The Rogers Brothers Show midway at a county fair in the early 1940s. (Photo from Wayne Runningen’s collection)
This picture from the 1958 Pelican Rapids Diamond Jubilee book is one of the Rogers Brothers Shows trucks—typical of how the carnival traveled from town to town during the summer. Grace Rogers was driving one of the trucks, if not this one, when she had her “memorable experience.”
The Pelican Rapids Press archives indicate that the Flink Brothers were in business as early as 1910, with Charles Rogers as the carousel merry-go-round operator. This photo was taken at the Aitken County Fair in 1917.
Grace Rogers worked at the post office before operating her parent’s Home Café in downtown Pelican Rapids located on the vacant lot next to the Seifert Realty building. Grace passed away fifteen years ago at the age of 103.

Pelican had unique ties to the carnival business for nearly seven decades

By Paul Gubrud, Special Correspondent  

County fairs with traveling carnivals and midway shows have been popular throughout the country since the 19th century, especially in rural areas of the Midwest. 

The local county fair was an annual social event anticipated by everyone, both young and old. 4-H kids displayed their livestock and the projects they had worked on over the previous year. Families came to the fair on Sunday after church to eat roast beef or chicken dinners at one of the church stands. Farmers checked out the latest farm machinery while smoking their only cigar since the previous fair. And, of course, all of the kids were mesmerized by the smells of foot-long hot dogs, snow cones, and cotton candy, not to mention the sights and sounds of the midway carnival rides.  

Pelican Rapids had been the home of one of these traveling carnivals for most of the 20th century. The Flink Brothers owned the first carnival going back to at least 1910 or earlier. They bought a new carousel in 1924 or 1925, a sizeable investment in days when a ride ticket was probably a nickel.

A little more than a decade later, in 1939, John Flink sold his carnival business to Charles Rogers, a longtime employee of the Flinks. Charles and his sons, Donald (Bud) and Earl (Snooks), operated the business under the name of Rogers Brothers Shows, with Charles eventually turning the business over to his sons.

Rogers based out of Pelican for three decades

For more than 30 years, the Rogers brothers became nomads during the carnival season, traveling to county fairs and other community events throughout Minnesota as well as in North and South Dakota. It must have been a grueling way to spend the summer, with the constant traveling, setting up, operating the rides, concessions, and sideshows, tearing down and packing, and then doing it all over the next week. When they got home at the end of the season, the equipment was repaired, overhauled, and repainted to get ready for the following year. 

Bud’s wife, the late Grace Rogers, was actively involved with the carnival. She traveled with the show every summer, working the midway, selling concessions, and driving a truck from show to show during their summer travels. She also kept a journal of her travels of which the Pelican Rapids Press printed portions in a column titled “Ramblings from Grace.” 

Grace passed away in 2007 at the age of 103.

Bud passed away in 1971.

People that knew Grace was fortunate. She loved to tell stories of her travels with Rogers Brothers Shows, as well as Pelican Rapids history. 

Runningen recalls Rogers interviews 

Wayne Runningen, past Pelican mayor and local history enthusiast, recalled visiting with her over a cup of coffee several times at the Good Samaritan Center. She told him more than once about the time she was driving one of the trucks when the brakes failed. “What a memorable experience that was,” she recalled with a laugh.

Grace also loved the smiles the carnival brought to the kids. One of her jobs was to make and sell cotton candy. She told Wayne with a big smile on her face, “I think I gave away more than I sold.” She said kids often didn’t have any money, so she would give them some cotton candy just to see their smiles.

Pelican’s carnival connection continued to 1992

Bud’s brother, Earl, and his wife Betsey retired from the carnival business in 1975, selling it to Byron Anderson. 

Roger Hildebrand of Pelican Rapids bought it in 1979 and operated it as Hildebrand’s Midway of Fun Shows until 1992. 

• More information on the Pelican “Carnival Connection” this week in Paul Gubrud’s “Looking Back” column.