"I Arrived with No Money in my Pocket"

by Cliff Calkins


I went to work for Peter G. Hennen Show Productions back in 1967. I left the business in about 1973 and have only been back on lots as a mark since.


I was hired as part of the first crew for the famous or infamous "Hells Bells The Palace of Illusions" that Pete had purchased and was opening that year (1967) in Grand Forks North Dakota on the William T. Collins Midway. I did magic and fire and was hired primarily to do the magic pitch on the main stage. When Pete bought the show he also purchased all these wonderful Magic Trick Packages and he needed someone to do the tricks and make the pitch, for 25 cents each as I recall.


I had no experience and didn't have a clue what I was letting myself in for. I had worked very hard to learn to eat fire and thought that was a very specialized talent, only to be told by Pete that he also ate fire and they generally taught new fire eaters the basics in about 30 minutes!


When I arrived in Grand Forks I discovered that the show tractor had blown up somewhere, don't remember where, and only Pete and other fellow by the name of Richard Able along with the blow off attraction (and only real freak on the show) Suzie the elephant Skin Girl were there. No top, no front no nothing but a 110 foot hole in Mr. Collins midway. William T was around everyday yelling at Pete to get something up NOW!


I think it was a day or two after I arrived that the trailer and the the rest of the crew arrived. It was then that I learned about draws. I had arrived with no money in my pocket, I thought I would have to work a least a week before I could get paid.


Fortunately I discovered that by walking the midway early in the morning I could pick up enough loose change to get a little to eat. But once the rest of the crew arrived and lined up to get their draws I wised up quickly and got in line. We could draw three dollars a day, really not bad money in 1967. Compared to the small change I was collecting around the rides three dollars was a fortune.


Once the crew arrived and the show was up and we opened my real education began. I read in your interview with Jeff Murray that Pete died back in the 1980's, I had totally lost track of him and was unaware of his passing. during the time I was with Pete he had a partner, Ted Connors, I have also lost all contact with Ted, he may well be dead too. 


It has been many years ago that I earned my living on the road.


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