By COLLIN BROOKS
James H. Drew Exposition has been providing the Appalachian Fair with their amusement rides for over 60 years — that is the reason that Appalachian Fair Secretary and Manager Phil Booher doesn’t blink or look away as he speaks about the confidence he has in the company.
“They have an outstanding safety record,” Booher said on Friday afternoon as preparations for the rides was already set into action. “They have been inspected already, 10 times, because they operate in different states. So every time you go into a different state, you have to be inspected.”
The fair gets underway on Monday, Aug. 22, and the James H. Drew Exposition rides will be here sooner than that, going through an even more rigorous inspection than usual.
The company already made a smaller stop in Elizabethton at the end of the spring, but since then, the exposition has been to Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Kentucky and Indiana before they returned to Tennessee to Franklin and Cocke County. But when they set up in Gray starting on Wednesday, they will have their complete arsenal of rides.
A thorough inspection is extremely important to the exposition, according to their road manager James Graybeal. He said that the company goes through inspections multiple times per year.
“After we inspect before the rides are open, our operators use an inspection sheet to inspect the rides everyday before they open,” Graybeal said.
Before the incident at the Greene County Fair happened last week — in which three girls, ages 6, 10 and 16, fell about 20 feet from a gondola on one of the fair’s ferris wheels — the exposition had extra inspections when they set up their location in Franklin. That proactive approach is a common theme for the company, according to Graybeal.
“You don’t run out and do things because you have an incident,” Graybeal said “You do things because it is the right thing to do and in the long run, it will prevent things from happening.”
The exposition will have extra third-party inspectors on hand, including one from the Hershey Amusement Park in Hershey, Pennsylvania.
“We’ve already gone beyond what we have to do — by having the third party inspection in Franklin — and we understand all of the concerns. We are concerned too,” said Graybeal, who often thinks of his 10-year old granddaughter whenever he looks at the rides.
Graybeal has worked for the company for 30 years and said that he cannot remember a major accident happening with their amusement rides.
“You’re always going to have someone tripping over something or falling down the steps,” Graybeal said. “But as far as a machine malfunction, I can’t remember ever having a major incident.”
The rides will begin to set up on Wednesday and the Hershey Park inspector will be on hand Friday, Saturday and Sunday, while the other third-party inspector will come out on Sunday and Monday.
Having those extra precautions have Booher hopeful that people will still be comfortable inside of the fair during their 90th year.
“We just want to reassure everyone that they are safe,” Booher said.
There are a couple of new rides including a fun house and a balloon ferris wheel to add to the large Seattle Ferris Wheel that has become a staple above the Appalachian Fair Skyline.