Dustin Noffsinger, owner of Dustin's Top Notch Camel Rides, said he was a bartender before making the switch to full-time camel wrangler four years ago.
"I kind of fell in love with the animal, and just went from there," he said. "I decided to purchase my own."
Now, visitors to the Western Idaho Fair can clamber onto Noffsinger's three camels: Big Al, Tonto and Eastwood, named for Clint Eastwood.
Big Al and Tonto hail from a California dairy farm. Eastwood was giving camel rides to Dollywood visitors when Noffsinger bought him. "The youngest one stayed home," he said of 2-year-old Walter, who is too young to carry a rider.
Contrary to many people's fears, Noffsinger's camels do not spit. Although camels are capable of it, he said, if they are cared for and treated gently, the animals rarely will.
They're just a piece of Noffsinger's menagerie.
His girlfriend, Miranda Davis, said the couple's 60-acre farm is home to 67 llamas, eight horses, eight cats, two sheep and a dog. The llamas, she said, do spit.
Noffsinger traveled from western Oregon for the fair. He brought along Davis and Kyle McGranahan, who help manage the camels.
The trio received their share of odd looks from fellow drivers when the camels stuck their heads out of the trailer on the highway, Davis said.
Rides cost $5. Riders perch on the animal's hump as it is led around the enclosure, Noffsinger said.
Big Al, Tonto, and Eastwood have carried riders ranging in age from 2 months to 92 years.
This is the herd's first year at the Western Idaho Fair.
"I ended up purchasing a third camel and decided we wanted to go to bigger fairs, and my son lives here in Boise, so that worked out perfect," Noffsinger said. "I can come see him, and give rides."
Friday afternoon, 9-year-old Eloise Dowling and 6-year-old Samantha Blomberg climbed atop the camels for trips around the enclosure. Both girls reported that they enjoyed their first-ever camel ride.
Noffsinger said business will likely be best in the evenings and on weekends. During a lull between riders, he kept an eye on Tonto, who was edging close to a tree in the enclosure to strip its bark.
"They have a mind of their own," Noffsinger said. "Every one of them has their own personality."
Katie Terhune: 377-6219