Back in the 1960s and 70s when the Texas County Fair was perhaps an even bigger deal than it is now, two generations of the Lowery family set up carnival midways at the event.
This year and last year, history more or less repeated itself, thanks to Tony Lowery and his Louisiana-based Lowery Carnival Co.
“We have a lot of carnival history here,” Lowery said. “Big time.”
When he was a boy, Lowery came to Texas County multiple times to visit his grandparents while they ran the carnival at the fair, and he accompanied his parents here more than once when it was their business. He recalls swimming in the Big Piney River (and splashing into the water from a rope swing) and even some family hijinks.
“My grandfather played the fair here for many years,” Lowery said. “My mother and father actually eloped from Texas County. They were at the fair in Linn, Mo., and snuck off without my grandparents knowing it and got married. Then when they got here, they eloped to Houston, Texas, believe it or not.
“It’s kind of bizarre.”
Lowery lives in Homer, La. (northeast of Shreveport in the north-central part of the state) with his wife, Susan, and has four sons. He said his company (that also has an office in St. Louis) includes about 45 employees and hundreds of pieces of equipment, and does more than 50 shows per year (including the Ozark Empire Fair in Springfield for the past five years), sometimes setting up in two or three different locations at the same time.
Lowery’s set up this year in Houston included about a dozen rides, five games, five concession stands and 15 staff members. He said success in the carnival business is highly susceptible to weather.
“It can make you or break you,” Lowery said. “This had been a tough year – it seems like we’ve been dealing with rain every weekend, no matter where we go.”
Lowery said he’s interested in returning to the Texas County Fair, in part to help Houston Area Chamber of Commerce executive director Brenda Jarrett and board president Gayla Bratton continue improving it.
“They asked me last year, and I thought I’d try it,” he said. “I thought maybe they could build the fair back up and I was willing to try to help them do that.
“They’re great people to work with. They don’t come any better.”
Lowery said one of his goals as his carnivals set up in various places is to educate people as to who they’re really dealing with.
“We’re kind of stereotyped,” he said. “People kind of classify us like they would a used car salesman. We kind of take a little pride in coming in and changing their minds.”
Although setting up, taking down and doing a lot of traveling can be hard, Lowery said the carnival business is ultimately rewarding.
“It’s good when you get to a place and get all set up, and then see the people coming out and enjoying themselves,” he said. “It’s good to feel like we’re doing something that’s a positive thing for people, and helps them get their minds off of problems – at least for an evening. That’s what it’s all about.”
“People kind of classify us like they would a used car salesman. We kind of take a little pride in coming in and changing their minds.”
– LOWERY CARNIVAL CO. OWNER TONY LOWERY