Amusements owner asserts safety of festival rides

EAST LIVERPOOL – Attendees of this year’s Tri-State Pottery Festival may notice the name Deshler Amusements, Inc., or a “D” logo on many of the rides set up on East Fourth and Broadway streets. That’s because, for the third consecutive year, Deshler Amusements is supplying all the rides and some game tents along the midway of the festival, which opens today.

According to owner Rick Deshler, the company supplied rides and other attractions to the festival from its inception in 1967, continuing for decades before taking a break, reprising its role with the annual event three years ago. “It was in the family business for a number of years,” he said.

The Wellsville-based company was started in 1956 by Deshler’s step-grandfather, Frank Heckathorn, before being passed on to his father, 85-year-old Dick Deshler, who is now retired. It has always been a family business in the truest sense, according to Deshler. “I started running a Ferris wheel when I was 12 years old, and I’m now 59,” he said.

However, Deshler’s name has been in the news recently for matters not connected to family or heritage. On June 8, three people were sent to the hospital following an incident at the All-American Days Festival in Bellaire. According to published reports, an electrical line fell from a Deshler-supplied ride, striking one woman in the head and a nearby metal fence, shocking two additional people. All three were treated and released.

Deshler declined to comment on the specifics of the incident while it remains under investigation by the state Division of Amusement Ride Safety, though he suggested that only one person was actually injured. “The night of the incident, we had one person who said they got hurt. The next day we wake up and there’s three or four. It’s just escalated out of control,” he said.

Deshler asserted that it was not due to any malfunction in the equipment. He also believes that his company has been unfairly targeted by the press since then. “The media sure has made it awful rough on me,” he said. “They’ve slammed me for something that I didn’t cause.”

Deshler said that the ride in question had been inspected and approved by state inspectors prior to the opening of the festival in Bellaire. In a similar fashion, he said that inspectors had been checking through each of the 13 rides that he brought to East Liverpool this year. “They go over that ride very thoroughly,” he said. “We’re looked at very hard.” In addition to state inspectors, Deshler said the rides had also been looked over by East Liverpool Fire Chief Bill Jones per local statutes.

“The state of Ohio licenses every piece of equipment that I bring in here,” Deshler said. Each ride must also be inspected and licensed in other states the company operates in, including Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Deshler defended the amusements business in general, saying that only one out of every 900,000 riders are injured. he further asserted that 30 percent of those are due to riders slipping or tripping. “It’s a very safe industry,” he said.