CHATHAM — Stephen Swika III of S & S Amusements, Inc., has been running carnival rides his whole life. “I grew up in this business,” he said. “My grandfather Stephen Swika Sr. was in the game business after the Great Depression, starting with penny pitches,” said Mr. Swika as he oversaw the set-up this week of carnival rides at the Columbia County Fairgrounds.
In 1957 Stephen Swika Jr. decided at 18 years old that he wanted an amusement ride. “It was a helicopter ride that’s still running to this day,” said Mr. Swika III. He said his father was the first to trailer-mount rides and has been the leader in the industry since.
He likes what he does, meeting people and traveling to different places. “I enjoy watching the people smile, especially the little ones,” he said.
S & S has set up its rides, games and concessions in 40 different sites this year: fairs, carnivals, festivals and company fundraisers.
Jimmy Frame is 20. He grew up under the tutelage of his godfather, Mr. Swika. His parents were carnies too and he says that as soon as he was born they took him out on the carnival lot. Once he was old enough he started running kiddy rides, and at the age of 18 he moved up to the big rides.
Despite his youth, Mr. Frame has years of experience, and he’s the show’s go-to guy. “Stephen will ask me to help out before most everyone else, because there is little I don’t know about the rides, and he knows I get it,” Mr. Frame said.
Even though he is versed in carnival life, he had to graduate from high school. “Stephen Swika Jr. told me that if I wanted to work at S & S I had to have a diploma, be clean shaven and neatly dressed.” There was a time, said Mr. Frame, when “carnies” were thought of as dirty, and uneducated and the gamers and “ride jocks” as the ride operators now call themselves, had a bad reputation.
He said Mr. Swika Jr. told him that if he didn’t have a diploma “he couldn’t use me. So the first thing I did after graduation was walk onto the carnival lot and handed him my diploma,” said Mr. Frame.
“Spinout is my ride,” he said. “I set it up, run it move it and maintain it.”
“I love this job,” he said. “It can’t get any better. Running the rides, setting up and tearing down; Where can you find a job where you get to travel, make money and have a good time and watch everybody else having a good time?” He works from the beginning of April until November. In the off season he heads home to spend time with his family.
To contact freelance writer and photographer Catherine Sager, who lives in Schodack, email or go to her blog, http://thescene-thescene.blogspot.com/the SCENE about news and events in Schodack and Castleton.