35 p.m.




Ventura 3:30 p.m. 6:10 p.m. 10:00 p.m. Oxnard ** 3:45 p.m. ** 6:25 p.m. ** 10:15 p.m. Camarillo ** 3:56 p.m. ** 6:41 p.m. ** 10:30 p.m. Moorpark ** 4:07 p.m. ** 6:53 p.m. ** 10:42 p.m. Simi Valley ** 4:22 p.m. ** 7:09 p.m. ** 11:00 p.m. Chatsworth 4:40 p.m. 7:35 p.m. 11:20 p.m.


* These trains may depart up to 10 minutes early.

** Passenger unloading stations only.

Source: Metrolink

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