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YIPPEE! HERE COMES THE CARNIVAL TRAIN

Watching it get set up for business when it hits town is a big a show as the show itself

In a gray down the train of World's Finest Shows pulls into Weyburn, Sank.  First off is Jimmy Sullivan, right, the show's' operator since 1927


Susie, elephant with the traveling show's circus, docilely follows a handler through the grounds. She's a great favorite of town small fry and show folk.


THE MAGIC of the carnival bewitches not only the small boys who turn out to welcome it whatever hour it arrives in town. but also the grown men who work for it.

 

"You've got to have something wrong with you to be in this business," mutters Jimmy Sullivan, boss of World's Finest Shows, as he climbs down from the silver-painted show train he commands into a 5 A.M. western Canadian dawn.  Yet there is a sparkle in his eye and a rakish tilt to his hat even at that hour.  Jimmy has been in show business for nearly 40 of his 57 years and still regards it with a gusto that has nothing to do with the money it has made for him.

 

Jimmy Sullivan was born in Fargo, N.D., but is now a Canadian citizen.  He made his debut in outdoor show business in 1917 in partnership with John Paul Flanagan of Flanagan's Greater Shows.  Ten Sullivan went to France with the U.S. 83rd Division.  Soon after his return he bought out Flanagan and changed the name to Wallace Brothers Shows.

 

There was never any Wallace connected with the outfit and, until recently, when the name was changed to World's Finest Shows. Sullivan and his cohorts found amusement in going up to some derelict hanger on who was being studiously avoided by well-heeled patrons and addressing him loudly but deferentially as "Mr. Wallace."

 

**Sullivan puts his show on the road leading from Quebec to Alberta between early May and early October each year.  His first act on arriving in a town is to stake out the ground so that the customers will be obliged to go down the line of concessions to reach the rides and return the same way.

 

Then the ramps come down at the railway yards and the vans and trailers are rolled off the 32 flat cars (which, with six box cars and nine coaches, make up the largest carnival train in Canada) and are hauled to the fair grounds.

 

There the rest of the bull gang and the concessionaires are waiting to erect the stalls, sideshows, and rides.  Dominating all - and without which no carnival is complete - is the Ferris Wheel, also known to show people as the "simp hoister."   Then, too it is sometimes called the thermometer" because it can be seen from all over the fair ground, and if it is empty then there is no business to be expected anywhere.

 

Five hours after the unloading ramps are lowered the first customers are already drifting into the tent town which is the midway, trying their luck at the "flat Stores" (percentage games) or the "hanky panks" (merchandise stores where some kind of prize is given every time), listening to the talkers: for the girlies and midget shows, the Globe of Death or the circus, getting their thrills from rides on the Rock-o-Plane, Tilt-a-Whirl, Octopus or Moon Rocket.

 

Gradually the pace builds up throughout the day until the climax, known as "the blowoff," when the crowd come streaming out of the grandstand after the show and tops off the evening with a fling around the midway.

 

Many of the crew come back to work for World's Finest Shows year after year.  However, few know the others' full names.  Men are identified by their jobs.  Thus, Ferris Wheel  Joe, Tractor Louis, Roll Down Mike.


Globe of Death, in which Bob Lee and his wife ride on motorcycles, takes longest to set up.  He inspect every strut and bolt.

Righting a capsized trailer is all in a day's work for members of the "bull gang."  The show plays 27 towns and cities across Canada from Quebec to Red Deer, Alta.


 

Opening day parade is an integral part of any Canadians fair.  While carnival is set up on Weyburn grounds, some units such as animal acts take part in it.

Five hours after the first equipment started rolling off the train at 5 A.M., the show is set up and waiting for the first customers.


Display for the midget show is erected at the fair grounds.  Midget entertainers are popular with other show folk.


However, the "gagoonies" of today are pale shadows of the devil-may-care but often unlovable roustabouts of pre-war days.  Sullivan insists on civility to the public and good behavior at all times, emphasizing that the chief concentration of the show is now on children.  "As long as we give the kids plenty of rides, sure-fire prizes and nickel days, the parents will come too."

 

His Ten Commandments are famous in show business.  They include such unlikely admonitions as "Do not engage town girls in conversation or go out with them."  No cursing. swearing or hollering on lot, trucks or train."  Do not short change the public as they make it possible for us to make a living."   Do not take the law at any time in your own hands."

 

Despite the good intentions of show folk there are always some local bully boys who think it smart to provoke them.  Then as Sullivan's brother Mark says. "We're always ready if a beef does start.  We don't exactly have a bunch of professors with us."

 

A classic "beef" still remembered fondly by W. F. S veterans occurred several seasons ago at Esievan, Sask,  A drunken miner was refused a ride by the Octopus foreman in the interests of the man's own safety, whereupon he hauled off and punched the foreman on the nose.  He was surrounded by his pals, so the foreman, discreetly disappeared.

 

Later, when the crowd of miners had disappeared, he returned to the spot but left another man in charge of the Octopus while he remained hidden.  Eventually the miner drifted back and again demanded to get on the Octopus.  He was allowed to take his place and was firmly strapped in.  Then the foeman, this time well backed up by show folk, seized a two-by-four and awaited the trapped miner each time he whizzed around. 

 

Nowadays, in similar circumstances, the tendency, however grudging, would be to call the law.  Jimmy Sullivan's footnote to his Ten Commandments makes a point that is not lost on show people:  "If these rules are disagreeable to you, you can change them when you have your own show."


A young girl is fascinated by a tempting glimpse the public is given of the glamorous show that awaits inside.


It's midnight and the midway is closed. But Al Brown and his wife, who run bingo concessions, still have pleasant work to do - counting receipts.

Mildred Lee is "Talker" for Globe of Death ride with husband, Bob.

Girlie show's Nahita Jacobsen gives worker amusing makeup.

 


When show is "struck" concessions come down plank by plank and are carefully packed away in surprisingly small space for move to next town.

After show is down some of the boys still have energy enough to take part in a game of poker, expertly run by Harry Lieberman (Wearing light cap).


It's early morning in Moose Jaw.  Johnny Bunk (squatting), foreman of Kiddieland rides, and men play with his dog, to the delight of small boy.


**Hank Blade, assistant manager, signals truck hauling a show trailer to come straight ahead.

 

Photostory by David Willock and Louis Jaques WEEKEND Magazine 1956

 


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