The beginning of the Hampstead Fire Carnival also marks the beginning of the end of carnival season in Carroll County as the town’s week of festivities is the last for summer.
And although the town’s fire carnival has been an annual fundraiser for longer than the Hampstead Volunteer Fire Company president can remember, it has remained largely the same.
The differences Kenny Ruby can remember are subtle, like the carnival being held in a different location before moving to its current grounds in the mid-1970s.
“When I first went to the carnival at the town parking lot,” he said, “I remember it had a big tent in the middle [for bingo] where they’d give away prizes, not cash,” he said.
Ruby also remembers when the dime pitch was played with nickels.
“We were the last ones to go from a nickel to a dime,” he said. “There’s the price of the inflation, plus the price of glass.”
Firefighters weren’t the only ones able to look back at the changes in the carnival.
Jim Ackinson has been with Gettysburg, Pennsylvania-based carnival ride company Pennwood Shows for 23 years and has been operating the Big Rig 500, a kid’s truck ride, for 18 of those years.
At this point, although he is from Delaware, people recognize him each year when they come to festivals in Hampstead; Gamber; Jarrettsville; and Shippansburg, Pennsylvania.
“I get a lot of regulars,” he said, wearing a bright yellow raincoat, preparing to wipe down some of the Big Rig’s seats to get the ride started up.
“Parents bring their kids in that say, ‘I remember going on this ride when I was little,’ ” Ackinson said.
Ackinson said that although much of what he does with the Big Rig 500 is the same each year — “put it up, take it down, work on it” — the technology of carnival rides has changed over the years.
“A lot of rides are easier to set up now,” he said. “They all come in the same trailer. Before, every piece had to be man-handled to get put together.”
Another steady change through the years has been a decrease in volunteerism.
“We try to keep the same thing going every year,” said Brian Crumbie, standing under the dime toss awning out of Monday evening’s rain.
“It’s getting harder and harder to get help,” he said. “Otherwise it’s the same as its been in the last 15 years.”
“People’s work schedules are different,” said Ruby. “There are more activities for kids. We struggle to get help from the community as a whole, but we make it a go.”
Del. Haven Shoemaker, former Carroll County commissioner and former mayor of Hampstead, volunteered with bingo inside the fire house Monday.
“I’m getting ready to run my bingo shift,” he said, sitting at one of the long rectangular tables, looking on as players placed dried corn on their cardboard cards.
It wasn’t too busy that night, as Monday kicked off the carnival week with rainstorms, but Shoemaker said volunteering in his town is essential all the same.
“All 14 of our volunteer fire companies are short-staffed,” he said. “We are all dealing with the same issues, shifting kids back and forth. It’s really hard to get volunteers.
“We need to do everything we can to help our volunteer firefighters,” Shoemaker said, because they need it.
The delegate said when he was a county commissioner, it was projected covering the costs of fire departments at the county level would cost at least $40 million per year. That was from 2010 to 2014, so he suspects it would be more now.
“That’s one of the reasons I’m here today,” he said.
The carnival will continue every day this week until Saturday.
Food service will begin 6 p.m. from Tuesday through Friday and 5 p.m. on Saturday, and rides will begin nightly at 7 p.m.
The Fireman’s Parade will begin 7 p.m. Wednesday and the Big Money Drawing will take place at 11:15 p.m. Saturday.
More information on the carnival can be found at http://www.hampsteadvfd.org/content/carnival/.