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Posts Tagged ‘California State Fair’

Earl Butch Butler

Memorial to Butch Butler, Carousel at Winter Wonderland in downtown San Jose, CA. Courtesy of Facebook Page: Remember and Honor Earl 'Butch' Butler

Last week, ATZ learned the sad news via a message about a new Facebook Page “Remember and Honor Earl ‘Butch’ Butler” that the owner of Butler Amusements, the West Coast’s largest carnival company, died on December 21. We first became acquainted with Butch Butler as a reporter for the trade publication Amusement Business in 2004 and picked up the conversation again in 2009, when Butch sent a few rides to our part of the world — Coney Island. We found him to be a great interview and a class act. His intelligence and generosity of spirit will be missed.

Butch Butler served as President of Showfolks of America, Showmen’s League of America, and Pacific Coast Showmen’s League. Butler Amusements, whose motto is “Cleanest Show in the West,” was awarded the prestigious Circle of Excellence Designation by the Outdoor Amusement Business Association in 2005. The fact that Butch passed during the holiday season and his portrait is enshrined on the show’s carousel at San Jose’s Winter Wonderland reminded us of his love of Christmas.

For a 2005 AB story about business opportunities in the winter months, Butch spoke enthusiastically about the Christmas Wonderland in San Jose, where he made his home, and how the event had grown from three rides and a popcorn trailer to 18 rides and wreath-trimmed Giant Wheel. He told us that before the festival, he had four Christmas tree lots replete with rides and had even set up a carnival on the rooftop of a now-defunct department store. “There’s something about me that can’t turn off what I do. I like to be part of the entertainment package for the community,” Butler said.

carousel

Butler Amusements Carousel in Coney Island, June 6, 2009. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

“He always compared the night time lights of his carnival midway to a brightly decorated house during the Christmas season,” Andrea Owen, marketing director of Butler Amusements, tells ATZ. “Christmas was Butch’s favorite time of year. Time spent with family was most special to him. He was such a generous loving man who made everyone around him feel like part of his family, he took care of so many.”

According to a bio released by the family, Earl “Butch” Butler was born in 1942 in Austin, Minnesota. In 1955 his parents started operating game concessions at various weekend events sparking his interest in the carnival industry. The sale of the family grocery store funded Butler Amusements’ first ride – a Tilt-A-Whirl – and the new show made its debut at a California shopping center in 1970. That winter the Butlers signed a contract for their very first fair, the Redwood Empire Fair in Ukiah, which the show still plays.

Today Butler Amusements has more than 135 rides and is the carnival provider for over 120 different events. The California State Fair, Big Fresno Fair, Evergreen Washington State Fair and both the Western and Eastern Idaho State Fairs are among the company’s major fair contracts.

Neverland Bumper Cars

The famed Neverland Ranch Bumper Cars, owned by Butler Amusements, were permanently installed at Cal Expo for the California State Fair in July 2011. Photo courtesy of Butler Amusements.

In 2009, Butch Butler sent four rides to Coney Island, including Michael Jackson’s Dragon Wagon, one of five rides purchased from Neverland Ranch. When ATZ saw “Butler Amusements” name on the cotton candy trailer in Thor Equities’ temporary park on the Astroland site, we were absolutely astonished. What made Butler come all the way from California to Coney’s sandy shore? He told us that he sent the rides to “test market” Coney Island at the urging of his old friend John Strong, whose sideshow had been operating on Sitt’s property since April. (“Calif. Carnival Sends Rides to Coney Island….Including One from Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch,” ATZ, June 30, 2009)

For Sale in Dreamland: Dragon Wagon from Michael Jacksons Neverland Ranch. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Dragon Wagon from Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch brought to Coney Island by Butler Amusements. May 30, 2009. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

“John grew up on our show,” said Butler, “but has since gone off on his own. He said, ‘you’ve got to come out and see this.'” Although Butler’s strong fair route precluded sending more rides for the summer, he expected to put kiddie rides in Thor Equities “Flea by the Sea” tents for the Christmas season. But Butch Butler’s Coney Island Christmas was not to be. Thor CEO Joe Sitt, whom the NY Post previously called “The Grinch Who Stole Coney Island” for a Christmas Eve 2008 lockout, abruptly closed down Dreamland Park before Labor Day while Flea by the Sea flopped. Butler’s Dragon Wagon, Star Dancer, Carousel and Kids Zone returned to California and continue to travel with the carnival’s different units, which play events in seven states in the West.

Butch Butler’s entire family, including his four daughters and their husbands, and his son, are involved in the operation of the company. As one of the comments on the Facebook page says, “Great showman, Amazing father. His legacy will live on!” The family asks that in lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be sent to Pacific Coast Showmen’s Association Scholarship Fund or Showfolks of America Scholarship Fund. Butler’s funeral will be held at St. Christopher’s Church in San Jose on January 3, 2012. Details are available on the OABA’s blog.

Butch Butler

Memorial to Butch Butler, Carousel at Winter Wonderland in downtown San Jose, CA. Courtesy of Facebook Page: Remember and Honor Earl 'Butch' Butler

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Related posts on ATZ…

August 26, 2009: Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ride for Sale in Coney Island!

July 8, 2009: Coney Island Wish List: Michael Jackson’s Bumper Car Ride for Sale on eBay

June 30, 2009: Calif. Carnival Sends Rides to Coney Island….Including One from Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch

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$95K Will Buy You the Dragon Wagon from Michael Jacksons Neverland Ranch. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

$95K Will Buy You the Dragon Wagon from Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Got an extra $95,000 lying around? You could celebrate Michael Jackson’s August 29th birthday in style by acquiring one of his carnival rides from Neverland Ranch. After spending the summer at Thor Equities Dreamland Park in Coney Island, the Dragon Wagon Kiddie Coaster from Jackson’s private amusement park is being advertised for sale on usedrides.com. Since Dreamland closed and is unlikely to reopen (see “Coney Island is Open, Only Dreamland is Closed”), the ride’s owner decided to sell the Wisdom Dragon Wagon rather than truck it all the way back to California. ATZ spoke with Candy Strong, who placed the ad for the coaster and three other rides owned by Butch Butler of California-based Butler Amusements.

“It cost him $55,000 to bring them here. It would be beneficial and less stressful for him not to take anything back,” said Candy, who with her husband John Strong operated “The Strangest Show on Earth” in Coney Island’s Dreamland this season. Since Butler is busy with four state fairs running concurrently–the California State Fair, Western Idaho State Fair, Eastern Idaho State Fair, and Washington State’s Evergreen State Fair–Candy Strong took on the job of advertising the rides. The Strongs have been friends with Butler for over 30 years and were the ones who got him to bring the rides here from California.

For Sale on Usedrides.com: the Dragon Wagon Kiddie Coaster from Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch

For Sale on Usedrides.com: the Dragon Wagon Kiddie Coaster from Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch

When ATZ spoke with Butler earlier this season, he told us about some of the rides he’d purchased from Michael Jackson’s ranch last year. One of the Jackson rides happened to be among the four sent to “test market” Coney Island. The Dreamland Dragon Wagon’s history was not initially publicized, but Jackson’s death in June thrust the former Neverland rides at carnivals and parks across the country into the media spotlight. Butler had hoped to put his kiddie rides in Thor Equities “Flea by the Sea” tents on Stillwell Avenue for the Christmas season.

For Sale in Dreamland: Dragon Wagon from Michael Jacksons Neverland Ranch. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

For Sale in Dreamland: Dragon Wagon from Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

“Like everybody, Butch thought there was an opportunity for another year. Or two or three. But now it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen,” Candy said as she and her husband were getting ready to leave New York for a Tennessee fair. Coney Island’s Dreamland Park was abruptly locked down last weekend due to a dispute between property owner Thor Equities and the park manager, but Butler’s rides are still set up and may be viewed by prospective buyers, Candy said. The other three rides for sale are not from Neverland Ranch. The additional rides are the Star Dancer, a 101-foot tower ride by Larsen International ($250,000) a Barrango carousel with horses and menagerie animals ($125,000), and an interactive play zone called Jungle of Fun ($85,000). I made a flickr set of Butler’s rides in Coney Island in case anyone wants to check them out.

Butler Amusements Carousel in Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Butler Amusements Carousel in Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

At the California State Fair through Sept 7: Balloon Samba Ride from Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch. Photo courtesy of Butler Amusements

At the California State Fair through Sept 7: Balloon Samba Ride from Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch. Photo courtesy of Butler Amusements

Meanwhile at the California State Fair, which runs through September 7, the King of Pop’s amusement rides are in the spotlight thanks to a “Fairgoers Can’t Beat It!” promotion. On Fridays, Butler Amusements gives the first 5,000 visitors to the state fair a “golden ticket” good for a free ride on one of four rides from Neverland. The rides are the Balloon Samba, Jeeps, Wave Swinger and Dinosaurs. According to the fair’s press release, the Dinosaur ride features a total of eight revolving dinosaurs and elephants that riders can control to make the animal go up or down.

Here in Brooklyn, filmmaker Spike Lee’s party in honor of Michael Jackson’s 51st birthday is set for Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. in Prospect Park. Here’s the invite to the free event, which will feature DJ Spinna spinning Jackson music and Brooklyn Borough Prez Marty Markowitz declaring August 29th “Michael Jackson Day.”

At the California State Fair through Sept 7: Wave Swinger from Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch. Photo courtesy of Butler Amusements

At the California State Fair through Sept 7: Wave Swinger from Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch. Photo courtesy of Butler Amusements

Update, December 26, 2011…

The Neverland Bumper cars were permanently installed at Cal Expo in Sacramento for which Butler Amusements provides the carnival for the California State fair. The other rides from Neverland Ranch–Lolli Swings, Jeeps, Dinos, Balloon Samba and Dragon Wagon– travel with the carnival’s different units, which play events in seven states in the West.

Neverland Bumper Cars

The Neverland Bumper Cars, owned by Butler Amusements, were first installed at Cal Expo for the California State Fair in July 2011. Photo courtesy of Butler Amusements.

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Related posts on ATZ…

November 23, 2009: The Contenders from A to Z: Coney Island Amusement Operator RFP

August 5, 2009: Coney Island Has 56 Rides and 33 More Days of Summer!

July 8, 2009: Coney Island Wish List: Michael Jackson’s Bumper Car Ride for Sale on eBay

June 30, 2009: Calif. Carnival Sends Rides to Coney Island….Including One from Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch

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