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Bill “Box” Napper

Ottawa, Monday, 22 August 2005

Am I a real carnie? I don’t know about that.

I joined the show in ’76. I was just out of third-year university, Queens, and I had a couple of jobs. One of the guys I lived with in Burlington, his father was a city electrician in Lindsay. He used to come to the fair, and hook up the transformer for the show. His son told me that Conklin had just got the contract for the west. And I said, “What’s Conklin?” And he said, “Well, it’s the carnival, it’s the midway and all that stuff.” I didn’t know anything. His father knew the show pretty well.

He told me to call Brantford, and talk to Ray Coffing and see if I could get a job in the west. So I called, and he said, “Come on over.” I was there for two minutes, and they told me to be back on this day, and that was the day the bus left Brantford for the west. There was one bus, and there was about 50 guys on the bus. They were all young kids. I was 22, 23, and they were younger than that; kids that had worked the CNE, some kids from Brantford. It became known as the gazoonie bus; 24 hours nonstop to Winnipeg.

We got off in Winnipeg and were told to report to the lot next morning. They lined us all up, the foreman of the day came along and picked this guy, this guy, this guy, and there was four of us left over at the very end. And I was one of them. They didn’t want me on the team. I ended up in kiddieland. They said go to this ride and start unloading and setting it up with these guys. Halfway through, I figured out it was a kiddie bumper car. I didn’t know anything, I didn’t even know what a carnival was. I had gone to the fair in Campbellford, where I grew up, but it never struck me as anything exciting. Not something that I had planned to make a career out of.

So, I worked kiddie bumper cars through the west. It was quite interesting, I think we got 150 a week. Because I had money with me when I started, I didn’t cash my cheques. We drank a lot of beer at night, that’s what we did. That carried on through the west; took the bus back to the CNE. A lot of us slept in the luggage racks, so when the bus came to a stop sign, everybody’s sliding down. We got to Toronto, and we didn’t have anywhere to stay, so two or three of us checked into the YMCA. The next day we had to report to the CNE grounds. I guess I must have made an impression, because they moved me into maintenance in kiddieland. That’s where I started working for Stan Airdrie.

My intention was to go back to university, but my mark was just not quite high enough to get to do my honours. I went back to Campbellford. My intention was to go to Kingston, but I couldn’t get in. So I decided to start collecting unemployment in Campbellford. My father told me, “You paid into it, might as well take out.” But I couldn’t stay at home any more, so I moved back to Kingston. I was living with some guys, and we used to go to the Royal Tavern.

One day we were in there, and I was reading the Globe and Mail, looking for work. I saw an ad for Conklin Shows. I think it was for an executive secretary at the midway office at the CNE. I said to my buddy, who I was with, “This must be a real company, they’re advertising in the Globe and Mail.” So I said, maybe I should write them a letter to see if I can get a job in the office on the business side of it. So I sent off a letter and it got forwarded to Drummey and Dave Bastido. And they called me up in the spring and said come on in for an interview. I went in and saw them, and they gave me a job on the eastern roadshow, starting in Hamilton, first of May, in the office. I found out later from Bastido, years on, “We figured we had to hire you, because you were the only one to send in a typewritten letter.” If you’re going to be the executive secretary, you better be able to type a letter.

So that’s when I started on the east. Just working with the ticket sellers, office work, and stuff like that. My degree was in geography, so that’s what I told them, I needed to get a job and get some business experience. Drummey told me, “Yeah, this is a great place to get it.” So, that’s how I got started. I worked that summer of ’77 and I met a lot of guys that year. That’s when I first met Barry. I just worked the road, and then went home. A buddy of mine was Conko the clown at the time, we drove out to Vancouver and went on a bit of a North American trip. By the time I got home, there was a letter for me, from Conklin, saying that they wanted to offer me a full-time job, starting in a year, in ‘78. I was going to look after the business end in Brantford of the antique carnival. That’s how I got started officially full-time. The antique carnival was pretty well all done by the time I started. I went with the show to Calgary, and then back to Toronto. I ran the office basically. The carnival office is the same as any other office, money coming in and money going out. Try to explain what happened.

That was ’78, I guess. That’s the year we went to Puerto Rico and I went with them the first year, and I think that was the fall of 78. From 79 to the start of World’s Finest, I ran the office and learned how to lay out the lot. Pat Marco was my mentor, so I followed Pat around, and picked up on what he did; did the office, did the lot, on what they called the Trillium Unit. Then they moved me over to the Bernard Unit, to become the manager for them ’88–’89, until World’s Finest started.

I was involved a little bit in the startup of World’s Finest. We did our analysis to see whether it would work and the main office, Chappel and those guys, did their analysis. As Conklin said, “You guys agree, so that must mean, it’s going to work.” At that point in time, I became the main financial guy for World’s Finest and I didn’t go on the road anymore. That’s the same position I’m in now, except I just worked part-time. I’m not full-time. The rest of the time I look for Speed Garrett I guess. That was quite a trip, good time. But I come out to Ottawa, and I go out for a day or two to other shows.

Pat Marco was quite a character, he was funny. He was always pulling tricks. He had one-liners like crazy. I remember we’ll, we were walking down the midway one-day in North Bay, and a kid comes up to him and says “Hey Grandpa,” and asked him a question. Marco looks at the kid and he says, “I don’t remember fucking your Grandmother.” It was like a seven or eight-year-old kid.

I have a lot of memories of him, it’s hard to recall them all. He always liked the 6 ounce bottles of Coke. He always want to go to his trailer for a cold Canadian. So we would go in there, and he’d always be talking. He do bring his old money bags out. And he’d start talking about all the money that went through these bags and wished he still had it. Especially from one of the crown and anchor wheels he used to look after at the Western Fair. He was in the antique carnival, as well.

Pat liked to gamble all the time. We’d be playing a small fair like Dresden, with a horse track, and he’d say, “Let’s go over to the track.” So we’d go over there, and he’d say, “Here’s 50 bucks, go back on these horses. I don’t want to go up to the till.” I says, “OK.” So he gives you 50 bucks, and you go up and place his bets, and you look out of the side of your eye, and he’s down further, placing more money on them. I don’t think he hardly ever won though.

Plus, he used to play cards all the time. All the guys that worked for him, they all played cards with him. Gin Rummy, I think. Simpson worked for him, and Newfie, and Hunky Joe, and those guys. Simpson, he was good for me. After Marco had gone to the other show, I was still on the Trillium Unit. After the west, Simpson came out there with the wheels, him and a couple of other guys. He’d always help me lay out the lot and Joe was very smart that way. Pat was on the east, and then he used to go to the west, and then come back. I was on the east and he went to look after Bernard. I stayed on the main show, Barry and I were out here. Basically, we ran the show. I used to lay out the lot myself. Very would look at it once in awhile and say he wanted things changed or whatever. And I’d say, “Okay, I’ll do that.”

Pat died on the road, in the fall,’85 ’86, somewhere in there. So he died, and a couple of other guys look after that show, and eventually I went over there. That’s when they brought some new guys around this show, the Trillium Unit. Eventually it all became World’s Finest. Pat he was a character, Simpson, they were all nuts. A couple of nights, Simpson got all drunked up, and I’d have to drag him out of the wheel, especially Lindsay. He used to get everybody wranged up in Lindsay. He’d have a trailer, and then he’d go out there and wrang his help up. I’d have to go out and drag him away, shove him off in a corner.

I remember, we left Kitchener one year, and Brick Brewery has just opened. Hunky Joe went down to buy some beer, and it came in plastic cases, the bottles set in, just like a milk crate. Hunky Joe liked the case is so much, that he went and bought a ton of this beer, just to get the cases. So then we all end up in Renfrew, now it was a Brick beer party, because Hunky Joe wanted the cases. Simpson says, “I need a ride to Belleville, and I’ll stay where you’re staying.” So he hopped in with me, and we drove down to Belleville. We sat up all night drinking beer, because he wanted to tell me stories about growing up on a farm in the west. So he wanted to tell me these stories, and we sat around and drank beer all night long.

Eight o’clock in the morning we went down to the fairgrounds and started laying out the lot. We got all the rides spotted, and I says, “Do you want to help me lay out the concessions?” He said, “Sure, I’ll give you a hand.” We started at one end, and Belleville’s a big long straight line, and I have it already mapped out, so we just had to put the marks down. What I didn’t know, was that he was shorting up the tape, just to screw me around. So we got to the end, and Ray Lafleur was supposed to have 56 feet for his food joint, and he only had 30. And I couldn’t go back and change everything. So I says, “Ray, I gotta do something here.” And he said, “Well, we’ll work with it.” Simpson’s sitting over there just laughing his head off.

One time with Marco, we went from Kitchener to Renfrew, and I drove with him in his big old green Chrysler Imperial. We got to Renfrew, no sleep, and we started laying out the lot. He put all the rides down, and then he started with the concessions, and he says, “Well, I think we’re done.” And I said, “Well, that’s good Pat.” And he says, “I think we’re done.” He starts walking around, and then he comes over to me and he says, “I screwed up.” I said, “What happened?” He says, “I forgot to put my own joints in.” So we had to do the whole thing all over again. We were in Renfrew, so it was okay.

Pat, he had one-liners all the time. Can never remember them all. He was always smiling. He was a good guy, a good guy to learn from. I still have his tape, actually, yeah, he left me his 50 foot tape. I don’t know how old it is, but it’s a cloth one. The antique carnival video was done by Rogers Video at the CNE. There’s an interview with Pat on there, and he starts talking about Model Shows, and Wallace Brothers, then Sullivan, then Conklin. That’s where he worked. He ran a general store in Norwich. I don’t know if that’s where he got tied in with the carnival. I’m not sure if that’s where he’s from or not.

Sullivan, Conklin, the whole thing seems a little... playing the same fairs with the same show. Like Simpson used to tell me, it was the same thing, same carnival company, same show, they just changed the signs, from town to town. Conklin had the contracts, Sullivan had the equipment. They got a big cut, that’s the way to do business.

I don’t know if Simpson was with Sullivan. Newfie wasn’t very much on the east, when I was out. I used to see these guys during the wintertime, I used to go down to Toronto, and they all stayed at the Executive Motor Hotel. We would down there and go over to the Wheat Sheaf, and have a few beers with them. That was on and off, because at that time, I was living in Brantford.

Hunky Joe was famous in Renfrew, that centre wheel. All those kids in Renfrew, they used to call them Hunky Joe’s kids. They came every year to play the wheel. One year, he tells me, he says, “Now, I got grandkids coming to me and they all call me the fat man.” Go down to the fair and play the fat man’s wheel. So we always had to put him in the same location, so they could find him.

There were a few moments, being a lot manager, it was a little dicey at times, because I was new. I wasn’t really a carnival type guy, I was sort of like an outsider. A lot of those people out there, you know, their family was involved. It was all family related, and I was sort of like a new kid on the block, college kid. The first year, when I laid out the lot by myself on the east, it was a little dicey and I changed a lot of stuff up. I got pressure from people all the time to change their location. I just said, “Well, I’ll try to get back to you next week.”

So eventually, in year two, I had one year under my belt and I knew what I was doing. I knew how it was all done and where was the best place for things to go. I always thought I was quite fair to people. As long as they all got an equal shot. Not that it really makes much difference on a small fairgrounds, you know, when you think about it. Eventually, everybody’s going to find you. But I guess there’s some sort of mystique about it.

Those guys were from another era, and I was in the middle, and now it’s completely changed again. When I was out there, it seemed like there was more fun. You went out and worked hard. Dottie Marco used to tell me, “We work hard, and we play hard.” They used to go out and do more in the community too, I think. Nowadays, I don’t think many people leave the grounds, they just stay in their house trailers. When we were there, we used to go out. If you got a Tuesday night off, you’d go to a certain restaurant or a certain bar. Even after closing, we were famous for weighing tickets really fast, because we wanted to get last call. But nowadays, they would never do that. Our idea was just to get off the lot, to get away from it. That’s one major difference I see now, real big difference. They pick their friends, and they stay amongst themselves, they go to this trailer, or they go to that trailer.

One of my first confrontations with the ride guys was when we left Hamilton, the first year, to go to Brockville. So it was a Tuesday night, and everybody went to this bar. So we’re in the bar, I’m with people from the office that I worked with, the ride guys are over there, the concession guys are over here; nobody mixed. We were in the middle, and some of the ticket sellers were sitting around us. One of the ride fellas, his name was, he had several names, Chris King, or Stedman Birdsong, or Chris Stedman. He came up to me, and he said, “Bill, the ticket sellers are the property of the ride guys.” I said, “No problem.” That was my first lesson; he was deadly serious. It was like rides and concessions; they never seemed to mix. I suppose they still don’t.

The first time I met Jim Conklin was in Hamilton. I was in the office by myself and two or three days into the job, and they left me in there. So I’m sitting around, wondering what’s going to happen in here. Some guy comes up to the door, and I look through the peephole. I was told, if you don’t know who it is, don’t let them in. This guy comes up to the door, and I’m looking at him, “Never seen you before, can’t come in.” So he walks away, and he comes back with Pat. Pat knocks on the door, and I said, “Oh, it’s Pat.” Pat says, “Bill,” and I says, “Yes?” And he says, “This is Jim Conklin, he’s the owner.” I say, “Oh, hello Mr. Conklin.” And Pat looked at me, “You did the right thing, you didn’t know who he was.” Jim just wanted to use the phone. He just sort of smiled and laughed.

There was a lot of people when I started. Steve Andrews was out there with concessions. Now he’s in a casino in Niagara. He was doing the casino rental business for Conklin. And then one year he came back with concessions on the east, and I don’t think it went over so well. So he just packed it in after that. As soon as the casinos opened up, I think that’s when he started with them. I don’t know what really happened with him, I don’t know whether he had a good year, and he just didn’t want to do it anymore. He got right out of it.

I met Gravelle that year cause he was on the east. Now he has his own concessions in the west and the south, the new company. Jeff Kell, he passed away about 10 years ago. He died young, I’m not sure of what. He’d be my age, early 50s, I think he died in his late 30s. I just heard about it secondhand.

There’s some sad that stuff with the show. I remember once I was in Kingston... I always remember this. Mom and Dad called looking for their daughter. I said, “Well, I think she’s here.” They said, “We’d just like to see her to make sure she’s doing the right thing.” Apparently, she was running away from home, and she was 17. And they said, “It’s fine if she goes, we just want to see her, but she won’t come to us. Can you may be set up so that we can see her.” I said, “Sure.” So I set it up so that when they arrived on the lot they just so happened to walk by her. There was a big kerfuffle and a lot of crying and emotions and things like that. But then, there was no reconciliation. So the parents left, and they really thanked me, and they said, “We really appreciate what you’ve done, but, obviously, she’s going to go with the show.” I said, “Well, that’s fine, she’ll be all right here.” She lasted a couple of weeks.

That winter, we were in a bar in Brantford, with a bunch of guys from the show, a strip club actually. I looked up on stage, and there she was. And I just said, “Oh my god.” Actually, I went up to her, and said, “Do you remember me?” She says, “You look familiar.” I said, “I tried to set you up with your parents last summer in Kingston.” She said, “Yeah, I remember.” And I said, “What happened?” She said, “I just kept going and I couldn’t go home.” I said, “I hope everything turns out all right for you.” It just seemed so sad at the time, the parents couldn’t get together with their child. So I don’t know what ever happened with her. That was one of the saddest things I saw with the show.

Too many funny stories, I’m going to have to remember them all. It’s easier if I start writing things down. Scooter’s been doing it. He e-mailed me in the winter and said he’s up to, I don’t know how many pages. He said, “You’ve got to start doing it.” Conklin asked us to do this. I wondered, what’s he up to. Scooter started doing it. And he says it’s amazing once you start writing things down how much comes back to you. He sent me some of the stuff he remembered, and I remembered this story, it’s his story, but it’s a classic about wintertime in Brantford.

Some of the new guys showed up. Bill Mason, came from Deggeller Shows, and he was going to be the new general manager of the eastern roadshow. So we’re in the shop in the wintertime, Scooter and I were there. We’re working in the office and Bill’s hanging around all day. So I said, “Bill, what are you doing?” He said, “Oh, nothing.” I said, “We’re going to the bar after work, do you want to come down with us?” “Sure, that would be a good idea.” We went down to the local bar in Brantford, where we always hung out, and started drinking draft beer. Ross Currie showed up, and some other people. We just started drinking trays of draft. Ross started putting a toothpick in his suit jacket pocket for every draft he had. At the end of the night, it was just a wild scene.

So now Bill needs a ride back to his hotel, so Scoot and I take him back there. We’d been drinking beer all night; this was in the ’70s. He had a sliding door to his room. We knocked on the door, and his wife came to the door, “Here’s your husband.” He fell into the room, say hi to Debbie. So the next morning Scoot and I are right at work at nine o’clock bright and chirpy. Bill comes in, dragging his ass, at about two o’clock in the afternoon. About 4:30 that afternoon, Scoot and I go to him and say, “Bill, we’re going to the bar again, do you want to come?” He says, “You guys stay away from me, I’ve had enough.”

Scooter’s got all that written down, that’s stuff he’s remembered, that started jogging my memory. So I got to sit down and write it down. There’s a lot of stories like that, that are funny.

For the antique carnival in Calgary, Marco was priceless there. We had a lot of spare time in Calgary, because we were only open on weekends, until the Stampede. We all stayed in a motel and partied all night long. Pat was right in there with us. Drinking wine, beer, and he’d alway smoke his cigarettes as though he were smoking a joint. He’d hold his cigarette and put it towards your skin, as if he was going to burn you, but then he would just pinch your skin, really hard, because he had really thick fingernails. You almost thought he had burned you, but he just laughed and walked away. He was a character.

Johnny Homeniuk came with Conklin when they bought Bernard, for a couple of years. I was with him for one year, when I went over to that show. He was a great guy. He told me, “Whatever you learned from Marco about laying a lot is just a bunch of crap. Don’t use a tape, just pace it off with your feet.” So I learned to do that with him. With smaller fairs it was easy to do. I still use a tape with bigger fairs. But John was a good guy. We had a break-in one year. Him and Hank Blade were partners, actually, when they bought Bernard Shows. John’s still alive, but he just retired this summer. Randy’s still out with the show that John had. Him and Blade both had identical Lincolns, big Lincoln town cars, same color and everything.

So we’re in Brigden and we have a lot of spare time, because we don’t open until Friday. So we used to go in to Sarnia and go for dinner, then go to a bar. We each shared a room, the first year in Sarnia. There was John Homeniuk, Buffalo Bob, Bob Morris, he worked for Gravelle. He ended up running the concessions on the east after Greg went west, after Jeff and all those guys. Anyways, we went to this bar, and I had my pickup truck and John had his town car. So were coming back from the bar on Confederation Street, a four-lane street. Driving along, John’s driving his Lincoln, he’s got Buffalo Bob in the front seat, and I’ve got my pickup truck with some other people in there. John pulls up beside me. He must’ve got Buffalo all geared up about me, he rolls down Bob’s window. Bob’s got his neck out the window, screaming at me like this, going “I’ll get you!” And Homeniuk hits the electric window; it comes up. Buffalo’s going down the street like this, stuck, and Homeniuk is just laughing. That’s one of the funniest things Homeniuk ever did. He got him just cold, bang.

John was a good guy to work with; he was a little wrangy, big-time. He got along with us, but he was really hard on the ride guys. Probably then it was necessary, but these days, I don’t think you would get away with it, the laws the way they are, everything is changed. He’d take a poke at them if he had to. I remember Marco used to do that. There was one guy, we were setting up in Ancaster, we pulled the trailers in, Pat and I spotted all the trailers. We left his lumber van, just left it. Pat said, “Well, lock her up.” He didn’t realize we had locked somebody inside it. We got up the next morning, opened the door, this guy comes out screaming, his name was Gwindin’ Bwian. He was always gwinding—grinding—but he said gwinding. He comes out of the trailer and Marco sees him. He gets mad at him, and he chases him off the fairgrounds with an awning rod. Right up the front of the fairgrounds, “What are you doing sleeping in my trailer overnight?” Meanwhile, Pat had locked him in there without realizing it. Chased him right off the grounds, he came back a couple of days later. Got his job back. Pat could move when he had to.

There were other characters, the Metcalfes, Clyde and Clayton, Ray LaFleur, Johnny the Greek. That’s when I first met Johnny the Greek, in the cookhouse, he was funny.

I never thought I would be 30 years in this business, but this is my 30th year. I just thought it would be a lark for a summer job. There were a few times when I thought, “What am I doing?” It’s worked out. I think this show’s got a pretty good future. I’m not sure what’s going to happen with the other situation. Binzer called me from Edmonton, and says, “They’ve got a really nice looking eastern road show out here.” He said if you took our show and added a Mark One coaster and a Flume and a Giant Wheel, that’s what you got. The Mark One and the Flume that were here last year, that’s the ones that are in the west and the CNE. All that big stuff is sitting in Florida. The Wildcat, that nice coaster, sitting in Florida, the Drop, and the Double Loop, it played Miami, now I don’t know whether it’s going to play Columbia, I don’t know that. Too expensive to bring them out. So I don’t know what’s going to happen out there. I talked to Scooter a few times.

I’ve heard there is talk about the CNE going independent. Everybody says the CNE is going down, but it’s still one of the biggest ride grossing spots they ever had. Concessions too. Everybody says they don’t want to be there, but by the time they add up the money, it’s still pretty good, from what I gather. Even the fairs in Ontario, the fairs that were so good, like Kitchener, it’s history. Peterborough exhibition, it’s just ... Kingston, since they moved it back to the fall, has gone down. All those major size city fairs, especially the ones in the summer, have just gone for nothing. Lindsey’s still good, Renfrew’s excellent, Markham is huge, Simcoe’s huge. Even Sutton has got to be a really good fair. Some of the smaller fairs have gotten to be really good.

I never met Sullivan, but I’ve got a story about him. Kenny Galuska, Stan Galuska, used to work for Patty, his son, Kenny the Whale, used to work for Gravelle for ever. I was talking to him in the spring, and asked him, “Kenny, did you ever know this Jimmy Sullivan guy?” He says, “Oh yeah,” he’s a great storyteller, Kenny is. He starts telling a story about when his father and him drove down to Leamington, because the show was a Leamington, it would’ve been Sullivan’s show. They had to go down and check out the office and make sure everything was all right, I guess. So his father went in the office and told Ken to wait in the car. So Kenny waited there and Sullivan pulled up in his Cadillac. He says to Kenny, “What are you doing?” Kenny says, “I’m just waiting for my dad.” Sullivan says, “Would you mind waiting in my car here and look after my lunch, I don’t want anybody to steal my lunch.” Kenny says, “Okay, I’ll sit in the front seat and look after your lunch.” A brown paper bag, right. Sullivan left and went back in the office, and comes out 15 minutes later and jumps in the seat, says, “Ken, thanks for looking after my lunch.” He holds it up and Kenny says it was a bag with $20,000 cash in it.

Speaking of bags of money, when the Windsor Freedomfest was really big, after the fireworks at night, we had the take from all the concessions, the birthday games, we had just tons and tons of money, and it was all in one dollar bills, two dollar bills, and five dollar bills, in those days. So we used to have to take it to the bank, which was just up the street. And I said, “We’ve got to get it there somehow, without looking conspicuous. So let’s put it in green garbage bags and look like bums, we’ll just put it in a shopping cart and walk up to the bank.” So we’re walking up the hill with maybe a couple of hundred thousand dollars in cash in green garbage bags, all wrapped up in plastic bags. And we’d take it in, and the girls behind the counter, “Oh, they’re here, come in behind.” We’d walk in behind and throw them all the bags. This would be right in the middle of lunch hour, a busy intersection. One time, we thought, well, these girls have been pretty good to us, we better make a garbage bag and filled up with stuffed toys. So we did that, and sent it into the bank, instead of cash, stuffed toys. They came out and were just as happy as all get out.

Hamilton, every year, you remember the half-dollar coins? We were the biggest user of half-dollar coins. Hamilton, we used to have to pick up $50,000 every spring, and carry them for the season. I had a pickup truck, and we’d pull up along the old Bank of Commerce, which is no longer there, on King Street, a one-way street. We’d park outside the side entrance, and go around the front of and say, “Hi, we’re from Conklin Shows, we’re here to pick the coin up.” “Oh, right, well, you’ve got to come down to the basement and sign for it.” “Okay.” “How are you going to pick this up?” “Well, we’re just going to pick it up and put it in the pickup truck, and take it over to the grounds.” The grounds were on the corner of King and Bay, just up the street. They said, “Well, it’s all in these wooden boxes.” “I guess we’ll have to carry it.” We got this pushcart or something, and they had an elevator so we could get up to ground level. We just wheeled it to the truck, and just started tossing these bags, straight from the mint, cloth bags full of 50 cent pieces, in the back of the truck. The truck was leaned over like that. And we’d drive down to the grounds and have to load them in the office, over the fifth wheel, because it could take all the weight. We had a special box made up for all these coins, over the front of the trailer.

My nickname is from Campbellford, that’s before the carnival. I was doing the usual country thing with my friends on a Friday night, driving the back roads drinking, cheese curds and drinking beer. We got pulled over by our local officers, and they charged us with drinking under age; it was 19 at the time, and we were 18. There were three of us and we got charged with drinking underage. We tried to keep it hush-hush from our parents. We had to go to court. It happened to be the same day that high school kids who had taken law went to see the court. We figured we were going to have to break the news, so it didn’t go down too good. I was walking with one of the guys, and he just happened to call me Beer Box Bill, and out of the blue he just said Beer Box Bill. So we had a party later on and as a joke, I tied a rope around a box of beer, and I dragged it into the party. So, Beer Box Bill, just a sort of stuck and became Box. I’ve been known as Box ever since, Box and Scooter, the Dynamic Duo.

In those days, I was telling Jan the other night, you may think you grossed a lot of money at some of these fairs, but the volume is not what it used to be. Now, instead of counting ones, twos and five, you’re counting 20s and 50s. So naturally, the revenue is more, but the volume is less. But the ridership, I would say, is down. Not all fairs, but their attendance is down too. Look at this fair. The attendance numbers, you wouldn’t believe them anyways. Like, 800,000, printed in Amusement Business? I was going to say, 150,000 paid would be max for this place. At Simcoe, I don’t know if they’ve straightened their numbers out yet or not, but they were goofy numbers at the time, too. Markham has a good count. They’re about 70, 000, that’s a good fair for us.

I don’t know if you can call me a carnie, I don’t know if I am or not. I don’t think I am. The time of the classic carnival would have been the ’30s, ’40s, ’50s. There were some characters around in the ’70s. Ozzie Mostowy, senior, they just call him Ozzie. I think he was with World’s Finest, on the train.

Scooter and I found those books from 1927, and on, with all the revenue listed. They were buried in the Conklin archives. We were up there cleaning the joint out one day, and I said, “Holy Jesus, look at this! I don’t think we better throw these ones out.” Then we found J.J. Moran’s journal. We start reading, how he had to patch this guy up, paid the Department of Agriculture guy this much money, paid this guy this much money. At the back it’s got some grosses. It’s got each day of every spot, you kept turning and turning and turning. All of a sudden, it says, “Drunk,” turn the page, “Drunk,” turn the page, “Drunk.”

I’m reading this out loud and I didn’t realize, Mr. Conklin, Jim, was standing right behind me. He walks by and says, “Things haven’t changed. Let me see that book, when you’re done, will you?” He gave it back to us and we had it, it was with all those other books. It’s a little brownish book about five by eight inches, leather bound. It’s a classic book. He photocopied the whole thing. We found it back in the ’80s, when the shop was all together on Edmondson Street. That’s when we cleaned a lot of this stuff out, and that’s where we found all those revenue books from the ’20s and ’30s. It’s amazing he kept all that stuff, it’s good. It would be nice to have all that stuff together so that people can see it.

Billie, that was Neil Webb’s sister, I met him, briefly, when I first started. I looked up Frank’s gravestone in Brantford, it’s only him on it. There was an elephant on it and somebody had stolen it. Binzer and I went and looked at his grave, but his wife’s not on there. I’ve never been to Showman’s Rest, but I wouldn’t think she’s there. I saw Sullivan’s obituary, in the Toronto Star “Pages of the Past.” You can bring up every page of every paper, going back into the 1800s. Just go to the Toronto Star web site and look for “Pages of the Past.”

Note: There are over 200 pages of interviews here, mostly verbatim and unedited. If you find spelling mistakes or typos, or want to add something, contact me at john [dot] thurston [at] sympatico [dot] ca. Thank you!


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