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Life of a carnival worker: Family started travel when son was 2

Posted at 4:34 PM, Aug 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-17 18:34:04-04

BILLINGS — Many people take their kids on summer vacations, but one family with Thomas Carnival has taken their son all around the United States every summer for more than two decades.

“We’ve been doing this for 23 years. We chose this business because we wanted a business that we could just work summers and weekends and concentrate on raising our son,” said Kim Sankowsky, who owns and runs the Speed and Black Out rides, on Tuesday from MontanaFair in Billings.

Her now 25-year-old son, Armstrong Sankowsky, used to get into trouble in elementary school because teachers believed he was lying about all the places he had been to. But the Sankowskys love the life of travel they've experienced so far.

“Traveling, meeting new people, I don’t like working inside so this just is kind of a good job for me,” said Armstrong.

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Armstrong Sankowsky, pictured right.

But life on the road is not always a positive experience for Kim, especially when she tells someone what she does.

“Because when you first tell them that you’re in the carnival business, you’re a little bit judged,” Kim said, laughing. The Sankowskys also said that missing big events, such as birthdays and weddings, is sometimes hard.

The Thomas Carnival is one of the main attractions of MontanaFair, which runs through Saturday at MetraPark in Billings. The carnival is a big undertaking for employees, many of whom travel most of the year to venues across the country.

Twenty-three years on the road for six months at a time may seem like a lot, but John Hanschen's time with Thomas Carnival is double that of the families.

Hanschen has been the president of Thomas Carnival for 15 years and has worked with the carnival for almost 50.

The Thomas Carnival travels to 12 states up and down Interstate 135.

“We start in February and go all the way to mid-November," Hanschen said.

Ten months of traveling with so much to keep track of can get exhausting, Hanschen said.

“I see my house for the first time in 10 months and I can’t remember where the light switches are, and I forget what the neighborhood looks like,” he said.

The carnival has about 170 workers traveling with them. Tasks for a work day include ride maintenance, safety checks and operating the rides.

“About half of our people are H-2B workers. Foreign labor. There are not enough travelers in this country to do the crazy schedule that we do," Hanschen said.

But the life of travel and adventure from one city and state to the next is one Hanschen would never give up.

“It's absolutely stimulating from moment to moment,” he said.