This story was told to
me about twenty years ago by an old show bum who was every bit of
seventy five at the time. I personally have never met any of the
protagonists, but I love the story, it feels real, and it goes to
illustrate that the more things change, the more they remain the
I’ve tried to recreate
the feel of old Whitey’s words, but I’m sure he told it better…
It concerns a Showman,
a new development, the exploitation of said development, and human
nature, the ultimate downfall of the best laid plans….
The tale begins with a
gimmick. The Showmen of the era, much as those of today, were
always on the lookout for something to give them an edge, to
separate them from the pack. A gimmick. The key. The holy grail.
The attraction that’ll “bring ‘em in”…
Old Ben D. thought for
sure he’d found it. This was gonna get attention. It was so new
that nobody’d heard of it yet. It looked so slick, shined like
Made crap look like
jewelry. Slicker’n sliced bread. Make the ole circus look like the
SILVER PAINT !...
Darndest thing, made
from looneyum, shined like a brand new nickel…
That’s what he was
gonna call it… “BEN DAVENPORT’S NICKEL PLATE CIRCUS” …and they
were gonna flock to see it. Already had the paper ordered, a
fortune spent on billing, screw the wait brothers! This’d make ‘em
sit up and take notice!...
The devil was in the
The show winter
quarters looked more like a gangster hideout. It was way out in
the middle of God-Forsaken nowhere, somewhere in a part of Texas
that hadn’t been discovered yet. This was so the help couldn’t
escape. Or get something to drink…
The place was humming.
In between bouts of the D.T.’s, the boys were slapping silver on
everything that wasn’t breathing…
“ Put some gas in
that brush and wring it out, catch it in a can and smear it on a
wagon pole, that shit costs more’n you bums is worth” The old man
was furious, there was far too much waste, never seemed to be
enough paint, it cost a fortune, had to drive to San Antone to get
it , shipyard store was the only place to get it...
Time to hit the road
soon, the paper was going up, need to git this show on the
The straw boss was
cringing at the thought of telling Ben about needing more paint.
Last time he needed paint, the old man blew sky high!...
disappointed, after the fireworks, everybody was good and relieved
to see old Ben heading out for more paint….
So now we have old Ben
D. heading for San Antone, again, and about ten miles from the
ranch, he spots a barn roof that’s half rusty, and half shiny.
There on the ladder is a farmer painting away…
The shiny part is
“Whoa there, maybe I
don’t hafta drive all the way to San Antone, let’s see if this ole
farm boy is getting his paint locally.”…
Well, by the time old
Ben D. had turned down the side road to the farm, the farmer had
spotted his dust trail and climbed down the ladder and was wiping
his hands on a rag as he pulled up…
mighty fine looking barn roof you got there, you mind telling me
where I can get some of that paint, I been paying a small fortune
for it all the way to San Antone.”…
“Nope, don’t mind
tellin’ you at all. Get it right close, and down right reasonable
too. You jest go down this road a piece to where they keep that
circus, and them boys’ll give you five gallons of it across the
fence for a quart of corn likker.”…
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