A week before Christmas, Billy Tucker was working. He was supposed to be on vacation, and, normally, he would have been. But Tucker has taken on a new chunk of responsibilities that will take him for the first time into western Tennessee and also parts of Kentucky, a state he said he's actually been out of for six years.
Tucker is a showman, he'll tell you. He has been since he was 6 years old. That's when his father put him to work running The Great Western Train. At 43, Tucker said he can still remember that first job.
"My dad started the Great Western Carnival Company, and he owned two shows that traveled out west," Tucker said.
Typically, Tucker operates his own company, Dixieland Carnival, from February, when the show opens in Atlanta, Georgia, to just before Thanksgiving, when the show closed for the season in Jesup, Georgia.
Tucker and his family spend a few weeks at home. This year, he was in Gibsonton, Florida, and the time he spent there didn't include relaxation. Not this year.
Tucker and his wife, Stacey, purchased a handful of dates and rides from Myers International Midways, formerly owned by Bobby and Gloria Myers.
"I don't know. I was bored with what I was doing," he said. "This is more stuff for me to play with. I'm a ride collector. It's my hobby. I'm trying to live a good life. I'm trying to put on the best show I can put on."
In Gibtown, Tucker was enjoying 84 degree temperatures, going over and loading the new equipment that came with the Myers acquisition.
Tucker comes from a long line of showmen. He's a fourth generation showman on his mother's side, he said. Her family was involved with the circus. He's a third generation showman on his father's side. His father's family was into carnivals.
Years ago, he and his dad started Terry's Rides, he said. They ran the company - he started at 6 years old with the train - until his dad decided to sell the business in 2007. That's when Tucker purchased the traveling carnival from his dad.
"That's when I took on the rides, trailers and the rest," he said. "And I changed the name of the business to Dixieland Carnival."
The Dixieland Carnival name will be retained. It will simply be larger and travel into a wider area.
Dixieland has added nine stops to its seasonal itinerary: Adair County Fair in Columbia, Kentucky, Nelson County Fair in Bardstown, Kentucky, Pulaski County Fair in Somerset, Kentucky, Southern Kentucky Fair in Bowling Green, Kentucky, Henry County Fair in Paris, Tennessee, Obion County Fair in Union City, Tennessee, Gibson County Fair in Trenton, Tennessee, Dyer County Fair in Dyersburg, Tennessee and Hardin County Fair in Savannah, Tennessee.
Tucker said as soon as he was able to get away from Dixieland Carnival this year, he and his wife took a three-week trip into the new territory to check it out. He was familiar with some of the areas, he said, but has never worked carnivals in western Tennessee.
"We went to visit, to take tours," he said. "I wanted to be familiar with the areas."
He wants to try to plan for next year, when the carnival season starts again. There are some things he can plan for, other things he can't plan for, he said.
"Every year is different," he said. "We have good years and bad. You can't control the weather. And we have good years and bad, especially where that's concerned."
Tucker recalled one recent year when he experienced 26 weekends of rain out of 36 weekends on the road.
"It just about put me under," he said. "I could barely pay the bills."
Routinely, Tucker said, he never leaves the lot where Dixieland Carnival is playing.
In its advertisements, the company touts Tucker's five generations of family experience in the industry. The company claims to be clean, well lit and family oriented with one of the best safety records in the carnival business.
Dixieland Carnival currently owns 32 rides but also claims a relationship with other companies in the industry that could help them to prepare for much larger fairs.
Tucker and his wife, Stacey, are a close knit team when it comes to running the company. The couple met at the Casino Pier in Seaside Heights, New Jersey. She was the head lifeguard at the facility's waterpark.
The Tuckers have one daughter, a sophomore in college. Dad is uncertain what she's studying, he said, but he'd love to see her follow them into the business.
The new company brings with it an upgraded Expo Wheel, a Zipper, Cliffhanger, Area 51, Dalton Combo, Quad Runner, two new inflates and four bunkhouses.
The bunkhouses should help shelter Dixieland Carnival's employees. Tucker said he employs 35 people year round and sixty-five during prime time. He's uncertain exactly how that number will change when the acquisition is complete but he does know it will increase.
Last year, he said, he could load everything up and get it on the road in five hours, "if we're in a hurry." He's uncertain how much time the added equipment will add to that schedule.
He was hauling 53 vehicles, 53 loads, he said.
The new route and equipment will add to his responsibilities, but says he is looking forward to the challenge.
There will be more things for him to play with.