Garbrick Amusements has been around for generations — not just generations of the family that runs the business, but generations of people who grew up whirling and twirling on the rides and now watch their children and grandchildren do the same.
This year marks Centre Hall-based Garbrick Amusement’s 62nd Centre County Grange Encampment and Fair, but the company is celebrating its 70th anniversary of bringing its rides to fairs and carnivals. Even before that, the family has a long history of business in Centre County.
It started with the Garbrick & Son Dairy in Centre Hall, Teri Statham said. That closed in 1937, and then Statham said her grandfather, Lewis Henry Garbrick, and her uncle, Lewis “Jack” Ardell Garbrick, started a manufacturing company. Jack served in the Navy during World War II, while the company back home produced machinery for the war.
“When he came back, that business wasn’t needed anymore, so they thought, ‘What’s next?’ ” Statham said.
The Ferris wheel was the first ride manufactured by the company, and it would soon by joined by the merry-go-round, merry mixer, astro top, spinner, tumbler and more. Henry Garbrick, Statham’s father, became the second generation to join the company and used an electric engineering degree from Penn State to incorporate hydraulics into ride-making in the 1970s. But Statham said much of what was accomplished in those early days came from what seems to be an inventive gene that’s inherent in the family, (though she maintains it missed her). Her great-uncle, Vernon Garbrick, also had an amusement ride manufacturing business — Nittany Rides.
By the 1980s, the company stopped making its own rides, but there’s a fleet that rotates through fairs and carnivals every summer. There’s now two Garbrick Amusements units: Statham and her brother, Tom Garbrick, run one that’s based in South Carolina, where Tom and his family live. Their parents, Henry and Beverly Garbrick, run the unit that makes the rounds locally.
“Grange Fair is the one time when we all come together,” Statham said. “It’s the biggest one.”
Setup started early this week for about 20 Garbrick Amusements rides that are available for the young and young at heart at Grange fairgrounds. Favorites are classics such as the Ferris wheel and merry-go-round. Some rides take five hours or more to set up, and Garbrick Amusements utilizes seasonal employees, many of whom return every year.
“For a lot of our employees, we’re on to the third generation,” Statham said.
For Statham, seeing the fairgoers year after year is the best part of the job. The little boy from her memory, eating cotton candy and waiting in line for a ride? He’s still there, but grown up now, with his own kids.
“A lot of the towns we’ve been going to for so long, we remember them,” she said. “It’s neat to see how things change.”
In addition to a Garbrick family reunion of sorts, Grange Fair also marks the fair and carnival season drawing to an end (the McClure Bean Soup Festival and Fair in September is the final stop for the Pennsylvania unit). Statham, who teaches at Grace Lutheran Preschool and Kindergarten in State College, said that when the rides go into storage for the year, there’s a sense of relief.
“Usually everybody’s ready for a break,” she said.
Also at the Grange Fair, Statham will display poster boards detailing the family’s history.