Building Magic: Brooks, Alberta

cowboy-and-sizzler title

Climbing up to each ride with my feet clanking on every step. I only had eyes for the hand rail, the stairs and the waiting empty seats. The glance I’d share with the operator of the ride would be one of dismissal. You’ve seen my wristband now let me ride I’d be saying behind my cheerful smile. I’d notice but not focus on the fact that each glimpsed face was different. Some gave me a large toothy—or toothless—smile, others looked right on past me.

Some individuals were white skinned while others were dark skinned. Sometimes faces and hands was dark from oil and grease. Some faces were crinkled like waterless riverbeds and tiny canyons. Others were identical to the teens waiting to ride.

The same as it would be in a small town, there were eyes that laughed, that silently cried, that you wouldn’t want to meet in an alley and eyes that welcomed you with all their heart.

Carnival dark lock up
Photos by Allison Declercq and displayed with the permission of the Brooks Bulletin.

Of course before I recollected all this I found myself at the Wiggly Worm while the sun was out in full glory. Four men toiled in the heat before me as I pestered them with questions.

You’ve already met Kenroy Evans and Ryan Bourne.

Meet Dwayne Davies.

Dwayne as the most experienced in the group had a calmness about him. Though the second most vocal character in the group he said a lot without speaking.

“We are dedicated,” he told me as he turned back to continue piecing together the ride with the others.


And of course probably the one with the most sass, Oshare Palmer snapped into a pose for the camera. I still chuckle at this photo. It must be the cute little flowers in the background.

Oshare Palmer

The way I captured Daneil Davis was the best representation of the transformation from constructor to operator. I walked up to him first as he cleaned the windows of the Mardis Gras fun house.

He was with a group of workers who’d arrived earlier with four rides that were too large to fit in Drumheller—the town visited by the carnival before my own.

Daneil Davis 3

Days after talking to Davis as he cleaned I’d spot him seated at a ride seemingly unaware of the children gazing on in anticipation—and my waving.

Daneil Davis outside
Photos by Allison Declercq and displayed with the permission of the Brooks Bulletin.

I never did get to speak to Robert Hauser the boss of the unit that day. He was too busy running things to stop and talk really.

The Boss Robert Hauser helping out

The workers had nothing but praise for their boss and seeing him helping out seemed like a positive indicator.

Eli Phillips was part of the early arrivals and had been with West Coast Amusement for a month.

A truck driver as well as a builder and operator, Eli had a slightly different perspective on things.

He had been travelling for 10 years when he found himself broke and stuck in Swift Current. There a man, just retired from 20 years with the carnival said he’d get Eli a job.

“I thought he was joking when he said he was going to send me along with the carnival.”

Eli had though travelling carnivals were gone.

Eli Phillips

Ron Rosebrook, the man in the red coat, proudly told me he would run the Cuckoo House when the carnival began. Ron is another truck driver but with a second season under his belt.

“I was always thinking of running away with the carnival,” he said.

“I hopped in, liked it and decided to come back.”

Carnival dark chuckoo house 2

Now, you probably recognize this coat, hat and scene from the title photos for these two blog posts.

cowboy and sizzler 2

This man fascinated me as soon as I pointed my lens at him. I kept finding myself drawn back to him as he built the ride called the Sizzler. At first I thought it was the challenge—he kept lowering his head shyly or looking away as I took pictures. Maybe I was drawn to the way his eyes contrasted with his oil absorbed skin.

Later as I skipped through my photos I figured it out.

I just liked the way he moved as he constructed the ride.

There was a sort of an odd grace to him as he tugged each piece into place. Take a look.

Rick Young and Sizzler ride
Photos by Allison Declercq and displayed with permission from the Brooks Bulletin.

Rick Young and sizzler on ground

He didn’t stand within the structure—he wove through it. He didn’t just look at the ride—he saw every step before him.

Rick Young aka Cowboy 2
Photos by Allison Declercq and displayed with permission from the Brooks Bulletin.

Rick Young, more commonly known as Cowboy, told me he enjoys the Sizzler because children do too.

“I love this ride because of the spinning parts too,” he told me as he pulled an arm of the machine outward.

Pausing to turn to me he said solemnly, “however we’ve had a real problem with cellphones.” Focusing on his work again he continued to talk as he shifted all of the joints into place.

He related how he’s been hit by flying cellphones a number of times and worries that others will be struck too. As he spoke he pointed to various places on his body including his head.

He wants kids to realize how dangerous loose items can be on the fast rides. He told me stories about confiscating cellphones, asking kids to secure them and later watching them text from the ride.

Rick Young aka Cowboy

His hands were stained black from oil and dirt but he took great care in unfolding the Sizzler.

Rick fixing ride into place

For the most part Cowboy worked alone only asking for help when the task was to great for him by himself. Normally the ride would require two or three people but Cowboy preferred working on his own.

Sizzler sign up
Photos by Allison Declercq and displayed with permission from the Brooks Bulletin.

I really enjoyed the carnival that night. I waved to everyone I knew. I joked and had short discussions with them as they took their breaks.

But, just like scrolling through these photos, it was over before I could absorb the whole experience. As crowds of customers trundled through the exit gates the magic was broken and the people I’d met were already preparing to leave.

carnival shutdown ferris wheel

After watching the workers carefully piece together the rides and seeing the smiles emerge on riders after a spin, it was almost sad to see the rides being taken down.

Carnival dark sizzler spin

carnival shutdown sizzler

With a hushed withdrawal the crowds began to fade away. The screams of exuberant adrenaline, chaotic giggles and gleeful shouts died away. Cars set off into the night, turning in all directions. The bustling city had become a ghost town in minutes.

Carnival dark game
Photos by Allison Declercq and displayed with permission from the Brooks Bulletin.

Carnival dark go home 2

For the backs turned away the carnival faded to a memory as quickly as the lights fell from view in the rear view mirrors.

For the carnival workers however the night wasn’t over. They’d have most of the rides and booths packed up before sunrise.

The next evening there would be nothing but an empty plot once more with nary a glimpse of the lights once beckoning everyone in.

Until they appeared in the next town like magic.

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