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Sherri Richards, Published June 21 2010

It's My Job: Along for the ride

The little girl hands Jim Kinlaw her wooden token and climbs onto the Ferris wheel.

Kinlaw, of Fargo, fastens the family of three into one of 12 passenger cars and starts their ride.

Up and around they go. After a few minutes, he nudges a joystick and sends them in the opposite direction. The smile never leaves the girl’s face.

“Two more times,” he tells the family as they glide by his stool.

For about a year, Kinlaw has been a certified Ferris wheel operator at Scheels All Sports in Fargo. He’s one of 10 employees who run the store’s 45-foot, 12-car carnival ride. Most of the others are college students, said Kinlaw, who turns 70 next month.

The Louisiana native and 20-year Navy veteran works Tuesdays, Thursdays and some Saturdays. Weekdays can be slow, he said. Afternoons are usually busier.

“On a Saturday, you can see several hundred people come through here. The line will go way on back, and it will stay there,” he said.

From his stool at the control panel he can see a wall clock and times the rides for 3 to 5 minutes.

After he slows the ride to a standstill, he unfastens the family and ushers them out.

Perched on his stool and awaiting the next rider, Kinlaw talked to The Forum about his job.

What goes into operating the Ferris wheel?

I’ve got to load it so that it’s balanced properly. I’ve got to make sure people are buckled in and fastened in and that they know the safety features: keeping their hands and feet in, not rocking things, not trying to stand up. Then I have to get them going.

I have to be aware of them in case somebody’s uncomfortable and wants to get off. Or they get up there and the kids get carried away and rock things. I have to watch them on that, but most of them are pretty good.

I have to help the older people on and help the older people off. There’s a lot of older people who ride. I think my oldest one was probably 96.

Who else rides the Ferris wheel?

A lot of parents with children. And a lot of 12-year-olds and on up by themselves. And a lot of grandparents with their grandchildren.

There’ve been people who come out and take pictures on the Ferris wheel after their wedding. People come out and celebrate their birthdays.

It seems like people coming through Fargo want to come and ride the Ferris wheel. … I see people from all over the country here.

Any riders stand out to you?

The thing that stands out over and over and over consistently is the kids and how thrilled they are. Some of them will ride it several times a day. Some of them come back three times a week and ride it.

A lot of them are first-time riders. … Some of them are apprehensive at first, and it’s nice to watch them loosen up and relax and start having fun.

Another thing I’ve noticed with kids, how the kids around here will always say, “Thank you.” It’s just their nature, the way they’re brought up. And I know you can go to other places and you don’t see that. I think that’s nice.

Do you ever ride it?

Oh yeah, sometimes. I can ride it anytime I want to. … I find it’s relaxing. It can be just relaxing and quiet. Or if you’ve got kids riding on it having fun, it can be fun to be part of that.

It’s a very smooth ride. Good little pace.

What have you learned from this job?

It’s possible to work and have fun, too.

If you go


Readers can reach Forum reporter Sherri Richards at (701) 241-5556


To submit an idea for “It’s My Job,” e-mail businessnews@forumcomm.com.