Kelley Butler's dad came home one day in 1969 and announced to his family that he bought a Tilt-A-Whirl and that the family was moving from Minnesota to California to work a fair.
Butler's parents, their Tilt-A-Whirl, and her grandfather's game stands had their first run as Butler Amusements at the Redwood Empire Fair in 1970, and they're now working ride and food stands again at the Kern County Fair.
"For high school graduation my dad bought me a cotton candy concession stand," Butler said. Butler has worked with Butler Amusements for almost 40 years and is now one of the owners.
“It's all I've ever known,” Butler said on Sunday. “My first job was when I was 8 years old, picking up the pingpong balls for my uncle at the goldfish stand."
Traveling from Boise, Idaho, to Phoenix and about everywhere in between can be exhausting. But Butler isn't traveling from February through October alone — she's with her mom, siblings, cousins, wife and even her son, whom she calls her most interesting fair story.
She said she was getting ready for a fair in Chico and she went into labor early, so she had to rush to the hospital to give birth, Butler said.
Nathan Keys, Butler's son who is now an adult, also works on the fairgrounds with his girlfriend, Crystal Black, operating a food stand called Nathan's Monster Cookies.
Keys said his mother gave him the choice to pursue non-fair related career opportunities, but like his mom, he said there's nothing else he'd rather do.
"We're not the toothless 'carnies' that everyone perceives us to be. We're here to show you a good time, not take your money," Keys said.
Keys puts a lot of effort in trying to stand out from the other food stands. He sells voodoo doll cookies and brightly colored cookies with candy eyeballs on them, as well as a variety of other odd cookies.
"You see a lot of deep-fried, cotton candy stands, decorated in pink and blue," he said.
Keys even met his girlfriend, Black, on the fairgrounds.
Black said she was about to join the Marines when a friend suggested she work a fair during the summer.
"I love the carnival. It's more than a job, it's a lifestyle," Black said.
Keys said he's been saving up for his sons to go to college, even though they are still young.
"I want them to be able to do whatever they want to do, if they're not meant to be in the fair then that's OK," Keys said.
To this day, Butler's mom, Mary Rhodes, still works with Butler Amusements. She said she wasn't nervous at all when asked to pack everything up and leave Minnesota for a Tilt-A-Whirl in California.
Of Butler's grandparents, Rhodes said, "His parents were great people and I knew they would lead us in the right direction, and they did."