By Kristina Valdez | A&L Editor
The Heart O’ Texas Fair & Rodeo fills the Extraco Events Center with famous fair foods, rodeo attractions and a giant Ferris wheel that lit up the night for the 65th year in a row. Wacoans and Baylor students can strap on cowboy boots and stuff themselves with corn dogs and funnel cakes for one more weekend. The fair ends Saturday night at midnight.
The fair and rodeo would be incomplete without the workers who run games, sell tickets and pass your favorite fried foods through a window to you. The people who work the Heart O’ Texas Fair & Rodeo are seen, but light rarely shines on them and how they make the fair experience wonderous for everyone.
Fifty-one-year-old Bill Kraus, manager of games with Paul’s Concessions, stood in front the balloon dartboard game as he occasionally shouted at a few passersby that they dropped something. When they looked around at the ground confused, Kraus laughed and then fair-goers would walk-away, laughing along with him.
“My favorite part of my job is seeing people happy,” Kraus said.
Kraus has been working in the carnival business for seven years after moving from Milwaukee when his remodeling homes business closed. He begins his day at 10 a.m. by opening all the games at the fair and ends his day closing all the games at 11 p.m.
Kraus said that, like any job, you must deal with the stress that comes from working with different people.
“We are just like everybody else,” Kraus said. “People think we are out to rob them, but we just want to make sure you have fun.”
In one of the ticket booths scattered around the park, 21-one-year-old Diamond Irvin hands out wristbands for games and rides.
A Waco native, Irvin is working at the H.O.T. Fair for the first time, taking on 12-hour shifts from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. She sits in small white trailer with enough room for herself and a small foldable chair.
“I just have to sit here all day,” Irvin said. “I have to stand outside and open the door throughout the day.”
Irvin said the hardest part of her job is when the WiFi stops working, but her favorite part of her day is taking a break and getting her favorite fair food: a funnel cake.
Renay Payahsape travels with Crabtree Amusements Inc., a business that supplies carnival equipment for fairs like H.O.T. Fair in Waco year-round. Payahsape goes a minimum of three months at a time without seeing her four children, whose ages range from 7 to 15.
“It’s all we know,” Payahsape said. “I grew up working at [fairs]. It’s a second home, a chance to be something better.”
Along with the pain of not seeing her kids every day, Payahsape said finding a narcotics anonymous meeting to attend monthly while on the road makes her job difficult. Payahsape is three years sober.
The 34-year-old mother from Dallas lean through the concession stand window to hand out frozen lemonades to children as she share her hopes and dreams for the future.
“My kids are getting old enough to where they come on the road and work with me,” Payahsape said. “It will be a family business.”
For the last days of the H.O.T. Fair, laughter from the fair rides will fill the day and music from concerts such as Kyle Park at 8:30 p.m. Saturday will fill the night. General admission is $10 and fair times vary. Click here for more information.