A lot of our readers may have seen your shows but most don't
know much about your background in the business, lets start
by giving us a short introduction?
I was born in Springfield, Mo. in 1948, to normal parents,
as the talkers always said about the sideshow freaks. When I
was five years old I attended my first fair: the Ozark
Empire Fair held in Springfield. That same year
we moved to Green Bay, Wisconsin.
In 1960 my uncle, Tom Beimborn a USDA
meat inspector, bought a red & white 3100-pound Holstein
steer that had been brought from out West to be butchered.
He thought he just might make a pile of cash showing it at
county fairs in Wisconsin. No one in our family had ever
been in outdoor entertainment. Anyway, he bought an old army
mess tent and used white canvas for the sidewalls. The very
first fair we played was the Outagamie County Fair in
Seymour, Wisconsin. Tom was still hand lettering the front
when the fair started. My cousin Wayne and I were hired to
run the exhibit…”Bozo the Giant Steer”. It
was a dream come true for two twelve-year old boys.
We ended up playing the Wisconsin
State Fair. The fair painted a big walk-thru banner for
the front. It showed a giant steer turning over cars and
people screaming and running! The highlight of the fair for
Wayne and me was “Club Lido” the big girl show on Royal
American Shows. “Miss Blaze Fury the Human Heat Wave” was
the featured attraction…flaming tassels too!! We even got on
the rides free…”we’re with it”, we’d tell the ticket takers.
I worked my way through college running
one of my uncle’s Giant Steer Shows during the summer.
Received my degree in Creative Communication from UWGB in
1971. It wasn’t long after graduating that I bought the
first attraction that I owned outright…a live two-headed
calf, my cash cow you might say.
Where do you call home when you’re not on the road?
“Dr. West’s Traveling Sideshows and Animal Menagerie”
operates out of Nacogdoches, Texas. I relocated to Texas in
1981. Abby and I have a forty-five acre farm, Star Farm,
just outside of town.
What other shows have you owned?
RW: Um…Giant Horses, Miniature Horses, White-faced Buffalo,
Giant Lizards, Giant Alligator, 1200-pound Hogs, Big Foot
Creatures, Bucking Machines, Gargantuan Steers, Giant Rats…I
also ran a food trailer for several years – “Rick’s Coyote
Sometimes I had as many as six or seven
shows touring at the same time. The most I haul out of the
barn now is four.
live two-headed calf was your cash cow, how did this show
differ from the other shows you have had on the road and
RW: Well, it had
two-heads. That was different!
harder to book on the independent midway. I have always had
to play a balancing act with how strong I made my shows. If
you look like you belong on the carnival midway the fair
board would not book you. This type of exhibit traditionally
played on the carnival so I had to over come their
would never book as easy as say a Giant 3500-pound Steer in
a little red barn display.
How was your 2005 season, I've heard that some of the shows
did very well this year, others had a hard time. How was
Darn…it was a tuff season. I think I had more equipment
breakdowns this year than in the rest of my 45 years in the
business combined. I don’t even want to list all the vehicle
repairs I had to make. But I will say, I spent thousands of
dollars on repairs.
But I want you to know, we didn’t even
miss one spot. Hey, it’s show business…the show must go on!
Help…I went through an army of so-called
help this year. Again this is not something I usually have
to deal with. No one wants to work any more. Why should they
when the government will take care of them? Gatorman, who
has been with me 17 years, and my wife Abby helped hold the
whole thing together.
When I first started in this business, I
would get to a fair and a large number of locals would be
looking for work. You sure don’t see that anymore.
How did the economy and weather effect you?
$3 a gallon gas and diesel even higher! How can diesel fuel
be more than gas? We were also hit by bad weather. If it
wasn’t too hot to breathe, it was raining. One fair even had
to close early because of the tornadoes. The weather didn’t
do us in, but it didn’t help either. The fair-goers seemed
to be hanging on to their green-backs a little tighter this
Sure, we made money…it was just harder to
hang on to it.
What are the differences in touring a show today, than they
were 25 years ago, Why and how do you deal with them?
RW: When I started out, anything you were man enough to do, you
could do. Now you have to deal with the USDA, sales tax,
state tax, federal tax, permits, licenses, the DOT, electric
codes, million-dollar ins. coverage, astronomical lot rents,
and piles and piles of paper work.
There was a time when I could rent space
for $75 or $100, make a few thousand, put $20 in the gas
tank and head for the next spot. No one was keeping tabs on
you. Drive any truck and trailer you could get down the
road. You didn’t need any special license.
Now, everyone has their hand out…”where’s
my cut of your pie”.
It’s almost a sin to have cash in this
country. Try getting picked up with $10,000 in cash. You would be lucky if they let you keep
your own hard earned money. I’m not kidding.
And our patrons are getting smarter. They
have been there, seen that, and done that…just ask
them. You can’t just throw any old thing in a tent and make
money any more. It is a lot tougher to make a decent living
on the road today. How many rich showmen do you know?
The bottom line: You have to be able to
jump through their hoops.
I can do it…but they can’t make me like
Taking a show on the road is a lot of hard work, what are
some of the challenges you face with live animals and your
RW: There is always danger when dealing with animals. People do
not realize how easily a giant horse, cow or hog can hurt or
even kill you. You can never become complacent when dealing
Exotics can be even more difficult to
(My wife’s sister was accidentally killed
by one of their draft horses.)
On the other hand, our animals become
family. Their welfare comes first. If it’s hot, they get
fans. We make sure they have water. If it’s cold we bring
out the heat lamps. When we travel we need to schedule rest
stops. They need to be fed on time. They eat before we do.
We make our plans around the animals needs. It’s a
twenty-four hour, 365 days a year job. If you have a problem
caring for your cat or goldfish this isn’t the job for you.
When we are not touring, we are still taking care of our
Trailering animals is dangerous. You have
to know how to get them from point A to B safely. It’s very
easy to hurt an animal while hauling them.
Finally we have to be able to protect our
animals from the fair-goers and the people from the animals.
And it sure helps to have all your paper work in order when
the USDA or the Humane Society shows up with the local
whiner in tow.
You've shared a little about the risk you take handing freak
animals, what mishaps, have you had and how did it effect
your attitude toward the business?
I haven’t had
any animals get seriously hurt while exhibiting them.
haven’t had an animal hospitalize me…yet. I am getting a
little slower with age and that brings an added risk.
I did have
a giant 2600-pound horse go down in a trailer one time on
the way to the Kansas State Fair.
get up and was thrashing about. It was hot and I needed to
get him out of the trailer quick. Luckily, I found a rodeo
arena not far down the road. I pulled into the parking lot
and opened both back doors on the trailer. It took me a few
minutes before I could figure out how I was going to get him
I moved the
truck and trailer to where it was facing up a hill. I drove
two three-foot tent stakes in the ground behind the trailer.
Next I tied a rope from the stakes to the horse’s hind legs.
I jumped in the truck, popping the clutch in and out as I
drove the truck and trailer up a hill. The horse slid out
the back unhurt. In just a few minutes he was on his
feet and munching down grass!
I have had
many animals die over the years. It’s just a part of having
animals. But it still is hard to deal with…they’re not just
an attraction, they’re family.
said exotics are even more difficult to handle, what are
some of the thing you have experienced and why are they more
let’s talk about my 12-foot alligator for a minute. I cannot
afford to have even a small handling mistake. If I took chances,
sooner or later I would wind up in the hospital. The lizards I
owned had a septic bite. Knowing that, I handled them in a
manner that kept me from getting bit. There are different
degrees of danger handling different animals. You have to know
what those dangers are.
There are many groups trying to end the use of exotic
animals in circuses and traveling shows. Have you run into
any problems exhibiting your animals, what has happened and
how does it affect your shows?
I have not had to deal with any organized protest groups up
to this point. It is usually a single individual. When
someone complains about anything concerning an animal
exhibit, they send a vet out to check the animal and your
paper work. It does not matter if it is justified or not.
One time, one of my miniature horses,
Wizard, came up with an eye infection. We took him to a
veterinarian hospital to have him checked out. The attending
vet gave me some medicine to fight the infection. I was to
inject the little guy twice daily. Back at the fair, one
over-weight lady who was up viewing our pigmy prodigy saw me
give it a shot and scurried off to complain that, “I was
drugging the poor pony”. The Humane Society called the fair
board, who called a local vet, someone called the newspaper,
and before I knew it, the whole crew along with the sheriff
are shutting down my Miniature Horse Show and looking to
arrest the owner. When I finally arrived at the show, the
whole thing was taken care of in a matter of minutes. But
you can see how things can get way out of hand rather quickly.
I do see the bans and rules becoming a
bigger problem every year. There are state, city, and
federal regulations and bans on the books and they are
proposing more every day. They make it the exhibitors’ job
to know all the laws.
Some states are trying to outlaw the exhibition of exotic
animals, what do you think about these groups and what do
you think will be in the future for showmen who want to use
animals in their shows?
I see it becoming harder and harder to exhibit animals. The
government caters to the minority. They are the most vocal
group and have been able to force their views down the
majorities’ throat. I believe the time will come in this
country when it will be against the law to exhibit any animals.
If that doesn’t happen, the paper work and exorbitant fees
for licensing will probably drive everyone into another line
know there are several shows out that feature animals that have
two heads, multiple legs etc. is there higher risks in
exhibiting these animals and do the showmen that exhibit them
have more protest from animal rights folks?
Freak animals can have health problem
but many do not. I knew a guy that had a very dwarf pony
that was over 30 yrs. old. Freak animals do draw more heat
from the whiners. I had a mini horse that I exhibited that
had crippled feet. Some paying-gawkers thought he would be
better off dead. His feet didn’t hurt him. They just didn’t
But, I can
even get a beef on a content, cud-chewing giant cow. There
are getting more people out there who think it is a sin to
even own an animal.
exhibiting what folks refer to as FREAK animals, is there
any special problems that you face, what are they and how do
they effect what you can do and where you can exhibit them?
Number one, make sure your animals are
well cared for. They need clean bedding and fresh water at
all times. If they have a medical problem deal with it
before someone complains. Before you book a spot, check to
see if they allow the animal or animals you are showing.
Example: no freak animal can be exhibited in the state of
bring an alligator in Oklahoma you need a permit. By the
way, you need the permits before you get in the state.
I try to
eliminate as many problems as I can before hand.
Kolozsy’s Giant Rat, Willy, lives in an air-conditioned and
heated dumpster with a built-in swimming pool. His rat lives
better than most carnies.
Your shows have both domestic and
exotics animals, has there been a difference in how your
audiences react to these exhibitions?
RW: A great animal exhibit works, it doesn’t make a bit of
difference if it is an exotic or domestic animal. Today it
helps to have something on the inside, but the front is
still what gets them in. If you give them a good show on the
inside, maybe you can play the spot again next year. If you burn’em you’ll have to play a new route every year.
What's the strangest/stupidest thing a mark has done and
what did you do?
One time while playing the
Dane Co. Fair, I had a girl reach around the “Do Not Feed or
Touch” sign and through the bars, letting my Giant Horse
lick food off her hand.
it, he bite her. She screamed as she jerked her hand out of
his mouth pealing back the skin on her fingers.
scream, I ran inside to see what had happened.
Thankfully, all she kept
saying over and over was, “I knew I wasn’t suppose to be
I wrote her
a nice letter saying I would be more than happy to pay for
any medical expenses. She wrote back that it was her fault
and she hoped “Big Jim” was not traumatized from the
talked to many show folks that have shared stories about
people crawling under the side wall, stealing exhibits etc.
over the years have you ever had problems and how did you
Back when I was twelve-years-old and we showed the Giant
Steer in a tent, free-loaders would pull the sidewall down
to get a free peek at “Bozo”.
Wayne and I filled a two-gallon fly sprayer with water and
would spray the
gawkers in the face when they looked in. It sure was fun!
But we soon tired of the
game. Next we piled hay bales in the back corner of the tent
where the curious were sneaking a peek. I climbed up on the
hay bales and Wayne handed me the pail he had fill with cold
water. I waited for the next mooch to look in. I didn’t have
to wait long… I dumped the whole bucket on him as he tried
to get a free look. Boy, did we score on this one!
the skin, the whiner headed around front to find the owner,
my Uncle Tom. We were in trouble now!
After apologizing and
giving the guy a dry shirt, Tom headed back to have a little
talk with Wayne and me. Uncle Tom told us he didn’t want
anyone going to the office with a beef and, “No more water,
“Darn, you can’t even throw a little water on a free-loader
stealing a look.”
about the worst problem I have are marks trying to get the
Big Hog up. He loves his naps. “The signs say, “Do Not
Touch”. I mean it…this ain’t no petting zoo. The price of
admission only buys a look.”
What was your
RW: The strangest
for me was the Big Foot Creature Exhibit. It was the only
exhibit I didn’t frame, although I did make many changes to
the show after I bought it from Tyrone Malone. I felt I
could have framed an exhibit I liked better starting from
scratch. The show went over great some places and died in
others, where as my other shows seem to do OK almost
everywhere. It was also my first time working with a gaff.
It took a little different approach.
Big Foot Creature Exhibit, that sounds very interesting,
when did you have the show out, does someone have the show
out today and what was it?
It was in the
70’s that I first started showing the Creature. I believe
the last year I had it out was 84. I never saw the show
after I sold to Rick Owens. I do know it went to California.
Johnny Chambers, who did
the make-up for “Planet of the Apes” built the creature. And
Jerry ‘Tyron’ Malone designed the show. Jerry was known for
his frozen whale exhibit and later his custom racing semi
tractors. The creature was shown in a big case with a glass
top. I used a chemical on the underside of the glass that
made it look frosted. Looked like the creature was frozen.
I also had another creature that a friend and I built out of
latex. That’s another story.
But the best creature ever
shown was Frank Hansen’s. He brought his exhibit out in
1967. I met him at his first fair. His creature was encased
in ice and shown in a custom-built freezer. It is quite a
story; people thought the creature was real. Many people
still believe it was real. I had the chance to go up and
visit Frank shortly before his death. I even had the
opportunity to purchase the creature and the exhibit…
”Preserved Forever in a
Coffin of Ice!”
You know, I should have
What was it that first
interested you about show business?
RW: Everything about
it was fun and exciting when I was a kid. I loved watching
the ballys and the pitchmen. I wanted to own the animals in
the sideshows. I was amazed people would pay to see a
coatimundi that was billed as a “What is it?” This was fun
and you could make money at it too. My cousin and I would
watch the pitchmen work until we knew their entire routines…”One
stingy old lady, bless her heart, sliced a tomato so thin it
last her family the entire winter”… My mom still
owns the slice-a-matic that I used to do my slicer pitch…for
family and friends only of coarse!
Later on, I appreciated the independence
the business gave me. I got to see the country and make some
money. The money can be an elusive dream…always looking for
the next big score. Many showmen have sunk everything they
have made back into their shows. My Uncle Tom, warned me not
to stick all the money I made back into more show equipment.
It was good advice and still is.
I understand how
independence is a great asset to any job, but with
independence comes higher risk, what are some of the things
that may have given you second thought about working in show
The main thing
that I have always hated about this business is how people
treat you. You can be booking a spot for years and the next
thing you know they don’t have space for you. It even
happens to the carnivals. The carnival may have played a
spot for 30 years but the fair thinks it’s time for a
and get a loan when you’re starting out…better not tell them
what you really do. Jim Zajicek booked a state fair this year and
drove 1500 miles to get there. Guess what, the fair didn’t
allow sideshows. Too bad…they don’t care what it cost you to
get there and lay off two weeks!
can get to a fair and wait all day, maybe two days before
they spot you. What other business is run like this?
have no retirement unless you set it up. There’s no health
insurance unless you are paying for it.
The repairs and upkeep on
your equipment comes out of your profits along with the feed
and vet care for your animals.
You gotta love it…when it
quits being profitable I hope I have enough sense to quit
beating a dead horse.
stated some of the things you don't like about the business,
along with the independence what do you like best about
being in the business?
Freedom, freedom to go
anywhere you want, stay as long as you like. If you want to
take some time off, you take it. You take an idea, and frame
a show around it. If you’re any good at designing and
booking it you get a cash reward every time you set it up.
Then you fine-tune it. It feels pretty good when you pull it
business! Every other thing I have done has started with
savings from my shows.
exciting to pull in to a new spot. This might be the big one
this season! I feel it…we are going to score on this one!
it quits being profitable you hope that you have the sense
to quit beating a dead horse.
know some showmen that would just have the horse stuff and
keep on exhibiting it. What do you think drives a person to
want to stay in the business?
When Barnum’s elephant,
Jumbo was killed in a train mishap, he made two displays. He
had the hide stuffed and the skeleton mounted finding the
silver-lining in a tragedy. Barnum really knew how to put
that dead horse principle to work.
Why you ask
do we stay in the business? It’s a darn drug. Some people
are addicted to gambling, some to booze. I guess we are
addicted to the business. Seriously, I think it does get in
your blood. It would be hard to work a 9 to 5 factory job
after a few years on the road.
shared a little caution about someone new entering the
business, what advice do you have for anyone wanting to get
into the business?
Read everything you can
about the business and talk to the showmen who are out on
the front lines. Only believe half of what you hear. The
trick is knowing what half to believe! You may want to spend
a summer working for someone to get some first hand
you feel there is still room for the up and coming in the
Gosh, I’m sorry. There’s no
not too many people jumping into the backend business.
Carnivals take a big cut of the pie when you book with them.
And it is difficult to book independent space.
self-starter with a clean operation and a little luck can
still hope to line up the curious fun-seekers.
Would it be
helpful to have family in the business?
Having family in the
business can be a real plus. They already know the ins and
outs. They can also give you a helping hand when things fall
I may never
have gotten into the business if it were not for my uncle.
He gave me a start and pointed me in the correct direction.
have visited about the how and whys you entered the
business, what support did you
have from your family?
As you have already guessed, my uncle had a big influence
on my life. He gave me a start in the business and showed me
how to operate a show by example. I ran one of his Giant
Steer Shows to raise money for college. I can safely say, he
taught me most of the honest stuff I know about this
My mom took out one of my Giant Horse
Shows for several years. And my cousin Wayne, who has his
own grind shows, has helped me out numerous times.
understand your mother joined you on the road this season,
when it get in the blood it's always in the blood. Do you
have children in the business and what advice do you give
when they want to run away and join the circus?
do not have any children. My animals are my family.
If I did have children, I would tell them there are easier
ways to make a living. But, if they just have to put out
their own shows, at least get an education so they would
have other options to fall back on.
have been told by many folks that you should have a skill to
fall back on if things change, but their day jobs are the
ones they have worked to get their formal education for. I
think most people would wonder why one would say get your
education and if it doesn't work out on the midway you will
have something to fall back on. Do you have some thoughts
you will share why someone would find being a carny
preferable to what most folk do for their day jobs?
If you have a day job, you already have another
This is a tuff business. A smart show-guy keeps all
his options open. This applies in the business as
well as your life. Another skill or source of income
gives you more options. More choices makes for a
know this may be hard to believe, but some people
actually retire from the road. It’s nice to have
another source of income so you don’t have to depend
Here’s a little story that I believe I got from
one of the grunts in the
elephant dept. was always complaining about the
mountain of elephant crap he had to shovel up every
day. One day, a townie asked him, “Why don’t you
quit if you hate it so much?” The surprised elephant
hand said, ”What, and quit show business!”
Do you have plans to retire and at this point in you career
how do you feel about retiring from the business?
I always thought I would be out there to the very end. But
it gets harder as you get older. This was the first year
that I started feeling my age. It takes me longer to set up.
I can’t make those over-nighters and I even need a nap now
and then…ha, ha, ha.
I have cut
back on the amount of time that I spend on the road. I use
to be out 8-10 months but I have cut back to 3 months the
last few years.
off-season I help my wife with her carriage business and
work on our land, rentals, and timber investments.
As long as
I have my health, I believe I will be out there doing at
least a few shows a year.
sounds like you've had a pretty well rounded career, what do
you feel you have given back to the business and how have
you influenced other showmen/women and performers who know
you or have seen your shows?
That is a tough question
John. There are many things that showmen learn from their
years on the road. It may be a good booking, or a way to
handle a particular problem, or how to square a beef, or
maybe how to frame a show. I have had many people help me
along the way and I hope I have been as helpful to the show
guys I know.
equipment always looks fresh and clean. I never burn the
spots I play. My shows, or other showmen’s shows would still
be welcome at a spot after I play it.
"There are many things that showmen learn from their years
on the road." What is the greatest lesson you've learned
during your career?
Treat people the way you
wish to be treated.
and be happy”…P.T. Barnum
Where do you think the business is going and Why?
I believe the business, as
I have known it is dying. It’s been dying a slow death for a
long time. Not that there won’t be a few shows out there
working, but unlike some people, I don’t see sideshows
making a big comeback…this is one time I pray to God I’m
Do you have any regrets?
there any words of wisdom you would like to share with our
Never give up! Never give
there anyone you would like to thank?
I would like to thank my
uncle, Tom Beimborn for all he has taught me, my wife Abby
for putting up with me, my mom for believing in me, and my
friends for all their help. I would also like to thank
the showmen who went before me for blazing the trail. And
finally, I would like to thank you, John for giving us
Interview by John Robinson Sideshow World
Title Image Photograph,
Santa’s Helpers…Rick and Abby with a load of Christmas
Five-year-old showman. Ready for the fair…1953
hamburgers on the Hoof…Big Bill the Giant Steer!”
amazing “Smallest Horse Show”…This
display is nearly
twenty-years-old…Photograph was taken in 2005
“Big Jim the
Giant Horse…1 ½ Tons of Brute Strength!”
the dinosaur age”…photo from 1972.
1200-pounds of bacon bits on the hoof!”
photograph of Rick and Bozo at their very first fair…1960.
8-hundred pound Big Foot Creature!”
Café shortly after completion…1994.
An example of
the newspaper ads that were used to advertise the shows when
playing still dates.
and Clyde the Infamous
Texas Giant Rats”…talk about a rat infestation!
ALIVE! ALIVE! ALIVE!
”Not your usual
Dog and Pony Show!”
Abby and our pigmy prodigy…“Thumblina the Miniature Marvel”
Each month we will try and
interview a new performer for the site. Because of the logistics
of it face to face interviews are tough to come by. A good
percentage of the interviews we will be doing will be via e-mail
or telephone. If you are interested in being interviewed for the
drop us a line.