Small Business: Fun Tours brings cowboys, culture to tourists

Dusty Roth

Fort Worth Fun Tours

119 Exchange Ave., Fort Worth, 76164

(817) 505-9275

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Company owners: Charlie Ragle, Dusty Roth and Scott Aston

The tour: a 15-mile fully narrated excursion in the comfort of an old time, heated/air-conditioned trolley.

Tour highlights: Fort Worth Stockyards National Historic District, the JFK Tribute, Billy Bob’s Texas, Fort Worth Botanic Garden, Bass Performance Hall, National Cowgirl Museum & Hall of Fame, Fort Worth Cultural District, downtown Fort Worth and Fort Worth Water Gardens

Duration: 75 minutes

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Departure times/locations: 10 a.m. tour begins a 916 Main St.; noon and 2 p.m. tours depart from 119 E. Exchange Ave.

Days: Thursday through Monday

Rates: Adults, $24; children 2 and under, $12; seniors 65 and up, $20; military (active duty and retired), $20

When Los Angeles resident Danni Zwing traveled to Fort Worth in June, she went looking for a CliffNotes version of Cowtown.

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She found it from Fort Worth Fun Tours, a company that recently expanded its operations to Fort Worth and features daily excursions that take an hour and 15 minutes.

“It saved me a lot of time,” Zwing said of the tour. “It was just what I wanted to see. Now I don’t need to drive by myself.”

Fun Tours began operating in Fort Worth during the Memorial Day weekend. The company also offers tours of St. Louis, Kansas City, Indianapolis and Dallas.

The tours are conducted in a modernized trolley car that’s enclosed and equipped with padded seats and air conditioning.

“It’s 1929 style, but we do it in 21st century comfort,” said Dusty Roth, a co-owner who serves as the tour guide.

Roth dresses like a trolley car driver in the early 1900s with a conductor’s cap, a white shirt and black vest along with cowboy boots to blend in with Fort Worth’s Cowboys and Culture image.

The tours run on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays. A 10 a.m. tour originates in downtown Fort Worth and the noon and 2 p.m. tours start in the Stockyards.

As Roth gathers a tour group in the trolley car and is about to take off, he’s emphatic about showing them a good time.

“We have written on the side of our trolley that it’s Fun Tours,” he said. “It doesn’t say Fort Worth history tour. It doesn’t say the beer tour. It doesn’t say the food tour. We may talk about those things, but we’re there to have fun.”

The tour gives an overview of the Stockyards, downtown Fort Worth, the Cultural District and points in between. It makes a brief stop in the Botanic Garden for photos.

Throughout each tour, Roth offers humorous comments along with the history. During a recent tour, he stopped at a traffic light at the corner of Lancaster Avenue and University Drive, directed everyone’s attention to the sizable Farrington Field athletic complex and said: “That’s a high school football stadium? Everything’s big in Texas!”

Lenard Liebe, an Oklahoma City resident who works for the American Red Cross, said he appreciated Roth pointing out history and offering tips on what he and his family could do during their stay in Fort Worth.

“It gave us an idea about places that you’d want to eat as well as learning the history,” he said.

Liebe’s wife, Lisa, who works in the medical field, said she liked Roth’s approach.

“I liked his interaction with the crowd,” she said. “He encouraged us to have fun on the tour.”

Their daughter, Carlen, also said she learned a lot about Fort Worth from Roth “He knew a lot about the attractions,” she said.

Fort Worth Fun Tours is the brainchild of Charlie Ragle, who began the company in his hometown of St. Louis in 2011. He’s a former television producer who had a fishing show and a show that covered golf resorts.

“I find that so many people undervalue the city that the live in,” Ragle said. “So, one of the most satisfying things is to have local people take our tour and learn things and be entertained and then walk away from the trolley with a smarter appreciation of the city that they live in. I love doing tours [for out-of-town tourists], but one of the most satisfying thing is to do it for people who live maybe five miles from where the tour takes place and leave and say ‘Wow, that was great!’”

Roth said the tours provide a great educational experience.

“Without a doubt, there will be at least one thing that you learned on the trolley that you didn’t know,” he said. “If you’re local, this is a great way to show out-of-town guests around and you don’t have to do all of the hard work.”

Ragle said two of the company’s biggest challenges are finding suitable rare trolley cars and conforming them to stringent governmental regulations to assure they are safe for passengers.

As the Fun Tours firm expanded and opened a Fort Worth branch, it sought advice on how to blend in from seasoned locals such as Hub Baker, the long-time manager of Cowtown Coliseum in the Stockyards. Baker suggested a Western look.

“They immediately snapped to it,” Baker said.

Roth, who formerly guided the company’s tours in St. Louis, said Fort Worth is a great city to show off.

“It’s the perfect size city,” Roth said. “This is a city that’s a small town, but it’s a big city at the same time. There are plenty of things to do and see here, but you can walk down the street and still shake the hand of somebody you know.”

Ragle also said he’s impressed with Fort Worth.

“I love the fact that they take the theme of cowboys and culture,” Ragle aid. “The city holds on to its past but reaches toward the future.”