GRAY, Tenn. (WJHL) – The Appalachian Fairgrounds are usually fairly empty, until the Monday before fair week when Drew Exposition starts setting up rides and games.
“We’re very careful of what we buy, certain rides; there’s machines that have been made out there that might be problematic,” said President of Drew Exposition Jim Drew. “Once we get here, we have a checklist.”
Most of his company’s midway attractions come from Europe before traveling around on a fleet of trucks to be set up for fairs and carnivals.
“Some of the bigger ones take big construction cranes,” he said. “We have one crane that stays with us. It travels with us some. There’s a pirate ship over there, that takes a 60-ton crane. We have a local crane operator come and raise it for us.”
Drew said most of the rides today operate on hydraulics, making them easier to put together.
“Some of them are hydraulic, so they unfold and they pin a lot of the more modern equipment,” he said. “There’s nothing that really ever comes apart, they just fold out.”
Drew Exposition’s safety checklist includes making sure the pins and bolts are in place and tight, along with checking all stress points and welds.
“We have independent inspectors come and check things and we have some people to come and check with the Department of Labor. And they have a third-party inspector that comes around and gives us stickers. And then we run them really good and then we check them again before they open.”
They have to get a permit through the Department of Labor each time they come to Tennessee, and the inspector places a new sticker on each ride when they’re checked.
“Sometimes they [inspectors] ride the ride, but most of the time they’ll come even before the ride’s up and inspect them on the ground,” Drew said. “Some of the rides are more easily inspected on the ground, like the big tower behind me. You can get you can inspect the top of it real easy if it’s laid over. And then they’ll raise the rides.
Drew said Tennessee has strong ride safety laws in place that some states do not.
“Certain states are different. It’s every single setup [in Tennessee]. There are some states still out west, I’m told, that don’t have any inspections at all. So we have a good program here in Tennessee. You’ve got a good one in North Carolina and Georgia too.”
Drew is also adamant about making sure electricity is grounded and that every crew stays with their ride between events.
“You have the same person pushing the same button every day. It’s kind of like an airline, I guess. Always hear about the pilots and they don’t swap the type of aircraft they hop in,” he explained. “We try to keep people doing what they always do. And so we were able to keep continuity that way.”
And when incidents happen like what happened at the Greene Co. Fair back in 2016, when three young girls fell from the Ferris wheel, he reviews his protocols.
“We are always trying to identify things, and we stress it to our people: anything that you see–it doesn’t have to be me shut a ride down … I want everybody to know. Any inkling of anything? You shut the ride down and we’ll go check it out.”
Drew said most of the problems and injuries he sees at fairs come from people rushing and not paying attention, especially when it comes to simple rules like not taking cell phones on rides.