DADE CITY — The days of climbing into the metal trailer, handing out caramel apples and soft-serve ice cream are done for Raymond Chambers.
The 88-year-old World War II veteran now sits comfortably in his power chair as his wife, Mary, and son Michael have all the fun.
“It’s wonderful,” Chambers said of his family business. “We’ve worked in the trailers and we’ve raised four children in this business.”
For many of those working inside the trailers lined along the concessions area at the Pasco County Fair, dishing out sweets is a family affair.
Raymond and Mary Chambers, who live in Gibsonton, had all of their children working with them at one point in more than five decades of business. Their son Michael, who lives in Dade City, will occasionally work alongside his own children inside the trailer.
“We were all born and raised in the business,” Michael Chambers said.
Laughing, he admitted that while growing up he had his pick of whatever he wanted to chow on, whether it came from his parents’ booth or from those nearby.
“Yeah, that’s one of the perks of the business,” he said.
The Pasco County Fair, which is in its 67th year, ends Sunday.
It’s typical to see husbands and wives, children and grandchildren side by side serving up food, said Jim Ward, a board member of the Pasco County Fair Association.
“The families and the generations” are good to see, Ward said. “Being in the business and promoting the business, if you run your operation correctly, you can be very successful.”
That’s exactly what Kathy and Jeff Ross want for their son A.J.
The Sarasota couple have been in the business for about 30 years, and neither had it passed down from a family member. Instead, they started as kids just wanting to make some extra money.
Now their business, Ross Concessions, has four trailers and treks from one event to the next from Florida to Pennsylvania.
Their son, A.J. Ross, who is 18, was 6 weeks old when he attended his first fair. Kathy Ross said it’s in his blood and it’s what he knows. Once A.J. graduates from the Christian school he attends in Sarasota, he will join his parents on the road on a more regular basis. He plans to enroll in college to take marketing courses, knowledge will be used to help market his parent’s business.
Jeff Ross calls this an idyllic family endeavor.
“How many hours a day do you spend with family when you work a regular job,” he said. “We spend all day. Sometimes it gets rough, but it’s nice. We know everyone (in the concession area), and we know where everyone (in our family) is at.”
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Rusty Groscurth was 6 when his father started a food vending business in 1954. His dad, Russell Groscurth Sr., had been in the fair business for some time as an electrician but decided to get into the food aspect.
The business started with hot dogs on a stick doused in Russell Groscurth Sr.’s homemade batter.
Whether it’s from people within earshot proclaiming the goodness of the hot dog on a stick or someone telling his folks directly, they’ve gotten rave reviews, Rusty Groscurth said.
“If that’s all you do, you had better do it right,” he said, laughing.
Rusty and his brother, Randy Groscurth, run the Tampa-based business and operate three different stands called Super Dog. Randy Groscurth generally stays in the Tampa Bay area at short weekend events while Rusty hits the road for longer fairs. Rusty Groscurth will make his way to Massachusetts, Minnesota, South Carolina and Wisconsin in addition to several Florida locales.
Once they leave the Pasco fair, they’ll open up at the Strawberry Festival in Plant City.
The Groscurths have evolved the corn dog.
In the 1960s his dad decided to borrow a long stick from a souvenir shop. He added a foot-long hot dog, which they were selling in buns at the time, battered it and cooked it.
“Apparently at that time nobody had ever seen anything but a little 6 inch hot dog on a stick,” Groscurth said. “The first person that walked by and saw that 12-inch hot dog on a stick said, ‘I gotta have that,’ so we dreamed up a price for it, and it’s been happening ever since.”
About 5 years ago, they put three 6-inch hot dogs on a stick and dubbed it the Mega Dog. It’s the world’s largest, Groscurth said.
Rusty’s 14-year-old sons also participate in the business. They join him on the road during the summer as well as a few events during the school year.
He isn’t sure whether his sons, both Jesuit High School students, will follow in his steps, but for now, they’re enjoying the ride.
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Watching children take on responsibility and learn how to build rapport with others has been a point of pride for Mary Chambers.
“It makes you proud because they’re doing what we did, and they will talk to anybody and find something in common to talk about,” Mary Chambers said. “They learned that from Ray. He can talk. He doesn’t know a stranger.”
She is correct.
Sitting in his red motorized chair, Raymond Chambers isn’t lacking for stories: From the one where he rode a carnival show train from Michigan to Kentucky as a child to the one where his son, Michael, was born while they worked a carnival in Dover, N.H.
The most important story he tells not with words but with a pill bottle. Inside, filling the container halfway, are small coarse rocks.
A white label, covered with clear tape, bears a date: Feb. 19, 1945.
He shook those rocks, along with sand, out of his boots. He was a 19-year-old member of the 5th Marine Division that stormed the beach at Iwo Jima in World War II.
Four days later, an iconic image showing six troops planting the U.S. flag on Iwo Jima’s Mount Suribachi was taken.
Nearly 7,000 U.S. troops were killed in that five-week battle.
“At the time, the flag-raising really wasn’t significant,” Chambers said. “As it turns out, it was a tremendous thing.”