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John Anderson

Toronto, Friday, 2 September 2005

I had a friend who worked for the show, a guy named Matthew Smith. I was out with him and a bunch of guys, and they were giving Matthew a hard time about working for the carnival. I had just become unemployed and I said, “Why don’t you get me a job? I can feed and clean up after the elephants.” That was on a Saturday, on Monday he called me and said, “You’ve got an interview at 9:30, you better be here.” That was 25 years ago, in 1980. The interview was in Brantford. Randy McLean was the interviewer. Dave Bastido was in charge back then. I’ve been ever since.

I’ve done a lot of things for the company. I started out counting concessions money on the eastern road show in the office. The following year I went out to the Bernard Unit and spent some quality time out there with Barry Jamieson and Beer Box Bill for a year. Then I went to the western road show the next year to run Guest Relations, which I ran for eight or nine years, all through the ’80s in the west.

We had a transportation manager named Gerald Grounds. He’d been around Frank forever and was a very colourful gentleman. We found him passed away in his house trailer. His tire man had been looking for Gerald that morning. Tom Faltash and I went over and started banging on his trailer and we saw him in there. He had passed away. That was just before we tore down in Columbia and we were moving to Puerto Rico. Frank came up to me and said, “Can you do the transportation job John?” I went, “Well, yeah, I guess so. I might mess up, but yeah, I can do it.” So I became transportation manager and did that for a good 10 years. On my first move, I handled transportation to Puerto Rico. The boat was all arranged prior to this, so I just had to get them on the boat, but that was my first move in the transportation world.

I spent a lot of time with Frank and then I became general manager and moved into a marketing job when Bob Negus passed away. When somebody died, I filled in. That’s about where we are in the present day right now. I’m general manager. With the change over, who knows what, where, when and how, but so far status quo. It’s been an enjoyable time, although it’s not an easy life, it’s always changing. The people that I’ve gotten to know and spend time with over the last 25 years, they’re irreplaceable. The things you learn out here, there’s no school in the world that’s going to give you that education. We can do anything. You can take the nucleus of what Mr. Conklin started and what Frank had, we could walk in and we could do anything. Somebody says, you can’t do it, we say, well watch us, we’ll do it.

We did that jump from Edmonton to Regina forever, where you close Saturday night and open at noon on Monday. The new corporation thought we were nuts. Now we open at noon on Tuesday. They think we’re nuts the way we do it now, with the moves and how far we go and how quickly we do it. The way things were and the way they are now with workplace safety, we have to take a look at it because before, when people got hurt, you sent them to hospital and everything was fine and they came back. Now, you’ve got all the government regulations and it’s all different. That’s one of the big changes, more and more regulations. In Ontario, there’s the most, but it’s out west, too. It’s changing everywhere.

In the olden days, you needed to have somebody replaced, so you’d go to somebody else and say, “Can you drive a truck?” They’d say, “Yeah.” You’d give the keys and say, “Here you go.” Now you can’t do that or you’re going to end up in trouble. Before you could get away with it. There’s so many things that I’ve seen and done, the stupid and idiotic things that happen and the bullshit, where do you start?

We had an incident with the Zipper that was messy and brought government agencies down on us. The story goes that a guy bent over to pick up a light box. The Zipper was bad for guys picking up money. He bent over and his head was stuck out and the tub came around and took 50 percent of the back of his head off. He lived four hours, but his parents didn’t even go the hospital. They came and started hounding us about teddy bears and money. Bill Mason, who was the lot man at that time, he ended up having to change hotels and go under a different name because they kept hounding him for money. They didn’t care about their son; they just wanted whatever they could get. They wanted panthers for the casket; it was crazy. He was a local kid, just working that spot.

The runaway train in Winnipeg, we don’t know what happened there. The guy ended up standing on the track when the train was coming. The train wasn’t late that day and that was the end of him. On a roller coaster, you never stand on the track, even if it’s not moving. You never stand on the track, between the track, around the track. If you get too comfortable with these machines, they’re going to hurt you. If you don’t pay attention, they’re going to hurt you.

I can remember one time in Brantford, Ontario, that Scooter and I had gone out for a few beers. We ended up leaving the hotel and both ended up tripping over the same piece of sidewalk and fell down. We decided at that point that it was safer to crawl than it was to walk. A complete stranger came along and made us stand up. He says, “You can’t do that, you’re going to go to jail.” He put us in his car and drove us home.

There was a lot of good times, the dinners when you’re setting up, those are the most memorable experiences, when you get together with Scooter and Alfie and Howard and got out for dinner. In the States you go out with Frank and those guys, and eat sushi and drink some beers. It’s a hard life, but when it’s time to enjoy it, we enjoy it better and faster than anybody can. The friendships that you make out here are important. Anybody that’s ever left the business, they don’t really miss the work, they just miss the people. It’s the people, they drive you nuts at times and at the end of the year they go away and you’re going, thank god, but two weeks later you’re going, where is he?

I don’t have the gift of the gab that Howard does. You see, Howard never lets the truth stand in the way of a good story. That’s one of the things that will go down on his tombstone: The truth never stood in the way of a good story. That’s part of the life out here, the stories. Whenever Howard goes to tell a story, we ask him, “Is this going to be a long one, or can we have the short version?” Howard can be very long-winded.

I spent a lot of time with a gentleman named Bill Hardy. He was with Patty, but he was with Yonkers Raceway when we played Westchester County Fair. I got to spend a lot of time with him when he was the general manager of Westchester County Fair. Bill was one gentleman that lived hard and fast. He’s still around. He’s in Fort Lauderdale, but his health is failing. He’s 76 years old and he’s gone through more cocaine and booze and women. He should have been dead years ago, but he’s still around.

This is a good story. We were in Edmonton and I was in Guest Relations. Joe Simpson was still around. Alfie figured that Joe had fallen in somewhere because he did before and he wasn’t around. That particular day Alfie didn’t want him coming back to the lot to wrang everybody up. So he sent me out to find him and keep him wherever he was. I found him sitting at the bar, and I sat and drank with him the rest of the day and the rest of the night. I kept him from going back to the lot. I did my job. What other business in the world would send you on a mission like that?

I was around when Hunky Joe was around. Bobby Hunter’s an old timer now. I spent many hours with Bobby at the Geneva Club. I spent time with Patty Marco and Dotty Marco in the east on the Bernard Unit. They were out there with their jewellery and they had some wheels. Pat was a live one, a man of many stories. Johnny the Greek was out there.

We played Chatham two weeks after the eastern road show. We sat on the fair grounds on the same spot. We sent the ticket sellers out, day after day, and never cashed them in once the whole spot until the last day. I think the ride gross was $2,600 for the week. Come Friday afternoon, Johnny the Greek said, “The heck with this, I’m out of here.” He didn’t even finish the weekend; he tore down and left. That was probably our worst spot.

On the way to the Ploughing Match, we had this girl named Jane in the car with us. We were breaking a corporate rule in that we were drinking in a company vehicle on the way. Jane went to throw the beer bottle out the window. One small problem: the window was closed. The bottle bounced around the car. We laughed that night.

The night Heepus Erectus, Peter Poll, got fired, when Jim reorganized the show. He got drunk and got really belligerent. He was too drunk to stand up anymore, so we just put him in the back of Box’s pickup truck. He must have been 300 pounds. We drove back home and left him in the back of the truck. It snowed that night and we wake up the next morning and all we can see is the imprint of this body in the back of the truck. He got fired. None of us really liked him, so it really wasn’t a sad time. It was a sad time for him. It was the end of the year, you got your money, you party and you go away and do what you gotta do. It’s just that some of them weren’t coming back.

It was teardown in Edmonton one year, and I can’t tell you what year, and we were tearing down in two feet of water. It was up to our knees, it was raining so hard that night. That was one of the worst teardowns I can remember. It started to rain around nine and was still raining the next morning. You had to feel around for the base of the rides because you couldn’t see them; they were under water. We had to open in Regina on Monday at noon. That was the time Barry Jamieson hired Bubbles for his ride guys.

The year that the eastern road show played Port Huron, Michigan, that was a bad year. Immigration issued, like, five visas and it was all the office staff. One ride guy got a visa. We brought in Bob Negus, who was an American but was out west. We brought in more Americans off the western road show. Then we had to jump out of there to Windsor for kid’s day, that was a tight jump.

Real carnies were a breed from long ago. Patty, I don’t think, was a real carnie, he was a businessman. Bill Hardy, he was a carnie. A lot of these people who say they’re carnies, they’re just people who don’t really fit in anywhere in society. They’re misfits, but they think they’re carnies. I believe that most of the old carnies, they’re dead and gone for many years. There may be some in the States, but are they carnies or are they bandits? With the public the two may be synonymous.

I wouldn’t trade this life in for anything. I’ve been married twice. The first one was a mistake and the second one will be a soul mate for life. I never would have made the mistake in the first place if I wasn’t here and I would never have found the second one if I wasn’t here. This business has been good and bad for me. I know when I tell my neighbours stories, they can’t believe them. Then you go, “Well that all happened in one day.” You get up every morning and you don’t know what’s going to happen, so you plug away at it. That’s the way it is. You do what you’ve gotta do to keep it rolling.

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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