A Carnival Blooms in Skippack

Take a chance: A young woman offers passers-by a chance at the dart throw. Every child is guaranteed a prize.

Take a chance: A young woman offers passers-by a chance at the dart throw. Every child is guaranteed a prize.

The 2017 Skippack Village Carnival takes place  Wednesday, May 31 thru Sunday, June 4. On Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, the carnival starts at 6 pm and closes around 10 pm. On Saturday and Sunday, the carnival runs from 3 pm thru 10 pm. If the carnival is busy, they will stay open past closing time. The address is 4059 Skippack Pike.

Carnivals, old-time amusement parks and the circus of yesteryear hold an endless fascination for me. Thankfully, each year Skippack Village brings a real carnival almost to my doorstep. The bright lights, the colorful signs, and classic rides like the merry-go-round and ferris wheel, indeed the whole carnival atmosphere, are as refreshing as a glass of ice-cold, freshly-squeezed lemonade on a scorching summer afternoon.

What is it about a carnival that is so refreshing?

Most entertainment in the 21st century, even for children, is branded and backed by multi-million dollar marketing campaigns. Children of all ages now tell jokes tinged with bitter irony and sarcasm. Fun and laughter have become disengaged from innocence.

Suddenly, a carnival rolls into town. In the atmosphere of the carnival midway, I wipe the jaded residue of our times from my eyes, ears and tongue. I see colorful lights. I hear the joyful notes of the band organ. I taste the sweetness of cotton candy. I feel the power of clean, good old-fashioned fun to restore the soul.

An Inside View of the Carnival Business

The carnival in Skippack, the midway, concession stands, and rides, are provided by S & S Amusements, a company with headquarters in Scott Township, PA. S & S Amusements was started  some 55 years ago by Stephen Swika Junior and his father Stephen Swika Senior. It has remained a family business with Stephen Junior at the helm, and all his children involved.

When S & S amusements rolled into town this year, I had the honor of talking to Stephen.

Detail from a band organ, recently imported from Belgium which plays more than 500 songs. You can see the band organ and listen to it play at the Skippack Village Carnival.

Detail from a band organ, recently imported from Belgium which plays more than 500 songs. You can see the band organ and listen to it play at the Skippack Carnival.

“We’ve been coming to Skippack for more than ten years. We do a tour,” explains Stephen, “we start in March and run until the end of September. We do about forty engagements during that time. We do one, two carnivals; sometimes we’re in three places at once. It’s an exciting business.”

Stephen explains further, “the carnival business is a romance business. We’re romancing the stone here. We’re bringing entertainment to people for one or two hours a day. For people who work in an office or in construction, it’s a relief from the norm.

“We’re here to make people smile. When someone comes to my carnival, they are smiling when they arrive and I want them smiling when they leave.”

Changing with the Times

Smiles are timeless, but Stephen has observed change in the carnival business. For one, the cost of amusement rides has skyrocketed. S & S amusements owns thirty-one rides, with about ten more being restored. Some 50 years ago, S & S amusements paid about $4,300 for the beautiful art deco carousel built in 1946 that you will see if you come to the Skippack Carnival. Today, Stephen says, that carousel would cost $250,000 to replace.

Another change is modernization of equipment and the large-scale use of hydraulic power; power derived from the motion and pressure of liquids. Hydraulic power is now used to level rides, fold them in preparation for transport, lift and move them, and unfold the rides when the carnival arrives at a new site.

“When the carnival comes to town, it comes on trucks and trailers. You park your equipment and then you make it ‘explode.’ You open it up hydraulically. The carnival comes to a barren ground and in four, five or six hours we create a fairyland. It’s like a flower blossoming.”

This flower only blooms in Skippack for five days, Wednesday through Sunday. Don’t miss it.

It is with great sadness that I report that Stephen Swika Junior, who I interviewed for this blog post, passed away in August of 2016. May his memory be a blessing. 

See also: Every Bowl is a Winner

Oh, Let Me Enjoy the Carnival Just a Moment Longer, Please!

Stephen Swika and his daughter Valerie Swika, from S & S Amusements, which provides the rides, concessions, midway games and manpower for the Skippack Carnival.

Stephen Swika and his daughter Valerie Swika, from S & S Amusements, which provides the rides, concessions, midway games and manpower for the Skippack Carnival.

Sound and motion: The bright lights of the fast-moving, Musik Express, a new ride at the Skippack Carnival this year.

Sound and motion: The bright lights of the fast-moving, Musik Express, a new ride at the Skippack Carnival this year.

The Skippack Blogger tries his hand at the dart throw.

The Skippack Blogger tries his hand at the dart throw.

The Skippack Blogger's wife with stuffed giraffe: I got the bigger prize.

The Skippack Blogger’s wife with stuffed giraffe: I got the bigger prize.

Enjoying life: That was a heck of a ride.

Enjoying life: That was a heck of a ride.