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Dave McKelvey

Ottawa, Wednesday, 24 August 2005

Well, the general manager at the time was Ray Coffing and he was my neighbour. I was friends with his son, Tom. We lived behind each other. I was 14 at the time, just going into Grade Eight. Everybody in the neighbourhood would do one summer; that was a tradition. Ray would hire people for one summer. That was 36 years ago. I was the only one that stayed at it. The Coffings didn’t live too far from the Conklin house. They were just down not too far from where I lived. Tommy was a year younger than I was.

I was always in the rides, I never was in the games. I went back every summer all through high school. After Grade 13 I was going to go on to university and then I decided that this was what I wanted to do. My parents, who were both educated, they went along with it. I think my father, he liked me being in the business, but he thought maybe that even in the business I should finish university. I started at Western, but then I decided to stay with the company.

They brought me into winter quarters that year, and that really made me decide. I had never really been involved that much with it, but then it really took off from there. After Grade 13, the first year we went out west and Ray was going up high in the company, so I didn’t have much contact with him. I worked for Heinz Schlickthorn. He’s still alive. He’s a great guy, a great guy to work for.

A lot of the main people in the company, that really made it this company, they worked for Heinz at one time. Jim Caskey, John Coffey. Heinz was a good influence. Jim Conklin worked for Heinz, running rides for him. Jim was just another one of us guys. Frank, too, Frank worked for Heinz for a few years. That’s where he got his real interest in coasters, I believe. He’s a very good coaster man, but it’s all from Heinz. Heinz came from Germany. Patty brought him over with the Wild Mouse. Jim later on went into games.

Heinz didn’t retire until he was 67, but he did very well for himself, financially. His house is located on Patty Conklin’s estate. They split that all up into a subdivision. It’s not a coincidence, I’m sure that Heinz wanted to be there.

The estate was called Sky Acres. When I was a kid, me and Tommy used to go over there and rake leaves for Jim’s mother, Edythe. She was a nice woman. She died in the late ’70s. She was at a nursing home. Jim’s uncle’s wife, Billy, lived longer than Edythe. She was out at the farm. We used to have a barn where we stored stuff, wherever we went out there, someone would check on her to see how she was doing. She didn’t really recognize too many people, she knew John MacDonald, and that was about it. They didn’t have children.

I played mainly the Ontario show, and then I went out west when they started that. I went with the first show that went down south, too. The first year we went to Phoenix and Albuquerque and all that. That was part of the Deggeller route that we had bought out. Then we took our own equipment down there. The Southern Comfort route.

In Puerto Rico there was trouble with the fair boards. These people were all for payoffs and the Conklins didn’t believe in that. That caused some friction. That’s not the way Jim does stuff. We went to Puerto Rico for just two years. Then there was that Quebec show that got caught down there. They ended up taking up all their equipment.

I did a stint the park for a few years, the African Lion Safari near Rockton. I actually took care of our operation there. It was the same guy that started Hemmingsford, Colonel Daley. I did that for a couple of years, it was a little different for me. I got stir crazy the first year. It was nice, though, I enjoyed it. Actually, I met my wife there. She was working her way through university and was head of the tram drives. I guess it worked out all right. We’ve been together since 1981; we’ve been married for 20 years this October. You can’t get die or get married during the summer. You have to do that during the winter.

My main job there for the next 12, 13 years was running the Alpine Way at the CNE. I did that for 12, 13 years. Under Ken Smith, and then he went on to safety, he took care of the show’s safety. I was running it until it closed, I tore it down, in about ’94, ’95, I believe. When they built the trade centre. That’s why we tore it down. I enjoyed the Alpine Way.

I was in winter quarters the rest of the time and I still went out on the road once in awhile. I did special things, restoring the equipment and stuff like that. And then that ended and I had a year or two rebuilding rides for parks in China. And I went to China. Some old rides and some we bought, too. There was an American company there, looking for rides, so Jim got involved with them. That was a good experience. It was different.

We didn’t live like tourists. We were in Shanghai there, at first, and just to drive across the city was like two hours. So we ended up staying in a Chinese hotel, me and Paul Guy, a long-time employee. They had never seen white people, so we were quite the novelty. I had trouble with the food and hadn’t been that weight since high school, so it was kind of nice, in a way. Eating rice all the time gets you. But I really enjoyed it. We were supposed to go back, but then I think the Chinese government took over things, Communist government, you know. We spent a little time in Guong Xo. That was the second part, we were supposed to build, but we never went back there again. We built the rides for it, but they sat in containers and the second part never got built. We were there for two months and were supposed to go back, but it never happened. Back on the road when we got home.

I’m the general manager of Supershows, now. It started out as a ride rental, and I took over from a fellow there. We’d go out two or three times a week with different equipment. That was a hard thing, because you’d always have new people, new operators, new guys setting up, so it was a constant training thing. And sometimes two or three times a week we’d be setting up a whole show. It was tough. We had about 12 rides. Sometimes we’d put up a couple, sometimes them all.

Rentals are a nuisance. It’s tough, there’s a lot of pressure, because if the rides stop for five minutes they want all the money back. Even here, you don’t want rides to break down, but you don’t have everybody trying to get all their money back. Renting them to groups, company picnics, fairs, we did some native reserves. They were actually very good people to work with, very fair. But some of these other people, they’d just drive you crazy. It’s always about the money. You have a five-minute breakdown, and they’re trying to get half their money back. It was a tough way to make a living, let me tell you.

That was in the ’90s and then the rental business just kind of fell away because other people wanted to come in with their shows and they’d give them a percentage, where we’d just give them a flat rental. Nobody wanted to risk it anymore. Usually, 99% of the time they were better off just renting it from us, but other groups, and there was still that risk and they would just pay them out. That kind of put the rental business down.

So he took the ride rentals and turned it into Supershows. This is actually the second Supershows. There was a Supershows before on the eastern road show and the kind of dissolved that and sold it off to another fellow. He didn’t last very long with that. He was actually a food guy, who thought he’d have a show. I’ve never seen that really work. Food guys or game guys don’t usually make good show owners.

So then Jim revamped it all with some more equipment. He got the Superman emblem that we use. He acquired the rights, we have permission as long as we buy authentic Warner Brothers shirts and that, they don’t have a problem with it. There’s no problem at all as long as we don’t cause them any embarrassment or infringe on any of their stuff. We pay top dollar for our shirts. I think it’s a neat idea.

Another thing too, what Mr. Conklin likes about it, the idea around here is, when you’re done at night take the shirts off and put your own shirts on. They go out at night and cause trouble and have Conklin Shows written on them, but now they have Superman shirts, so it doesn’t come back to the show. You know, the Conklin emblem has been built up for how many years, to be blown in one night. I’ve never seen it to be the regular guys on the show, it’s always these local kids that you’re hiring. In Toronto, Conklin was a big name.

The concession people made big money and they didn’t work anywhere near what the ride guys did. Things have kind of changed and it’s kind of brought them together better. The concession guys lived in hotels and they were smart, I guess. I never wanted anything to do with the games. You have to have the right personality to call people in. I never had it. In those days the concession people made some pretty big money. Now there’s more concession people on salary and their starting to realize that we’re all in it together, so there’s not that kind of rivalry. I don’t see it. For my little show, it’s pretty good. We’re not that big, so we all have to help each other. Whereas on a big show they don’t really need each other like we do.

I usually take out 14 or 15 rides, which is still not a bad size. We usually have roughly seven or eight concessions. And a candy floss and normal stuff like that. It’s getting to the point where, especially malls and stuff like that, we can’t fit in. Like Barry’s show is so big and they have to split up. It’s a changing business. We’re booked throughout the summer. We loose a few here and there, and then we get better ones back. It’s an experiment, you try a spot that you think is going to be good, and it’s terrible.

We never expected Merrickville to be any good. It’s a beautiful little town and it’s the nicest fair board. They do everything out of their way for this fair. It’s never going to be an A fair. It’s always going to be a B or C fair for attendance. We get along very well with them and it’s sad. This year the weather held up and they did their end of it, but it wasn’t very good. It’s been around for a hundred and fifty years, I’m not sure. What happened was that, 25 years ago Conklins used to do that fair, but then because of geographics, it was way out of our range to go up there for a small fair. So we let it go. They were getting a show from Quebec in there and for a couple of years they had nothing but trouble. They had the rides shut down, they had electrical problems, and they had the whole show shut down at one point. They’d half their rides running. It takes one year or two years to ruin a spot; it takes a lot of years to get it back. People don’t forget that stuff. We’ve done such a good job, and the fair board has done such a good job to bring people back, but so far it just hasn’t worked.

This is a good spot. Then Newington, which is about an hour south of here, that’s one of our good spots, Stormont County. It’s a big fair. The town has one store and it’s closed up. It doesn’t even make sense, because there’s no real big place around it, but they’ve just built such a good name. Elderton. Almont turned out real good; this was one of the best years they’ve had for a lot of years. Mr. Conklin really wanted to go for that one and I’d heard that it wasn’t that good. We just brought all their numbers right back up to where they should have been. Jim will risk it. This is the first year that we played Arnprior, that had really gone by the way with other shows. Jim Kong does our booking, but Mr. Conklin tells us where to go after stuff. Jim Kong goes out and does the leg work.

Collingwood is another one of our big spots. Mr. Conklin brought that fair in. Actually, it was the World’s Finest’s fair, but scheduling put us back in there. We’re glad to be there. The boss is only ten minutes away. He says he watches us from his house with the binoculars. He’s up on the hill. We like Collingwood, it’s a real farming community. A lot of tourists, too.

We brought back a lot of fairs that everybody kind of dumped. Some of them there’s a reason for dumping, but a lot of it’s just scheduling. Like Dorchester, just by London, we turned them right around. For years nobody wanted to touch them, there wasn’t the grosses, but nobody was putting much into it. We put 12 rides in there one year and some joints, and I think that place has got some potential.

With a lot of these fair boards, the board members are getting older and there’s nobody there to take it over. Dorchester is getting younger members, but a lot of these other ones are not. Their shows, the judging of cattle and that, is just falling away. Merrickville really has a good 4-H club and good judging, and they get a lot of sponsors.

The government still puts a little prize money in but not as much as they used to. I don’t understand it. There’s not enough money for judging and stuff. The government tries to help with tax breaks and they do a lot for the fairs if they can just keep them going. I think it’s just the membership.

I think I’m the longest employee at Conklin, other than Jim and Alfie, who are the only ones that have more time. Barry didn’t start until ’73 or around in there. He came from King Shows.

I remember that in Simcoe we always tore down in the snow. The weather’s changed though. We set up in the snow, we started the first of April this year. We were in London, setting up in the snow. It was nasty weather, snow on the midway when we opened.

People came out, but not a lot. Those early dates are tough. You’re trying to get everything done in the winter. We do a lot in the winter, it’s a lot of work. Plus you’re away from you family enough as it is, eh.

I got my daughter now that’s going into university this year, in Guelph. That’s where my wife went. My son’s just going into Grade Nine now. He just turned 14. With my wife, if I wasn’t gone so much, who knows. If I added up the time we’d been together, it wouldn’t be 20 years. That’s why we get along so well. I couldn’t ask for a better wife than her. She takes care of everything. A few years ago, we moved my mom into our house and she took care of her. We built a little addition for her and she wasn’t well. My wife took care of all that. Divorce rate in this business is pretty high. When I get back to my place, I’m not the boss. I’m just one step above the cat.

It’s tough. They’ve never been on the road with me. I don’t look at it, you know, that stuff about the carnie. I hate that name, I hate that word. I never consider myself that; this is a business like anything else. I’ve met a lot of good people in this business who probably could be classed as that. The best, most honest people, but you get one bad one and you’re marked. I don’t live under the bridge all winter. It’s a business, that’s how I’ve always looked at it. My family are at home. A lot look at it as a family business, but I just never wanted that. My wife wasn’t in the business. Maybe if I’d married somebody from the business. I try to keep romance away from here. Not that I’ve ever had any chances anyway. I wasn’t the best catch on the show.

The business has been good to me, Mr. Conklin, you know. I’ve never worked for another show and I never would. I’ve never worked for anybody but him. When I first went down south, I was kind of like Frank’s assistant; Frank had his show. He was very good to me, I couldn’t have asked for a better person. He treated me very well. The younger guys at that time, Jim Caskey, they all wanted to come down south and work for Frank. I saw my opportunity with some older guys, like Heinz, Jim McSorley and Ken Smith, that were the same age as Jim. I figured that these guys were going to be retiring and I wanted to be right there. Then I got back and I was here. I never thought, a couple of years ago, back in ’98 or so, I never thought about it, but Jim talked about retirement. It didn’t even dawn on me, how could he retire. I thought, Jeez, maybe I made a mistake. But I’ve never regretted it since then. I would never work for anybody else in this company or in the business.

I worked for him for 36 years, but up until the past few years I was never close. And still, you get intimidated by him. Not that he tries, he’s a very quiet, soft-spoken man, but what he wants is what he wants. People mistake his being shy and quiet, as not real strong. But I’ll tell you, you get him mad and you’re in trouble. He knows what he wants and he knows the business like nobody else. When he has to express himself forcefully, he does, and I’ve been on the receiving end of it. Everyone says, “How can you take that?” And I say, “Well, you know what, I’ve still got a job.” You get what you deserve.

You just want to work with everybody, you don’t have to like everybody. You don’t have to like all your staff, if they do what they’re told. I don’t hang out with anybody. I don’t know how much insight I can give you.

A few times I’ve had discussions with police and I say, “Now, these are guys that aren’t …” We pay them well, but they’re working 80 hours a week, some of them, and they work hard. They could be on welfare a lot easier. I have respect for these guys that work for me. It’s a hard job. Sometimes the guys don’t get along that well, but other jobs they go home at night. But these people, they don’t go home at night, they’re living with each other.

Merrickville, last year, police came to investigate somebody at the other end of town had their bike stolen. I said, “What makes you think somebody here did it?” He says, “Well, we don’t have anything like this until you people come to town.” This is the honest to god truth. I never like to have trouble with the police, but, boy, I was mad. So I says, “I want you to search all these trailers and that.” He says, “If I find one, I’m going to make an arrest.” I says, “Good. Then I don’t want them here.” He refused to do it.

I sure don’t want trouble with the local law. I talked to the woman who’s the president of the fair and she’s actually the reeve of the area. She went to the OPP detachment and raised hell. The officer came and said I misunderstood him. There was no misunderstanding. So I said, “You’re telling me, that you have no crime here until we come.” And he just kind of … So I said, “You know what, you guys don’t even need to be in this town until we come.”

I know in the old days, I know the way. You hear the stories. I’ve seen some pretty rough characters go through this business, but it’s a hard business. And in the south, I saw some pretty rough characters, bikers and that on the show. The first time we went down south, it was an eye-opener. It was the first time I’d ever been around American carnivals; whole families living in trucks, but decent people.

There was a book that I read years ago, by a guy who worked on Strates Shows. It’s quite a book. This guy travelled with Strates. He had quite the experience, but that was a big show, still is a big show. They used to travel with us, too. I’ve played spots with Strates Shows. Conklin and Strates did a lot of fairs together and then they just kind of went their own ways. They were both two of the biggest companies in the world.

There’s four American shows that joined in with that company that bought out the Conklin show. That’s another reason I’m so glad I stayed. I’d be gone. I don’t think that’s a company to work for. Not that I know much about them. The whole business is changing. We we’re hauling out a coaster with 28 trailers. Economically, it just can’t be done any more. We started moving pieces that were unthought of, that were never moved, some of these coasters, some of these rides, the Flume, it just wasn’t heard of. We revolutionized that. Conklin was the first to move some of this stuff.

Patty Conklin was the first one, he brought in six Wild Mouse rides into North America. He sold them and kept a couple. He was leasing them, Crystal Beach and the CNE. That’s where Heinz came in. He worked for the company that manufactured them.

This new company, they left the Double Loop, the 200-foot Drop. Maybe they’ve got the right idea, things are changing. Maybe they’ll put this stuff in a park or special state fairs. They played Dade County Fair. I guess that show’s got a lot of money behind it. The guy from Ticketmaster, he’s involved.

Supershows is not going to get any bigger than what we are. It’s a family show, too, we have a couple of adult rides, but basically what we’re designing is a midway with rides that the whole family can go on together. That’s the idea for our show. We’re not competing against World’s Finest or anybody else. We have our own niche. We don’t fit in everywhere, but they don’t fit in everywhere either.

I go on very few rides. I have bad equilibrium. I get dizzy real quick. There’s a lot of rides that I worked for years, the Super Loops, the Enterprise, I never went on them once. I knew they were as safe as could be, I just knew if I went on them I’d be feeling it for a week. I’d be stumbling around for a week.

This stuff has gotten so high-tech, pretty sophisticated. A lot of our rides are older, refurbished, but there’s a certain amount of technology to each one of them. Some of these computer items are just throw away, you have to replace them. We try to keep up, but it’s impossible. Everybody’s learning, but then a lot of times you have to bring in the manufacturer. A lot of these things you can’t buy.

On the Gee Whiz there’s a sprocket that I had to get a couple of weeks ago. Just one of the drive sprockets but it’s specially made for that company and they can’t sell it to anybody else. It’s an example of what we go through. That sprocket is $1,500 US, plus shipping. And you can easily go through a couple of those a year. You can only get them from one place. I don’t think you could ever justify that cost, but a lot of rides are like that. Specially made by somebody. The manufacturer will tell you that you shouldn’t use replacement parts. It’s like buying a Ford and using Canadian Tire parts. So then you put yourself in for liability if you don’t use the right part. If this part malfunctioned, it would just get wrecked. They force you follow those guidelines. I know a guy on another show that went through three of those in one year.

The cost of rides you don’t dare get into that situation. The place you’re playing, they take a good percentage. The T.S.S.A. they cut into it. Then insurance is just unbelievable. It’s not as lucrative as people think.

Supershows, we have really reasonable prices. We even actually have one-coupon rides. If you buy the strip, it works out to be 83 cents. We have a couple of them. There’re other shows, like Robertson’s, that have rides that cost five or six dollars a ride. Mr. Conklin’s dead set against that. We’ll go for volume. If you scare them away right there, they’re gone so you get nothing. So take the two dollars or three dollars from them and let them enjoy themselves.

I actually remember Patty Conklin because they were neighbours. Ray Coffing, his dad Clyde worked for Patty Conklin, too. He worked at Crystal Beach, Ray did too. Clyde originally owned the first Hudson dealership in Ontario. He worked until the day he died for Patty. Jim took over in 1969. Patty died the year I started. Jim was taking over by then. Quite a thing to have handed to you.

Jim did a lot with the show. He didn’t have to go out west. He risked everything to go out west. Why? He had Ontario sewed up and the CNE, and that was the ultimate. It was just the challenge. Patty put everything into the CNE. Patty wasn’t even going out on the road towards the end, but he was travelling to Europe a lot, looking at rides.

They we had that trouble in the early ’80s. That was really tough around there. The big problem was the Bank of Commerce. They were really running scared. They were the chief bank involved with Massey Ferguson, and they were going under. I really believe they were scrambling. It was the worst time of all our lives. It was just terrible. It’s your job, it’s your livelihood, but when you see a company like that and you see Jim, just so … It was really bothering him. He didn’t show a lot of emotion ever, but you knew that was drawing heavy on him. He kept us all around and I don’t know that he should have. I think he was being very loyal to us. The bank, though, what are they going to do with the show? Are they going to run it? They would only have gotten pennies on the dollar.

He got help from a lot of friends, like Sam Ganz. He used a lot of his own money, too. I don’t know what the bank was asking payment on. Going out west cost him a lot of money, brand new rides, trailers, trucks. That takes a long time to recoup, but it was only five years. The Deggeller Shows, there was a lot of dead wood around. The company got real big, real fast.

The first few years out west were the most fun. It was hard work cause we got all these students. There was only a handful of us that really knew how to do the stuff. None of us had ever been involved like that; a lot of personal fun. We were all young. Everybody did well. They were just so glad to have us out there because Royal American was out there and they were milking everything. Royal American ran into a lot of tax problems. I just happened to be in the office one day, helping somebody out, and the inspectors came in from the RCMP. The accountant they brought in was my cousin, who I had only ever seen a couple of times before. He was in charge of the books. Somebody said, “This seems funny.” But I was just a ride guy, I wouldn’t be any influence on that.

The first thing that started it was when one of the tractor-trailers was checked at the border, just a routine check, and they found money, a lot of money, undeclared money. Like I said, that’s hearsay.

Jim’s a real businessman, but Frank and Patty worked from the top of their head. I think Patty was more that way. I heard from people long gone, that Frank was a pretty rough character. He was a force if people messed with them, he was the one they dealt with. He was a tough man, physically and mentally.

The first time I actually saw Patty, I was eight or nine years old. We went to the shop and there was this older guy pulling nails from a board. He had a suit on. I thought, “Jeez, why’s he working on Sunday.” I found afterwards it was Patty Conklin, trying to salvage some lumber. Jim’s a lot like that too. He likes to keep old stuff. He sees the value of the stuff. Jim’s got a real memory too. He’ll remember stuff we did 20 years ago, something I put away, and he’ll ask where it is and I don’t even remember it.

I was very interested in Frank Conklin, senior, but I never met him. I met his wife. Patty Marco, the show boss here for years, and some of the old electricians, they told me a lot of stories about Frank.

Red Ratthe, too, was quite a guy. Red was actually a wrestler, a professional wrestler, when they really did fight. He was quite a tough guy. I remember when I was a kid, the Laff in the Dark at the CNE, there used to be living quarters there, and I stayed there. One night, he knocked on our door and somebody was breaking into the cars. Us young guys, we got our stuff on and went out there, and by then there was three guys and they’re all half dead. Red beat them all up. They were sprawled out all over. “Well, I guess we’re not needed here too badly.” He got the police after that. We thought we better just in case one died.

In the older days, the police were very supportive of us, in Toronto especially. They understood the way it was. We put a lot of employment in there, put a lot of money into the city. The CNE’s never going to be what it was. All the old people that are around they said it’s pretty disappointing. I haven’t really been involved since they tore the Alpine down. In the ’70s it was a going place, every building had something going on. Now it’s just a big trade fair.

You’ve got to remember, back then, rides were 60, 70 cents. There was the Flyer, the Alpine Way, but other than that it was just the regular rides. I heard that the ride gross there was a million dollars a day. You’d open with a line-up and you’d close with a line-up. The Alpine Way put through over 40,000 people in a day. Those were the paid ones, not counting all the employees and the mooches. That’s a lot of money. Birthday games making 30, 40,000 dollars a day and that’s when it’s going for a quarter, fifty cents. It’s pretty astonishing. We’ll never see those days again.

It always used to be one or two in attendance with Oktoberfest. Now it’s not even close. They used to have a big band every night or a football game. Baseball fans were the worst. They’d get free admission with their two-dollar seats and they’d come back and flip us a dime. They were the cheapest fans I’ve ever seen. The football fans, by the end of the game they were pretty looped, so they were a little rough to deal with.

The stadium’s gone and that’s a big factor. It almost seemed like for a while the politicians were just trying to crush the place. If they hadn’t built that convention centre, I’d say that’s what they were doing. But the real estate’s worth so much. Maybe it’s run its course.

We have South Africans here, now. I have three. The other show they have about 20 or something. It’s like all the farmers do with the Mexicans. We can’t get help and so we get white South African boys, educated, from good families. We bring them from South Africa, we pay their way and sponsor them to come just for the season. I’d have a whole crew of them, if I could. They’re great workers, very well spoken, and they appreciate it. Things in their country aren’t great. They have no rights. I really like them. We hire hard working people and they’re running low. Help is really tough to get.

We can’t pay what, you know, Ford and all those companies can pay, $28 and $40 an hour. Our business is tough as it is. People who are going to work as hard as they do … We try to give everybody a day a week off, but they still work hard. Everybody’s on salary, and we pay basically minimum wage and then if they stay we give them a bonus. So we bring in these South Africans and they can’t get work down there. Their dollar isn’t worth a lot, so when they go back they can live pretty good on what they save here. Every one I’ve had so far has been very good.

Out west last year they had almost a hundred South Africans. This has been going on for three or four years. They go through the embassy and have working visas. Everything’s on the up-and-up. White boys don’t do well down there. Let’s say you’re doing a job, a black guy can come and take your job. They gotta pay him more. He can just say, “I want that job,” and he gets it. That’s how they tell me it happens in certain things. I think they’re all educated, equivalent to our Grade 13 or Grade 12, whatever it is now. They can’t have any kind of criminal record. They appreciate the work. I really believe they bring up the quality of all our other guys. These guys do not complain. They fit in with everybody else. They’re just so happy to be here, they all want to immigrate.

I could use more, but they’re restricting how many get out. We have to guarantee they go back. So far none of them have tried to stay illegally. They all have families. They’re in the range of 21 to 25. They know if they go past their stay date, they’re illegal aliens. They’re smart fellas, they don’t want to do anything like that. They don’t know anything about the business, it’s a whole different thing there. They have a few things, but it’s more like permanent things. They don’t have any fairs.

In the fall, it was only September or October, and they all had winter coats on. It was so funny, we still had our short sleeve shirts on. Last year we put the three I have in a house trailer. I was going to get air conditioning but they didn’t want it. It was like 120 in there, but they loved it. I couldn’t even stand in there. I’ve even taken them home to meet my family. Funny guys. They call me Daddy Dave or Uncle Dave. They don’t call me Dave because in their culture you don’t do that. After a while, working with mister and sir all the time, I said, “Just call me Dave.” So finally they invented it, they decided to call me Daddy Dave.

They thought it was very strange the way we employ natives and we have all different ethnics. There you don’t do that, everybody sticks to their own. Compared to a lot of place, in Canada we have a pretty good melting pot. Everybody is what they are. That was strange to them. They liked that, they think that’s pretty nice. If their fathers were here, they wouldn’t like it. So really these guys are paying for their grandfathers’ mistakes. It’s just gone from one extreme to the other. I feel sorry for them because I know what it was like to live in China for a few months, to have to leave the country that you were born in. All my guys want to come here real bad. If they want a life they’ve gotta come here. That’s a little different than going across the world.

I used to live in Toronto for the set-up and the Alpine. I used to live in the train cars. Jim had his own personal train cars. I lived in one of the bunk cars. Beautiful, I loved it there. Living in Toronto is terrible, but that was a different thing. When I used to go up town, when I got out, it was scary. Ottawa’s a big city and I like Ottawa. My daughter almost went to university here, but it’s kind of far away. My wife went to Guelph, so it kind of worked out. My daughter’s in kinestheology, so Guelph’s a good university for her. I like Guelph. I know people who went to U of T, and I wouldn’t like that if your campus is all over town.

Trent’s a nice university. Last year I took a merry-go-round down there in the fall. They were having their alumni 50th anniversary. It’s really nice, they’ve bought up a lot of property. Peterborough’s a nice city.

It sounds bad, but I’ve never really encouraged friends to come and visit me on the midway. I always thought, this is my job. If I had a friend that worked at WalMart, I wouldn’t go to visit him at WalMart. My friends used to get ticked off and when they did come I’d be busy. So I always discouraged it, but nobody ever understood. I guess that’s why I don’t have many friends! My best friend’s a teacher and he’s always complaining about the teacher profession. I used to say to him, “Come out here for a summer and you’ll never complain about teaching again. You’re talking about the idiots you have to deal with, come out here and you’ll really know what life’s about.”

Over all, I’ve really liked it out here. It’s been my life, but I’ve never given anything else a chance. The only other place I worked was my father’s drug store. That’s what he wanted me to do. It might have been a smart move. It’s what you’re comfortable with that matters. If I had started out working for somebody different, I might not have taken to it. Working for Ray Coffing was a big influence, he was a real company man. He respected Mr. Conklin and he was born into it too. He was so cheap for the company. I got lucky working for him, then working for Heinz and Ken Smith. These were all dedicated people. If I’d worked for some of these other guys, I probably wouldn’t have lasted for a year. Same thing, working for Mr. Conklin. Some of these other show owners, I’ve heard horror stories about some of these guys.

Newfie passed away a young man. Joe Simpson is still alive, I heard. I can’t believe it. He was a drunk 30 years ago. He was a wild character. He’s got to be 80. I know he’s older than Mr. Conklin. Morley Scott who had the bingo, he’s long gone. Heinz was in charge of the Jumbo Jet. Greg Gravelle has done really well, but he had family connections too. He was in the right place at the right time. He started out in charge of things. He played the game right. There’s a lot of people in this business who have a lot of money and don’t necessarily deserve it.

One of the smartest guys in this business, Ken Adams, he ran this show that used to travel with us, Fairmont Amusements. He got ripped off for that, cause he worked for years for nothing for this guy and they agreed that when the time came, he’d take over the show. But this Al Flood gets a girlfriend and he dies, and everything’s left to her. Then Ken Adams starts working for us. Probably the smartest guy you’d ever meet on the business, hardest worker. He passed away. He had some equipment. He wasn’t with us long enough to really establish himself. He died broke. He had a heart attack when he was only 47 years old. He was just coming into his own, he owned a million dollar piece and he was equipment rich. That’s a sad situation.

Like any business, you’ve got to be aggressive. Being a nice guy doesn’t pay. You want to be nice, but … That’s why I like my little show. I have one boss and that’s it. One person to listen to, besides my wife. But that’s a different story.

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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