Bowman's been playing the guessing game for 25 years at the Buchanan Carnival

 

By CATHY BENSON

Staff Writer


" Monty Bowman of Clifton Forge has had a fascination with microphones all of his life,  As a child growing up in
Winston-Salem, N.C., his mother took him to a carnival and he had for the first time the idea that one day he wanted to work in a carnival.

He also had a friend who had a microphone and an amplifier that he found fascinating, and in the sixth grade he had his first male teacher who really loved electronics.

Toss in that as a teenager he worked for an uncle who was an auctioneer and in the early '70s he learned the weight/age guessing game at White Lake Amusement Park near Fayetteville, N.C. and you have the makings of an avocation.

In 1974, he traveled with his first carnival through the Deep South. He then took a job with RJ. Reynolds promoting Winston Cup Racing and in 1978 went into the sales division for Winston Cup and relocated to Alleghany County. He stayed with the company until a lay-off. in 1995.

What he didn't give up was his carnival work, and for the 25th consecutive year you'll find him every night through Sunday guessing weights and ages from his small booth near the ice cream stand at the Buchanan Firemen's Carnival,

He is what Carnys carnival workers— call a"40-miler," That is someone who goes home every night after the carnival and only works carnivals within a 40 mile radius of home. He laughs because in a carnival worker's world, that is a derogatory phrase.


He has been guessing ages and weights at the Effinger Carnival most recently and will be in
Bridgewater in mid-July and at the Highland County Fair in August. He has worked the West Virginia State Fair and does the relatively new Winter Carnival inside the Salem Civic Center in January. So he does get beyond a 40-mile radius.

To guess age, he gauges people by their companionship. By looking at friends and spouses and the age of accompanying children he gets a baseline for his guess.

Over the years he has developed a second nature for it. He says few men fib about their age but many women will. Mostly though, people offer to show him a driver's permit and are as honest as they can be about his ability to guess their age.

He says crow's feet around the eyes never lie. A lot of people look younger except their crow's feet tell the truth.

Weigh is another matter. With men, he uses himself as a guide.

Women he says, were much thinner in 1980 when he used 110 pounds as his baseline. Now he goes between 135-140 pounds as a baseline. His casual observation is that Americans in general are a great deal heavier now than when he first started. “It’s all because of what we eat”, said Bowman. He believes fast food is the culprit. He tries to keep his guessing game upbeat and positive as that is what brings people back year after year.

When he first started guesses were a quarter apiece. He had three shelves of prizes that were 25 cents, 50 cents and $1. Now his shelves are much higher and you get one guess for $3 or two for $5.

He gets his prizes from companies in Rhode Island and Newport, Kentucky----inflatables, pictures and so forth.

He knows a great deal about carnival history. "Cracks" are the phrases that draw customers into games. Bowman frequently says into his microphone, "I’ll see if you look as old as you are, or if you are as old as you look." “Satisfy your curiosity, see if you look your age?” “Walk right in, be next!”


He explains how the term being "a mark" originated with the weight guess game at carnivals of old.  The weight guess stand was at the head of the midway and the guy working the stand kept chalk in his hand as part of his set-up. If a customer came in with a wad of bills in his wallet, the Carny would mark the jacket of the fellow as he left the stand so all of the other midway workers would know that fellow had a wad of money in his pocket; thus the term ‘Mark” or a “marked” man.

 

In addition to guessing Ages and Weights, Bowman runs-an auction business in Alleghany---again his love for the microphone.
When he isn't working carnivals Bowman, who has a grown daughter and a teenage son, wears many hats. He sells Xerox copiers for an agent and he drives a school bus, so he is never idle. He also has a Real Estate license and works with Highlands Realty.

He really enjoys the carnival in Buchanan as he says, "For 25 years I have watched kids grow into adults and bring their own children back to the carnival. It is an interesting way to study and observe people"

The Buchanan Carnival continues nightly through Sunday, July 4.

 


This is from an article in the Fincastle Herald & Botetourt County News June 30, 2004 and is reprinted here with permission of the Editor.

The article was submitted by Monty Bowman

 

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