I put all my garbage (belongings) in my old 1932 model Ford car (I bought it for fifty bucks) and took off on my own. As always, I checked the 'carny Bible' to find out where the nearest carnival to me was.

The carny Bible was a magazine called The Billboard. At that time it was published in Cincinnati, Ohio. The reason the carnies nicknamed it the 'Bible' was because it listed where each carny was at the moment, and a partial route of where they were going to be for the next three or four weeks. Plus, it had a want ad section telling who needed help, like help to put up the rides, agents for the concession stands, truck drivers, ticket sellers, talkers, acts for the side shows, etc.

They also had a letter list department. If your name was on the list you could call or write and they would forward your mail to you. Back then it only cost a penny to send a postcard and two cents to send a letter. Usually, if you sent a letter to someone in care of the Billboard, you enclosed a stamp, if not, you would have to pay the postman two cents.
It also had an obituary column, listing show folks that didn't make the curtain call and also what songs and artists who were in the top ten, according to nationwide ratings.

Back then, you could buy one in a news stand in any town of size throughout the country. Today, there's one that's called The Amusement Business Magazine. It's the only magazine that publishes carny want ads and routes. But its taboo to let the ride help see one of them. Well, I checked the want ads and saw one that read "Jack and Preacher Monroe needs talkers, ticket sellers, bally girls and acts for fifteen bona fide fairs in Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Alabama. We play the Valley all winter." (What Valley meant was New Mexico).

There was a number to call, so I busted my keister getting to the phone, because I knew Jack and Preacher from a few years back. When I called and told them who I was, Jack said, "Yes, we sure can use you. It's ten percent of the front plus meals, if you help ruffey this rag bag." The reason for the meals was because he knew that I was a capable canvas man. To my surprise, the show was only about ninety miles away in Culpepper, Virginia.

It was getting late in the evening and the headlights on the old jalopy weren't too hot so I bedded down for the night in a cheap motel. By ten the next day, I was in Culpepper, ready to start work for the Monroe brothers.
 
It was like coming home. Happy Mineola, the tattooed man, had worked in Dad's show when I was a kid. Others included Hop Gawa, the sword swallower, George Rin, the Human Blockhead and Ellen, the fat girl and all of us knew each other.

The Palace of Wonders, as the show was called, was a big ten-in-one with a blade box. This was a coffin-type sword box. Instead of swords, metal blades were pushed from the top down through the bottom at all angles. The show had a blowoff at each end. There was one for the half and half and one for the living head without a body. All told, the show carried eighteen people, counting two people that ran Jack and Preacher's cooktent.

From Culpepper, the show played a big blank in McLean, Virginia. I think I wound up with six bits for my end that week.

Then we jumped south to our first fair in Abingdon, Virginia, not too far from Bristol. En route our main bally girl eloped with one of the ride jockeys and we needed someone to take her place on the bally and inside the show to help the magician do his tricks and to work the blade box.

It was opening day and I had just got through making a pitch to the marks and jumped in one of the ticket boxes to relieve one of the ticket sellers. I had the microphone up to my mouth, telling folks about the show and out in the crowd, I noticed this luscious looking dishwater blonde eyeballing me. She just stood there staring at me. I don't know if you call it love at first sight, or what, but I got a funny feeling in my gut.

She started smiling and I motioned for her to come over. Something told me that this wasn't gonna be one of those wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am jobs that I was accustomed to.

When she came over, I said, "How would you like to see the show?" (that was the usual approach). She said, "Yeah, I'd like to see the show, but I spent every penny that I had trying to win a baby doll for my little sister." I replied "In that case, be my guest, go in for free."

She politely said, "Thanks," and walked in. As she walked by the ticket box on the way in, I sized her up, but good. Man, was she stacked up like a brick crapper with every brick in place!

In a few minutes, the ticket seller was back. I left the ticket box and went inside the tent to where she was standing watching the fire eater. I said (point blank), "How would you like to have a job with the carnival? We need a girl to help the magician to do his tricks and the job pays fifty dollars a week plus room and board."

She answered, "Gee, I'll bet that would be groovy! Who do I have to see to get the job?"   I said, "Come with me and I'll introduce you to Jack, the man that owns the show."   So I took her back behind the show to Jack's trailer.  Jack's wife answered the knock on the door. I said, "Here's a girl looking for a job."

She said, "Come in and have a seat. Jack will be out of the crapper
in a few minutes."

While we waited, Jack's kid, about two years old, came waddling up to me. I picked him up and sat him on my lap. Jostling him up and down, he started squalling and May, that was the new girl's name, took Jack's kid away from me, saying, "That's no way to treat a baby." Holding him in her arms, she started to pat him on the keister and talk baby talk to him. He stopped squalling and started to smile. She turned to me and said, "It's all in knowing what you're doing."

I said, "Yeah, just how many kids have you got?" She said, "I ain't got any, but my sister has got three and I help her take care of them
from time to time."

Jack finished his call and I introduced May to him. She got the job, fifty a week plus room and board and if she helped Ann (Jack's wife) with the baby, she could have the bed in the baby's room. May asked "When do you want me to start work?" Jack's wife replied "Right now, come with me," and took May into the back of the trailer and gave her a costume to put on and told her what to do. In the meantime, I went back to the front of the show beating my gums.

I hollered, "Bally," and the fire eater, the sword swallower, Billy, the Bear Boy and the half-and-half came up on the bally, followed by May, in this skimpy costume, looking like one of the Dallas Texas cheerleaders at halftime.

I tied her to the cross, put a rope around her neck, one around each of her wrists and another around the ankles. Then I told the marks that I was going to have her escape quicker than they could bat their eyes. Then I went into my pitch. In a few hours she had the routine down pat.
I wanted to get her in the pad but refrained, because we had out fairs coming up and needed her to work the bally and blade box. I feared there was the possibility that she might get mad and blow (leave), so I put my desires on hold.

Two weeks later, the weather was stinking hot, so I took my bedroll out of the bunkhouse trailer and put it on the ground inside the big top where it was a lot cooler.

After we closed that night, I went up to the front end of the midway to the carny cookhouse, got a ham on rye and a big glass of milk. After that, I headed back down the midway to the side show to go to bed. The fat girl and May along with a couple of the ruffeys were sitting on the bally with a six pack of beer. They offered me one, so I took it, upended it, took a swig and said, "I don't know about you guys but I'm gonna hit the sack and if anybody wants to know where I'm at, tell them that I'm in back of the blade box platform,"

I went inside, guzzled the rest of the beer, tossed the empty can under the blade box platform, made my flop, undressed and got in bed.


To be Continued

 

 

Posted here courtesy of Midway Publications - Copyright 1999 William T. Usher All rights reserved

 


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