Jacqueline Leavitt, owner of Golden Wheel Amusements, remembers being a little girl in early Alaska in 1967, playing by a tiny cotton candy wagon. The hot, sugary scent permeated the air as her mother operated only a handful of rides.
“It was my playground,” Leavitt recalls as someone who has spent her entire life in the family carnival business.
Golden Wheel Amusements is a family owned and operated carnival business that has been the sole provider for Alaska fairs and carnivals, including the Fur Rendezvous, since 1967.
Leavitt walked through the carnival grounds — what she refers to as her living room and home — and greeted guests, making sure they were having fun.
The sound of children’s laughter echoed as shrills bounced off the rides. The sweet aroma of kettle corn lingered and the bright, fire engine red candied apples filled food booth windows.
Leavitt joked around with one of her long-time ride operators, Jim Page, who has been with the company for 11 years. Page was running the popular ride “1001 Nights.”
What exactly are people paying for when they fork over their four tickets?
“I make the ride swing one way four times and then the other four times. It’s roughly four minutes,” Page said.
He and Leavitt joked about the parents who fight to have their child board the ride, though they are too short. There’s the kids who kick and scream and refuse to sit in the front for that special photo opportunity their parents want to catch of them screaming their heads off.
Then there’s this: “Someone throws up on this ride every day!” Page said as he laughed.
Maintenance manager Lawrence Denton was seen walking around the carnival grounds, studying all the rides. He said that he maintains the rides daily. He said the plus is that the company only runs during the State Fair and Rondy, so the rides do not get nearly as much wear and tear as those in the Lower 48. Denton said the worst that has happened on a ride is an issue with a wire here and there, but he said there are many safety switches for operators to pull at any given time to stop the rides if needs be.
Leavitt’s 13 year-old daughter, Alexis, ran the food counter as her son, Jason, managed the game booths.
As Leavitt looked at her daughter she recalled how when she was a little girl, she would sneak out and watch the Iditarod dog sled races and remembered how her sister was in the marching band.
“I’ve also been here since I was very small. I’ve worked some of the game booths and food stands. It was fun learning how to make funnel cakes while growing up,” Alexis said.
She said perhaps she will take over and run the carnivals like her grandmother and mother have. However, Leavitt didn’t seem like she was ready to let go of the carnival life anytime soon.
“I don’t want to one day retire. My mom is 80 years old and you’ll see her a lot of times spinning cotton candy,” Leavitt said. “Why would you want to go somewhere else? This is what we do.”
As each Rondy passes year by year, this family remains constant in providing wild and wacky fun for Rondy fans of all ages. They plan to do so for generations to come.