Life As A Carnival
They don't like to be
called "carnies" or "drifters" and they resent the
negative image that seems to hang onto the carnival
like the ever present dust.
"We have to live the reputation down that we're bad
people, that we're troublemakers. It's just not
true. We're the same as everybody else, just
holding down a steady job and trying to make ends
meet," explains the man known only as "Whitey" who
operates and repairs the pint sized rides that bring
delight to youngsters visiting
The SJM Fiesta carnival rolled into town Monday
night, and the crew of over 150 "regulars" began the
familiar task of setting up the rides and amusements
for the 15th time this season. By November they
will have assembled and torn down the whole show 35
times in cities from 29 Palms in the Southern
California desert to Medford, Ore. north and
Phoenix, Ariz. to the east. Time spent in any one
town varies from two days to two weeks and the
schedule is always a hectic one with a massive
amount of machinery and people to coordinate and
Come November some go back to other jobs, but many
stay on the remainder of the year at the Southern
California winter quarters in Fontana to repair and
refurbish the well-used amusements.
It's a life that wouldn't appeal to everyone, Whitey
admits, but says emphatically that "once it gets in
your blood, you're hooked."
His sentiment was echoed by another worker, John
Friberg, known to his co-workers as "Snoopy."
"Anybody who comes to a carnival and stays one
season will always come back to it," he claims.
Friberg, like many of the regulars, started young,
He left home at 13 and has worked on and off on the
carnival circuit for the past 14 years.
"Nothing can keep me away," he boasts, telling of
the accident last year at the Phoenix State Fair
that put him in the hospital for six months. Pinned
between two cars on one of the rides, he was told
he'd never walk again. "I'm back," he says proudly.
Sixteen-year-old Jim Shannon began life even younger
on the carnival circuit than most - as an infant.
"My dad's been a maintenance man here for 40 years.
I've been with the carnival all my life and I'll
probably never leave it," he says. Out of a family
of 12 brought up in trailers rolling from city to
city at least half the year, he's the only one who
chose to stay on.
Romance lured "Little Bit" back into the carnival
after several years absence. The SJM Fiesta show
arrived in 29 Palms in April and when it left a few
days later Little Bit and Whitey were riding side by
side in the front of one of the semi-trucks. "I'd
worked with a show back east, so I know the life,"
The reasons for making the
carnival a life vary, but the rewards seem to
receive unanimous agreement. Freedom, travel, a
steady paycheck and friendship.
"We're like one big family." Whitey offers. "We
stick together more between ourselves than on most
other kinds of jobs."
"You never stay in one place too long and you can
travel around the world." Snoopy adds.
In spite of the continuing romance and appeal of the
life on the road, less and less people stick with it
and make it their life's work, Jack Waller, owner
of the circus sideshow observes. Waller, who began
his career as an acrobat, clown and magician in a
circus he joined at 17, moved on to fire eating as
he completed a master's degree in drama, and finally
acquired his own show.
"Sure people think it's exciting to travel around
all the time, but most people lack the discipline
needed to learn the trade," he explains.
Circuses, carnivals and sideshows, in face, are all
diminishing slowly. "it's a dying business." he
But there's a new generation undaunted by the
decline of the traveling show. To them it's alive
and well. Vonni Merten, 8, and Tina Hartman, 10,
who travel in the summer with their parents, are
emphatic about their futures. "I'm always going to
work in the carnival,"
Vonni says. "Me too," echoes Tina.
by Adria-Ann McMurray
Staff Writer Argus-Courier,
by Linda Casey (aka
Mandy Lynn) One of “Jack’s Girls”
Friday, June 16, 1978