News From Terre Haute, Indiana

May 26, 2010

Banks of the Wabash Festival kicks off today in Fairbanks Park

Event is first Hoosier engagement of season for Luehrs’ Ideal Rides

Lisa Trigg
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — The sizzle of fresh elephant ears, windows brimming with fluffy colorful cotton candy and the aroma of stromboli are sure signs that an award-winning amusement company has come to town.

Luehrs’ Ideal Rides is returning for the 36th year to provide family fun at the annual Banks of the Wabash Festival, kicking off today in Terre Haute’s Fairbanks Park.

Wednesday saw the carnival operation go through a round of state inspections in preparation for the 11-day stay.

“It’s like walking around a car before you get in and kicking the tires,” said Chris Atkins, a member of the Luehrs’ management team and himself a certified ride inspector.

All of the rides are inspected by the state inspectors according to the manufacturers’ specifications, and the rides also undergo daily maintenance and inspections by the Luehrs staff.

“There are certain things with experience that you learn to look for. Pins, keys, blocking, braking, electrical systems,” said Atkins during the examination of the merry-go-round.

This festival is the first Indiana engagement of the season for the Belleville, Ill.-based company, so a state inspection is required.

The carnival rides range from the mild-for-child merry-go-round to the tummy-tossing Pharoah’s Fury and action-packed Himalaya and Storm rides, both teen favorites.

“Everyone can find a ride to enjoy, from the smallest child to teens, adults and grandparents taking their granchildren along,” said Luehrs’ president Andy Schoendienst, who noted that the Beach Party fun house and the children’s Wiggle Worm are this year’s new attractions.

Schoendienst, who is the nephew of St. Louis Cardinals’ baseball legend Red Schoendienst, is proud of the family-run operation. He married Lorelei Luehrs, daughter of company founder Hub Luehrs. Along with Lorelei’s sister Jean Clair and her husband Joe, they are the third generation to own the company, purchasing it in 1996.

Luehrs’ Ideal Rides employs 80 to 100 people who are pre-employment drug-tested, undergo criminal background checks, undergo training and wear uniforms. The company operates as a big family, Schoendienst said, and their dedication has earned them multiple Circle of Excellence Awards from the Outdoor Amusement Business Association.

The top quality of the business is recognized and appreciated by the communities that hire Luehrs’, Schoendienst said.

“It’s not just the rides. It’s the people running the rides. The City of Terre Haute sees that,” he said.

While the public can appreciate the clean carnival atmosphere, what many people enjoy most are the carnival foods.

“The big thing everybody wants is the elephant ears with different toppings,” Schoendienst said, laughing.

While seasonal novelties such as deep-fried Twinkies come and go, most people expect to find the standard fare of popcorn, cotton candy, lemon shake-ups and hot dogs.

“We have a little bit of everything as far as carnival-type foods,” he said.

And they have plenty of elephant ears to sell, with extra cinnamon sugar, of course.

Carnival rides open at 6 p.m. today for “Bargain Night,” as all rides take only one ticket. Tickets cost $1.50 each, or 16 for $20.

Lisa Trigg can be reached at (812) 231-4254 or