Kate Richter is forever on the road each summer yet feels like she never leaves home.

Richter is a unit manager for Cascade Amusements of Portland, the company that annually provides carnival rides at the Union County Fair in La Grande. The fair is one of between 20 and 25 events Cascade Amusements transports and operates carnival rides for in the Northwest each year from April to October. The hectic schedule means the road becomes a second home for Richter and her close-knit staff.

“It is where we are that is home. As long as we are together and having fun, it is home,” Richter said.

The Cascade Amusements staff, in trucks towing carnival rides, began pulling into the Union County Fairgrounds Sunday afternoon after traveling 200 miles from the Hood River County Fair. The staff members began setting up 12 rides on Tuesday including a giant slide, children’s roller coaster and a Loop-O-Plane. They will operate the rides beginning this afternoon during the first day of the fair, which runs through Saturday.

Richter said her staff likes helping children and families enjoy themselves on the rides.

“They like to see kids be happy. They look forward to bringing fun to the community,” Richter said. “They like to see families together enjoying the fair.”

Cascade Amusements has provided carnival rides to the Union County Fair for at least the past decade. Richter said she always enjoys coming to La Grande.

“I enjoy the vibe of the community. We feel that people are happy to see us,” she said.

Richter is a fan of the Union County Fairgrounds because the carnival rides operate on a field rather than asphalt and concrete, like they do in many other locations.

“The nice soft grass is a treat,” Richter said. “(The people who run the fairgrounds) work hard to grow the grass, and we appreciate it,” Richter said.

Richter is in charge of a staff of 15 at the Union County Fair. At larger events, she oversees as many as 30 staff members. She is in La Grande this week with her grandfather Rick Nelson and mother, Amy Nelson-Smith, the owners of Cascade Amusements.

“They tell me what needs to be done, and I make it happen,” said Richter, whose late father, Pat Smith, was one of the owners of Cascade Amusements.

All are part of the family-run company, which under a number of different names has been providing entertainment services since the late 1800s when it first ran a traveling circus. Richter has been assisting her family at fairs and festivals since she was a child. The recent college graduate said this has helped her develop a work ethic she is proud of.

She said carnival work is a little like farm labor.

“You work until the work is done,” said Richter, a
Salem resident.

Richter said the most challenging part of providing carnival rides at an event is the process of packing up at the end of it and then driving to the next event, trips that are often several hundred miles.

Cascade Amusements will leave for an event in Grandview, Washington, a town in Yakima County, early Monday. Richter said it is not uncommon to go long hours without sleep while in the process of dismantling rides and traveling to the next site.

Needless to say, schedules like this mean that fatigue is never a stranger for carnival workers.

“We earn our sleep,” she said.

Richter graduated from Western Oregon University in Monmouth in June with a degree in interdisciplinary studies, with focuses on education, math and social sciences. She had been considered a career in education but is no longer leaning in this direction because of the strong bond she feels to her family’s legacy.

“This is where my heart is,” Richter said.