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Pumpkin Fair carnival opens today
California Carnival workers Wednesday prepared for the opening of the Pumpkin Fair carnival today at the Promenade Shops at Orchard Valley. - photo by HIME ROMERO

It’s 5:30 p.m. on a Wednesday afternoon and traffic hums along the nearby 120 Bypass at a steady pace. 

Whush after whush. Whirl after whirl. 

But Michael Tate isn’t worried about the crush of people struggling to get home after a long day in the office. His long day in the office – as the supervisor of the California Carnival Co. – is still going and shows absolutely no signs of slowing down. 

His hands are dirty. His tank top and his pants have a black film. The sun beating down on his squinting face is just a normal part of the job, and he’s just happy that the 90-degree weather he’s facing today isn’t the triple digits that he saw for the majority of the summer. 

Such is life when you spend your springs and summers taking the traveling road show – more than dozen full-scale carnival rides – up and down the West Coast. Manteca. Ripon. Dinuba. Rancho Murrieta. Yuba City. Napa. Santa Maria. 

While a lot of the cities start to blur together after a while, it’s the repeat trips – coming back to Manteca for the second time this season after opening up at the Crossroads Street Faire – that make the experience and the work that goes into it all worthwhile. 

“You get to see families that come every year and they grow up right in front of you,” Tate said. “That’s what’s different about this and these small towns – they’re happy to come out and we’re just glad that we can provide something like this to them.”

But providing means planning. 

The show itself rolls into town in a massive caravan – dozens of ride trucks, 5th Wheels, bunkhouses and trailers. It’s a mobile city that sprouts up in a parking lot or remote area seemingly overnight, and within two days every single piece of equipment is ready for the crowds that come every weekend. 

These aren’t Transformers. It’s not as simple as pushing a button and having everything unfold and set up automatically without the elbow grease that Tate appears to be putting in on this Wednesday. 

The massive Ferris Wheel with the cars that allow four people to ride simultaneously high into the Manteca sky? Every single one of those cars has to be detached every time the ride gets broken down, and bolted back on when they get ready for the next stop. 

There are hydraulic lines and generators and cables – hundreds of them crisscrossing the midway and shielded by a thick rubber box to prevent any injuries from somebody taking a stumble. The little things need to be taken care of, and sometimes those little things are the ones that get overlooked. 

A few bulbs on a ride that’s supposed to draw a crowd just based off its light show. Changing out last-minute parts when something doesn’t quite go as planned. Being able to adjust on the fly. 

Because if you ask Tate, the entire cycle is based on adjusting on the fly. You have to be willing to make quick decisions even when things don’t necessarily seem to be going right. 

The organization’s second show of the season, the Ripon Almond Blossom Festival, routinely has a 50-50 chance of rain, and a big storm can delay setup by as much as a day. Some of the rides take upwards of five to seven hours each, so every minute counts. 

It’s the family trade, and the same way he grew up prowling along the midway, so will his kids. Tate’s wife Brittany just had the couple’s first baby girl almost five months ago and their son Peytyn is already a staple among the workers putting the finishing touches on everything. 

“It’s something that I’m going to take over one day,” he said. “I grew up around it, and now my family is doing the same. But it’s almost the end of the season and we get that three-month break.

“It’s not really a break – there are repairs to do and purchases to make. But it’s something to look forward to.”

The annual Sunrise Kiwanis Pumpkin Fair Carnival begins today at the Promenade Shops at Orchard Valley from 4 to 10 p.m. in the parking lot across from the empty Best Buy building. The carnival continues on Friday from 4 to 11 p.m., Saturday from noon to 11 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 10 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at the carnival – $25 for 30, or $40 for a book of 60 – and all-day ride passes are available for $30 and are good for that date of admission only. 

“Who doesn’t like going to the carnival,” said Davey Kaiser – who was walking his bike past the workers setting up. “I love bringing my family down here. It’s clean and friendly and it’s just a good place to get some entertainment without having to leave.