has been 28 years since the red, yellow and silver train hauling
the “World’s Largest Midway” rumbled to a stop on the weed-grown
rails of Regina’s Exhibition Park -- the last stop on the show’s
summer tour across Canada.
“Between the dates, the long train rides were for social times and
rest,” says Laura Sedlmayr, heir to the fallen midway.
Laura, who lives in Tampa, Fla., fondly remembers the summer trips
to Canada and of course, Regina’s Buffalo Days, where in 1975 her
father’s empire began its 24-year slide from world’s largest
midway to a fair buff’s memory. She said the demise of the
carnival had many reasons but the primary cause was personnel.
lost a lot of key people after we dropped the train, people who
had been part of the show for most of their lives. You just don’t
replace those folks”
the slogans on the sides of its passenger cars barked, Royal
American Shows (RAS) was indeed the “world’s largest” touring
midway in North America for much of the past century, residing
atop the carnival heap from 1924 through the mid 80’s. At
its peak, RAS boasted a 96-car train -- transporting the carnival
staff, carnival equipment and the presidential cars for the owner
Carl Sedlmayr Jr, and his family. This method of touring gave the
carnival the upper hand on show movement, keeping down travel
costs by capitalizing on the fuel efficiency of train travel.
Though most railroads gave the train a third-class rating, making
it take a siding for all other traffic, RAS made up the time on
the road by assembling and dismantling the show with a well-rested
and fed crew.
fastest I think we ever built the midway from unloading the train
to being in operation was five hours. We had a very tight schedule
between Edmonton and Regina when we closed at 12:00 am Sunday,
morning, in Edmonton we had to be fully operational in Regina by
9:00 am Monday morning for Kids Day. The train enabled us to get
good rest between cities to enable our staff to perform with this
kind of efficiency,” explains Michael Sedlmayr, Laura’s brother.
Swain, a former member of the Regina fair board, says a midway
transported by truck can’t compare to one hauled by train.
By truck, the midway arrives in pieces, truck by truck, over a
period of several hours. By train, the midway arrives all at once.
“In the 40s and 50s, it was quite an incredible thing to see when
it came to town,’’ says Swain, adding the excitement was even
greater then because children weren’t consumed by TV and video games. Gord Staseson, a past president of the Regina Exhibition
Association and longtime member of the fair board, says it was
quite a sight to see Royal American unload the train. Small
around the fairgrounds, pulling bright red and yellow trailers
here and there. “ It was like something out of movie,” he recalls
of the buzz.
Northcott, another former member of the Regina fair board, says he
vividly remembers all the commotion Royal American caused when it
pulled into the city. “It seems like there was more kids watching
the load-in, than there would be at the fair some days,” he says.
1982, RAS toured for the first time without the train and by 1999
the midway was out of business, its assets auctioned off at the
show’s winter quarters in Tampa.
Western Canadian ‘A’ circuit -- which included Winnipeg’s Red
River EX, the Calgary Stampede, Edmonton’s Klondike Days and
Regina’s Buffalo Days -- was and generally remains a lucrative run
for carnival companies. The fairs are long affairs by carnival
standards, at least one week or more, and attract thousands and
thousands of people. In the 1920s, most midways simply stopped in
a city, set up, played for a few days and then left. Surprisingly
few were featured attractions of fairs.
Royal American was awarded the Western Canadian ‘A’ fair circuit
in 1934 with a hiatus from 1941 to 1945, when Canada’s Conklin
Shows took over during the Second World War. Once the war was
over, RAS hit the road with its famed 1946 victory tour and
regained the Western Canadian ‘A’ circuit. The 1946 tour, under
the guidance of RAS founder Carl Sedlmayr Sr., was greeted in
Regina by the Western Canadian Fair board and honored for its
return to Canada at the Hotel Saskatchewan.
year’s version of the carnival could not be compared to any other.
Sedlmayr Sr., known as the “King of the Carnival” by then, was in
fine form, appearing nightly at the grandstand show’s conclusion,
pitching his attractions on the midway to make sure no one left
the Regina fair without a swing through the rides and games of
chance. Sedlmayr Sr. also introduced Regina and Western Canada to
some of the best side shows in the business. The all-black “Harlem
in Havana” was a musical revue with choreographed dance and song,
performed by women clad in very little clothing. The Motor Drome,
a motorcycle show, featured a lion driving a motorcycle confined
in a 30-foot x 30-foot cylinder.
Royal American prided itself on its headline talent. The Western
show featured Lash Larue, star of film and stage in the 50’s and
Gypsy Lee Rose and Sally Rand, the most sought-after exotic
dancers of their time. RAS even gave Colonel Tom Parker his start
in show business. Parker, of course, would later become famous as
Elvis Presley’s personal manager.
side shows of the smallest man in the world, the world’s largest
woman and “The Gorilla Girl,” all played on the midway, with their
own “barkers” who would sell the shows to fairgoers with the most
exotic verbiage imaginable. Front banner lines painted in vibrant
colors and neon lights spelled out the wonderful attractions
inside the canvas tents.
Staseson says Royal American represented “the greatest period of
outdoor showmanship. It was the classiest midway show that ever
came to Canada.”
type of showmanship was the difference between a great midway and
a good midway, says Laura Sedlmayr. “My grandfather was the
ultimate showman he was always in search of new attractions
worldwide to implement on the midway. He was very concerned with
operating a carnival that did not take advantage of the patron. He
always had time for his staff and no matter how tired he was his
door was always open.”
Swain says Sedlmayr Jr. kept the side shows long after they were
making the midway money. “He kept them on the midway because
they added class and prestige. It made Royal American different
from any other midway.”
rides on the midway also set RAS apart. The Second World War
created more technology in mechanics and Royal American was quick
to embrace new rides. It was the only carnival of its kind to tour
with four Ferris wheels placed side by side. The Seattle Wheel was
a yearly attraction. Originally featured in the Elvis Movie, At
the Worlds Fair, this custom-built RAS Ferris wheel was one of
only two ever built. The Turbo, Super Loops, Sky Diver and the Sky
Wheels -- two double Ferris Wheels that ran at the same time
parallel to one another -- all made their original debuts on Royal
Laura says her father, like her grandfather, took great pride in
his carnival’s presentation.
it was muddy coming out of the last spot, the entire carnival was
washed before opening in the next city,” she recalls. “He was very
proud of having his equipment look like new at every spot and you
would never find a light out on any of the rides or attractions,
we had a paint crew who toured with the carnival and the painting
was a never-ending job.”
Northcott, who spent two summers working for Royal American, says
the American midway was a clean and safe operation. “ can’t
remember any major incidents concerning safety,” he says.
rails in the south end of Regina’s Exhibition park are long gone,
not needed since 1975, the year Royal American made one last,
tumultuous visit to Canada. The Sedlmayrs will tell you they had
Western Canada wrapped up because they offered a superior carnival
-- a clean, efficient marvel like no other -- but Canadian
authorities believed something more sinister was going on. RAS
management had always been quick to hand out gifts and trinkets --
key chains, ash trays, radios, almost anything with the tasteful
RAS coat of arms on it. Southern businessmen of the gentlemen
sort, the Sedlmayrs believed it was simply good business to share
their largess with men of some influence. “In 1966, mom
redecorated the entertainment coach and car 60, mom and dad’s
personal coach, to the tune of $150,000.00,” Laura recalls, adding
the two rail cars were often used for entertaining guests.
Revenue Canada and the RCMP, however, had been tipped off to the
possibility of larger gifts -- brown envelopes with thousands of
dollars in cash stuffed inside, anonymously left on the desks of
fair directors across Western Canada.
Unbeknownst to the Sedlmayrs, Revenue Canada and the RCMP began a
joint investigation in early 1975 into whether the Tampa-based
carnival was paying kickbacks to fair directors in Western Canada.
Plain-clothed officers followed the fair that summer, secretly
gathering information by spying on the fair’s management in
Winnipeg, Calgary and Edmonton. Regina was the last stop on the
tour, before the carnival headed south to Milwaukee, Wisc. It was
time to make a move.
During their surveillance, the undercover officers had failed to
witness any direct kickback payments to fair officials. But what
they had witnessed in every city, over and over again, intrigued
them even more -- the fair was raking in cash by the bundles and
the police were sure Revenue Canada wasn’t getting its fair share.
the help of the Regina City Police, RCMP and federal agents raided
RAS offices at Regina Exhibition Park on the basis of suspected
tax evasion. Sedlmayr Jr., who had taken over the carnival from
his father in 1966, was arrested and taken to jail. Many of the
games of chance were confiscated and later sold at auction.
Sedlmayr Jr. was later released, successfully arguing that he was
taken into custody unlawfully. RAS paid its outstanding tax bill
of $13,500.00 -- much less than the authorities had presumed --
and left town for Milwaukee and the Wisconsin State Fair.
buffs didn’t know it then, but it would be the last time the red,
yellow and silver train would ever stop in Regina.
the fall of 1975, charges were filed in Edmonton against Sedlmayr
Jr for bribery of a municipal employee, the fair manager.
bribe cracked up to be a transistor radio, dining plates with the
RAS logo and a colour television. The rumored envelopes of cash
were never found.
was not Royal American that was the problem,” says Swain.
was the independent games concessions who were causing the
Regina raid opened the door for Canada’s largest carnival, Conklin
Shows, to take over the Western Canadian ‘A’ circuit. Swain
recalls other large American midways bidding for the circuit --
including the only one left that travels by train, James E.
Strates Shows -- but Conklin was given the nod in part because it
turned out to be a monumental break for Conklin as it has now
taken RAS’s place as the largest touring carnival in North
America. In addition to the western ‘A’ fairs and the Canadian
National Exhibition in Toronto, Conklin has added three B fairs in
the west and seven major fairs in the U.S. to its yearly
outstanding tax bill paid, Royal American could have tried to
again stake a claim in Canada in 1976, but Sedlmayr Jr., stung by
the undercover investigation and ensuing raid, vowed never to
cross the border again. “The embarrassment was too great, I
think,” says Swain.
Laura agrees. “Dad felt the business (in Canada) was a loss,” she
says with a hint of regret. “But most of all dad missed all the
friends he had made over the 30 years of his annual tour of