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|Cache||WFMZ Allentown - WYOMISSING, Pa. ? Despite the temperature outside, either due to the heat being on inside the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Wyomissing or the high number of Phillies fans in attendance, it feels like baseball weather."I have been counting down for pitchers and catchers since November so this is the time," Tim Caltagirone said. "It's time to start thinking spring training."Pitcher Vince Velasquez, outfielder Roman Quinn and new skipper Joe Girardi all made an appearance as part of the Phillies Winter Caravan."You gotta hear this guy talk, especially in person, not just on TV," Scott Hunsicker, General Manager for the Reading Fightin Phils, said. "So specifically, for tonight, I think we are all excited to welcome him to the Phillies family, the Reading Fightins family."It's not just a big night for the fans looking forward to another season but also the Baseballtown Charities."This banquet raises a lot of money for Baseballtown Charities," Hunsicker said. "Which helps us have more inner city|
One of the quotes on the letterhead of the annual Christmas Blessing of Father John Vakulskas, The Carny Priest, comes from Mother Theresa, and in my humble opinion, applies to all of us.
It says, “I know God will not give me anything I can't handle. I just wish he didn't trust me so much.” He has more faith than we do.
I think of some of my friends in the business with illnesses who have been in my prayers. Running Bear, whose real name I don't even know, has been hospitalized for more than a year or two. Luckily, people such as food concessionaires Larry and Gala Habeck visit him and try to keep his spirits up. He drove trucks for various carnivals and his smile was infectious when I used to see him at the Gibtown Showmen's Club or Showtown USA Bar.
Often through my wife, Christine’s efforts on Facebook, I'd hear of hospitalizations or afflictions. There were Ivan Arnold, Shari Bolin, Alan Larkee, Kal Hamilton, Larry (Kadoty) Neuikirk, Bobby McKnight, David Starkey, Harold Case, Art Pokorny, Ray Hrudka, Janice Lane, Loretta Aldrich, Bette Reithoffer, Habeck himself, not to mention Nashville buddies Ed Paschal and Eddie Bryan, or the loss of such icons as Johnny Hobbs, Terry Schmidt, Bob Driskill, Tommy Collins, Al Embry, Marilyn Portemont, Kenny Detty, and more than I can remember, or mention. I had interviewed Detty and written a column about him the week before he died.
I have been lucky enough to know and be friends with so many wonderful people over the years, but time takes its toll, and as old friends vanish or die, new ones emerge, and life goes on.
A good example is the fact Christine and I, when we were younger and healthier, took a trip to my hometown of Scranton, Pa., every summer. We always had a blast, no matter who we spent time with.
The purpose, originally, of course, was to see the old neighborhood, family, childhood friends, and eat and drink at favorite places. I vividly remember the first time I introduced Christine to Scranton.
We were in Allentown, visiting Dorney Park which was then owned by Harris Weinstein, after the death of Bob and Sally Ott. We also saw Martin Ritter and Ed Charles, who ran the Great Allentown Fair, and were scheduled to go to Philadelphia that night to see a Phillies game, guests of the Nowlin Brothers, who had the food contract.
It dawned on me that Scranton was just 60 miles away and when I suggested a visit there, Christine was game, as she always has been.
We called two of my friends from diapers, Tom MacDonald and Charley Manley. We all went to Pete Bordi's Bar, famous for 10 cent beers, and had a few, even though the price had gone up to 15 cents.
Next was Holy Cross Catholic Church for Mass on a Saturday afternoon. Not being a Catholic, I asked Christine if she would prefer to wait at Hacky Fanning's bar, a block away. It was probably the easiest choice she ever made in her entire Church of Christ life.
After more drinks with Hacky, a guy more colorful than Johnny Campi, Honest John (The Peddler) Curtis, Dapper Danny Royal, or Earl (Louisville Junior) Scheler, we showed her West Scranton High School where we had all matriculated, and then it was off to Arcaro's, our favorite pizza place in all the world. It was known as Tomeo's when we were kids, but it was the same family of Frank and Sally Arcaro who own it now. My surprise 80th birthday party was held there, since my kids and wife knew it was my favorite place. In the small world department, Sally and her brother, Bruce Williams, grew up around Skerbeck Entertainment and Bill Hames Shows, which was then owned by Buster Brown. Her brother, Gehrie Aten, owned Bill Hames until he and his wife, Norma retired. Now called Carnival Americana, it is owned by the Aten's daughter, Norma, and her husband, Alan Cockerham. Aten and Cockerham often kidded me that Sally got her picture in AB more than they did.
More drinks and pizza followed and after just four hours, it was time for us to head to Philadelphia, 120 miles away. Even though I'm a huge Phillies fan, needless to say, we missed the game.
Most people assumed that with the passing of MacDonald, Manley, Fanning, and two incredible friends who were in their 80s, Romayne Hufford and Jimmy Laybourn, our visits would stop, but they didn't.
We started going to the Ukrainian Club, about a block away from Hacky's, and two sisters who never married, Peggy and Kathy Forster, bought and sent our membership cards every year, even when the dues went from $5 to $7. If you get the theme of this, you can see that wherever we go, we find and make new friends.
This especially held true when I was editor of Amusement Business as we visited arena, fair, amusement park, sports, talent buyers, and other conventions. The real friends stay friends forever, and I have always preached that whether you're hanging out in a bar room or board room, good people find good people.
Father John, who was ordained as a Catholic Priest 50 years ago, is one of those good people, as was his predecessor, Monsignor Robert J. McCarthy of Watertown, N. Y., who I miss every day.
Father Vakulskas was honored with a celebration at the Benton County Fair, Sauk Rapids, Minnesota. Also in attendance were Father Dick Notter and Jerry Hogan, who is observing 25 years of circus ministry. Father John blessed all the rides, game and food joints of Gopher State Expositions, now owned by Randy Forcier, after the retirement of his parents, Art and Shirley. Dave Cavallaro, who sells the heaven out of cheese curds at the Minnesota State Fair, St. Paul, helped organize everything.
Among visits made this past season by Father John were the jamboree with Bill and Mary Johnson of Fantasy Amusements, in Chicago, where Richie George provided the food. Then it was on to Ottawa, where he met up with Patrick Jamieson of World's Finest Shows. “Tom, I appreciate all your support over the years. I love this ministry. I love being a priest to all God's children in the carnival business.” Father John is in his sixth year of retirement, living in Ruskin, Fla., where he continues to serve area churches, with his base being St. Ann in Ruskin. Another appropriate quote on his letterhead is from another ink stained wretch, Mark Twain (as Mike Heffron always referred to me as). It says simply, “Wrinkles should only indicate where smiles have been.” Everybody is a kid again when they visit a carnival. Keep up the great work!
Our annual Christmas card from Alfie Phillips, longtime executive with Conklin Shows in Canada, and a former OABA director, and his wife, Pam, had a poignant message, as usual. It said, “Many years ago a gentleman had a ticket for a flight from Vancouver to Boston. He missed the flight. The plane went down, no survivors. When interviewed, he said, 'Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery, and today is a gift. That's why we call it the present. Enjoy each day, we're not sure about tomorrow.'” He added, “All the best.”
Dennis Carollo, who owns an iron mine attraction in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Iron Mountain, had a great message on his card. “Miss you guys. Need another party somewhere. Can't ever thank you enough for all the good times and meeting such nice and great people. “We've been all over the world with Dennis and his late father, Albert. We first met on one of Father Mac's trips and when the perspicacious peripatetic padre needed somebody to change rooms, they were the first to volunteer.
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Guy and Charlene Leavitt, owners of Ray Cammack Shows were ecstatic after what Guy called a very good, record-breaking Arizona State Fair, Phoenix, where the carnival was up an overall 25 per cent.
The 135th annual event, held Oct. 4-27, with Mondays and Tuesdays off, posted attendance of 1,262,868, according to Executive Director Wanell Costello. Cammack has held the midway pact since 1980.
Asked what made the fair so good, Guy first complimented Costello and staff for an excellent marketing plan that included a strong talent lineup with 13 concerts in Veterans Memorial Coliseum, Monster Trucks, and Indian Rodeo, the first Esports Gaming World competition, the first MMA event in over a decade, and the second annual Arizona State Dance Championships.
The talent lineup included Lil Pump, Becky G, The Cult, Pat Benatar and Neil Geraldo, Billy Currington, Trace Adkins, Chase Rice, Stryper, MC Hammer, Fiesta Friday, with NB Ridaz, Lil Rick, DJ Kane, and Kid Frost, Len Brice, Matthew West, Zach Williams, and Awolimation.
Continuing, Leavitt said, “We had perfect weather, the excellent economy helped a lot, and we brought in four new rides out of the 70 that were set up. The No. 1 ride was R50XL Wheel that is 55 meters, or 150 feet high. The Titan, tallest portable ride in the U. S., made its first appearance in Phoenix.” Made by Fabbri, Leavitt said it is like a giant Speed ride that is 17 stories tall. Also new were a Tea Cup, Gosette-manufactured Ice Jet and two bottle up games.
“Our new app phone for a cashless midway helped expand our gross. They don't ever have to go to a ticket box. We created this inhouse through Mr. Burback (Ron Burback of Funtastic Shows, Portland, Oregon, a dear friend to both of us,” said Leavitt.
He said on the second to last Sunday, the fair had all the local service groups, firefighters, police, ambulance and other organizations come in and demonstrate their equipment. “It’s a good thing.”
Asked about his H-2B Visa foreign labor, Cammack said, “It would make it a lot more difficult for the entire industry to operate if we didn't have them. We were lucky enough to get our full allotment.”
Reached after the Oct. 25-Nov. 3 Cape Fear Fair & Expo, Wilmington, N. C., Les (Corky) Powers, who owns Powers Great American Midways with his wife, Debbie, who is first vice chair of OABA, said, “I'm ready to go home.”
Powers had played the Oct. 17-27 North Carolina State Fair, Raleigh, where attendance was 938,029, according to Kent Yelverton, GM. Last year's attendance was 977,256 and in 2017, it was 1,014,475. Powers said his gross numbers reflected the attendance as he was down by six per cent.
“But we feel good about that, knowing we wound up doing the best that was possible.” He said the season was very challenging since he didn't get his allotment of H-2B foreign workers early. “We got them six weeks late, but the important thing is we did get them. It would have been virtually impossible to work without them.” Powers said that in the spring he set up only 18 rides at some spots, and it required two days to tear them down because of the lack of qualified help. He added, “We ended up with a good season and feel lucky that we got what we got.” Ninety-four rides were set up in Raleigh, with Frank Zaitshik's Wade Shows, and Bob DeStefano's Dreamland Amusements also providing equipment. “We had a good layout and had to combat some really bad weather. We got lucky on the Saturday, however, when the South Carolina State Fair got rained out. We had threats but avoided the storms and had a good crowd.”
Some highlights of the year were the Dutchess County Fair, Rhinebeck, N. Y., the Montgomery County Fair, Gaithersburg, Md., and Great Allentown, Pa. Fair. “Once we got into our fair seasons all our dates were up. Last year we lost part, or all of our fairs in Concord, Greenville, and Goldsboro, North Carolina, due to the hurricane. All of them were good, with nice weather this year.”
Winter quarters are in Whiteville, N. C. “We'll be busy there and we'll go out again with Frank's Wade Shows at the South Florida State Fair, West Palm Beach, in January, and the Florida State Fair, Tampa, in February. And then it's on to the trade show in Gibsonton.”
Talent at North Carolina included Natural Wonder, a Tribute to Stevie Wonder, The Embers, featuring Craig Wooland, a Folk Festival, Branford Marsalis Quartet, Charlie Daniels Band, Pure Prairie League, featuring Craig Fuller, American Aquarium, and David Childers and Race Driver Kyle Petty.
Also, Bandaloni, The Flippin' Aerial and Acrobatic Spectacular, Paul Bunyan Lumberjack Show, a Parrot-Riding Pirate, Stilt Circus, Steel Drum Corps, and the No.1 attraction, the State Fair SkyGazer, a 155 ft. tall Ferris Wheel with 15-mile sight lines.
It's always interesting to hear from Jeremy Parsons, CEO/Manager of the Clay County Fair, Spencer, Iowa, where Mike Featherston's Goldstar Amusements provides the midway.
I've worked in the past with Myles Johnson, Jim Frost, Phil Hurst, and the last eight years, with Parsons, who like his predecessors, became active in the Mighty Midwest Fair Managers Association.
“I left you a voice mail, but I thought I would send an e-mail as well,” he said. “Well, the fair was interesting. We had five days of rain, one cancelled grandstand performance by Foreigner, and a cancelled Veterans Day Parade. With the bad weather, attendance dipped below 300,000, about four per cent from last year. BUT, despite the weather it was a smooth fair.
“People were happy and spending money. Our food and carnival gross were only down by two per cent. That was very interesting, considering the weather and the bad agricultural economy. So, although I would like to complain, I really can't.”
Parsons said that Goldstar did another excellent job as the midway operator. They set three single day gross records, which was important since the first weekend was essentially a washout.
“Thanks for all you do. I enjoy reading your column every week to get the real scoop.”
Well, here it is. Attendance for the Sept. 7-15 event was 296,998, down from 308,603. Grandstand events drew 17,368 and included Chuckwagon Races, Jon Pardi, with Jake Rose, Michael W. Smith, with Turen Wells, Maddie Pope, with Maggie Lindemann, and the ageless Leroy Van Dyke's Country Gold Show, with Moe Bandy, Jimmy Fortune. T. Graham Brown, and Steve and Rudy Gatlin.
Tom Gaylin of Rosedale Attractions called to say I finally got one right, and he was talking about my prediction that the Washington Nationals would win the World Series, which they did. I take umbrage since I also chose the Philadelphia Whiz Kids in 1950.
I don't usually do something like this, but I heard a song I liked so much while watching the HBO show called The Affair, starring Dominic West and Maura Tierney, that I want to recommend it. It's called “The Whole of the Moon,” by a group I never heard of called The Waterboys. Google it, as I did, and let me know what you think.
Please send news to firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 615 280-7257.
Have all great days, and God Bless!
I was watching the National Football League's Tennessee Titans lose once again to the Indianapolis Colts when the phone rang Sunday, and it was Danny Huston, the head honcho of North American Midway Entertainment on the other line.
Now, he's from a town named Farmland in the Hoosier State, but I knew he wasn't calling to gloat about the fact that even without Andrew Luck, the Colts had Marcus Mariota's number. I think his last good game was when Ron and Bev Burback were rooting for him during his great college days with Chip Kelly's Oregon Ducks. Let's put it this way, Mariota is not and never will be a Tom Brady.
For all you non-sports fans, ask Google what I'm talking about.
Huston was actually returning my call, even though it was about a week late. He had a very good excuse, however, stating he had just received the message. Danny is one of the good guys who always returns calls, so I was happy to hear his extensive remarks about the industry. In a nutshell, here they are: “We're having a good season. Revenue is up.” Naturally, I urged him to expand on his remarks.
“The economy is good, and people are spending money,” he added. I had called Huston after I spoke to NAME's Tony Diaz after the show's successful run through Canada, that capped at Western Days in London, Ontario, on the Sunday when I was watching the game.
At one time, when Evan McGugan was the manager, London had an independent midway. I'll never forget him saying to me when I asked about it, that (the legendary) Patty Conklin is not the only person who knows how to put together a midway in Canada.
I didn't mention the subject again, even though I could have said I knew several others who could, and did, including Bingo and Bobby Hauser, Jimmy Conklin, Barry Jamieson, John Robertson, John Homeniuk, Don Campbell, and a few others.
Diaz had mentioned to me that NAME had a new Giant Wheel that was going to debut at the Oct. 9-20 South Carolina State Fair, Columbia, where Nancy Smith will be in her first year as manager, having replaced the great Gary Goodman, who retired. Diaz said Danny was bringing it from the Netherlands but provided few more details. As I guessed, it was manufactured by Lamberink, is called an R50, and is 50 meters high. That's where I called on Google to find that equates to over 157 feet high. Huston was coming from West Springfield, Mass., where The Big E (Eastern States Exposition), Sept. 13-29, was just beginning. He figured a good part of the season was still ahead, as the Kansas State Fair, Hutchinson, was wrapping up, and Pat Repp and Tom Thebault were departing from there to the John Sykes-managed East Texas State Fair in Tyler, Sept. 20-29.
Dates remaining include the Tulsa, Oklahoma State Fair, Arkansas State Fair, Little Rock; Mississippi State Fair, Jackson, and Greater Gulf State Fair, Mobile, Alabama. Huston said NAME had good runs at the Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky State Fairs. I asked how former ride inspector Bobby Gill was doing and Huston said he was with the show in Indianapolis and will be in Mississippi. “I guess you can say he's semi-retired, but we're always glad when he's with us.”
Asked about anything else new, Huston, almost nonchalantly, stated, “We purchased three Chance double decker Merry-Go-Rounds that had been installed in malls in Michigan, Louisiana, and California. “The one from California is being racked and will come out next year. The others will appear at South Carolina and Mississippi.”
It's always great when somebody sends reports on their fairs to me. That's something Jim Sinclair of the Minnesota State Fair, St. Paul;
Carey Harveycuttter of the Salem, Va. Fair; J. H. Martin and Cliff Barton, with the Greater Baton Rouge, Louisiana, State Fair, Dillard Johnson and Chester Freeman of Cullman, Alabama, Jerry Robinson of the Alabama State Fair, Birmingham, Martin Ritter, Ed Charles and Bonnie Brosious of the Great Allentown, Pa. Fair, and several others, have done for years. Another guy who keeps me informed and up to date on what's going on in the industry is Darrell Desgranges, the Mizuno Golf Pro who has been giving lessons to food concessionaire Butch Netterfield, among others. I know Butch is a champion fisherman, (is that a word?), but lots of luck with golf.
Anyway, Darrell wrote: “Just finished the Coastal Carolina Fair, Sept. 7-15, at the Matt Brown/Scott Johnson-managed Greensboro Coliseum, where Chris Kelly is in his 18th year as manager. The 32-ride midway was provided for the eighth straight year by Sheri and Michael Reisinger's Michael's Amusements of Fayetteville, N. C.”
Desgranges, who also books talent, said concerts were booked through Meridian Entertainment of Holt Michigan, of which he is involved with, along with Brad Coombs, and Live Nation.
He said free shows in the White Oak Amphitheater's 105.7 Man-Up-Fest were given by Saliva/Trapt/Tantric, and 104.1 Q Country Fest, with Rodney Atkins and Dillon Carmichael. Hard ticket shows were by the B52s and Berlin, and in the new Piedmont Hall, Aaron Lewis, UB40, and Shaggy.
Desgranges said last year's second week was canceled due to Hurricane Florence. “This year the fair was threatened by Hurricane Dorian that passed within 10 miles of the Coliseum on opening day.
Michael's set three single day ride gross records. One was Dollar Day when all rides and select food and drink options were $1 each. By 8:30 p.m., the fair had reached capacity and the gates were closed. You should have seen the crowds. It was great.”
Darrell went on to point out that the original fair was founded and operated by the Hamid Family, Hamid Circus. In the 1950s, the Hamid Family sold the fairgrounds to the city of Greensboro, where the Greensboro Coliseum was built and opened on the site of the old fairgrounds in 1959. The Hamids continued to operate the fair until 2000 when the Coliseum took it over. It has 23,000 seats, the largest in America, and is home to the Atlantic Coast Conference's Hall of Fame. Michael's has a multi-year contract. Dates next year are Sept. 11-20. I'll be expecting the same kind of comprehensive report then.
Attendance at the 167th annual Great Allentown, Pa. Fair, held Aug. 27-Sept. 2, was 321,786, up by 18 per cent from last year's 272,700. Jessica Ciecwisz, Marketing and Event Manager, said mostly good weather helped Powers Great American Midways, led by Les (Corky) Powers, and his wife, Debbie, post a hefty 19 per cent increase in its carnival gross. “We had scattered rain and threats of thunderstorms on Wednesday, Aug. 28, and Labor Day. But the rest of the week was sunny with temperatures in the low 70s and 80s.”
Raymond Hoffman, who has been executive chairman and CEO since 2012, said, “We had a very good fair with nice weather on five of the seven days. Powers has been here since 2008 and I hope they're always here. They do a tremendous job and are great people.” Hoffman said he believed shows booked in by Powers were Irv, Jeff, and Judd Good's Goodtime Amusements from Hellerown, Pa., and David Pfeffer's Tons of Fun from Douglassville, Pa.
Grandstand acts and their attendance numbers were Live/Bush and Our Lady of Peace, 3,501; TruTV's Impractical Jokers, 2,958; Brooks & Dunn, with Ashley McBryde, 7,738; Miranda Lambert, with Randy Houser, 4,508; Why Don't We/Max/Eben/Tyler Grey, 5,148; Daryl Hall & John Oates, with G. Love & Special Sauce, 6,135, and the J&J Demolition Derby, 3,004.
Other attractions included Brunon Blaszak's Royal Bengal Tiger Show; World of Wonders, Zuzu Acrobats, Robinson's Pig Paddling Porkers; Glenn Miller Band, Moodonna, Dialed Action Sports Team, The Uptown Band, and Tom Yurasits's Magic and Illusion Show.
I'll be watching and betting on the Titans this Thursday when they play Jacksonville if anybody wants to call. I'll be home, as usual.Please send news to email@example.com, or call 615 280-7257.
In last week's column, I used that old cliché of the fact that no matter who is right or wrong, you simply can't beat City Hall, but a friend of mine whom I've known since we were both in diapers in Scranton, Pa., Bob Regan, who now resides in Mechanicsburg, Pa., with his wife, Pat, called me out on that.
No sooner than the ink had literally dried, which it did during many years as a member of The Fourth Estate, a vernacular term for members of the Press, Regan sent an email that stated, “Tom, you can't fight City Hall??? Sometimes you can. The mayor of our beloved hometown of Scranton resigned a few days ago. The Feds caught him in a pay-to-play scheme that apparently started as soon as he took office. Ah, the politicians 'keep on keepin on.'”
Mike Heffron, retired manager of the Minnesota State Fair, St. Paul, would often refer to me, lovingly, I'm presuming, as an ink-stained wretch during Midwest Fair Manager Association meetings. What Regan didn't say was that Bill Courtright is the third current or former Mayor from Eastern Pennsylvania to plead guilty to be convicted of federal charges in the last 17 months. He joins the Mayor of Allentown and the former Mayor of Reading. Growing up, we didn't have that problem, as Jim Hanlon, known as the Friendly Mayor, lived a block away from me and on the same street with Regan, whose father, Frank, was a funeral director.
When we wanted bats or balls, we simply knocked on his door and asked him for them. The Spoils System was working well in those days, and if you were raised in the section of Bellevue where Regan and I were, you could easily get a job as a fireman, policeman or garbage collector. One of my best recollections of Mayor Hanlon is on one election day when he asked if I needed a ride to the University of Scranton where I was attending as a freshman. I said I did and he told me to hop in.
On the way with only him, his chauffeur and me in the limousine, he stated “They've been trying to get something on me for 20 years (he was elected for five full terms), but they're never going to get anything. Do you know why?” Without me having time to answer, he said “Because there's nothing to get.” His influence was so great that when his right hand man, Puddy Keegan, slipped the answers to the fireman's test to a friend named Louie Sasso and he failed, Hanlon still got him the job.
Times have changed, but it was a big Fourth of July weekend for old friends Billy and Sue Clark, former owners of Smokey Mountain Amusements. Billy, who is the President of the Shriner's Club in Robbinsville, North Carolina, said he helped raise $11,000 for the Shriners’ crippled children's hospitals from the raffle of a four-wheeler. “We got $14,000 last year when we gave away a lawnmower,” said Clark who is enjoying retirement.
Speaking of former employees, Brian (Beaver) Bitner, who was general manager, and Katie Wilson, office manager, who bought the show five years ago, he said “They've been doing great. They have never missed a payment and eight more payments and it's theirs.” Clark said he and Sue, who worked hard for most of their lives, are really taking advantage of the time off. He said they have been to the Holy Land three times and are going back for a fourth, October 30 through November 10. “We've been to Austria, Hungary, Germany, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Cuba, Puerto Rico and some other small islands. We want to come back and visit with you and Christine again in Nashville. We hate that we didn't get to see John Hobbs again before he passed away.” The Clarks will celebrate their 58th wedding anniversary October 1.
Before buying Smokey Mountain Amusements with major help from the late David Smith of Allied Specialty Insurance, to whom Clark always gave credit, he spent time with Sheila and Jon Stine on Stine Amusements, Reithoffer Shows, Bob Childress Amusements, Charles Panacek's Belle City Amusements, and he was chief electrician for five years for James E. Strates Shows. Clark actually started off as a very young man with W.H. (Doc) Hardin and Honest Homer Scott on Georgia Amusement Company, which later became Homer Scott Shows. Clark was known for his employment wanted ads in Amusement Business which lured workers with the promise of hot biscuits and warm beds. I later spoke to Bitner, who said, “We've been doing real good.” I told him that Clark told me that he and Katie had been together for 22 years but never married. I was quickly corrected when he said, “It's really been 24 or 25.” When I asked if he planned to get married, he replied quickly “Hell no. We'll spend that money where it's needed.”
Asked what his major challenge has been since taking over ownership, Bitner didn't hesitate, “The damn help. Everything else is Cadillac, pretty nice.” Bitner is from Northeast Ohio, the town of Middlefield in Geauga County, and Katie is from Ashtabula County. “She moved around a lot before we met.” The show is now based in Gresham, South Carolina. Since taking over Smokey Mountain, Bitner has kept basically the same route, but cut the units from two to one since Billy and Sue had run one and he and Katie the other. “I picked and chose the rides I wanted to keep and Billy sold the rest. I kept the cream of the crop on the spots we play and eliminated some we had played in Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Our route is much tighter now with dates in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Virginia. It really helps with fuel costs.”
After the purchase, Bitner changed the name to B & K Carnival Company, added a Childress Expo Wheel and Orbiter, some trucks and generators. The show now travels with between 20 to 28 rides, four food stands and 15 to 18 games. Key people are Alicia Daugherty and Tim Bennett, who have games and food. Asked if he used H-2B foreign Visa labor, Bitner said, “This is our second year to do it. We should have done it 10 years ago. We asked for 18 workers this year, not really expecting to get them, but we took 11, leaving the rest for somebody else who might need them more. They're really good workers. All of ours are from Vera Cruz, Mexico.”
The show opened its season the third week of March around Charlotte, North Carolina. “We do a lot of festivals in North Carolina and South Carolina. The fair route has stayed pretty much the same as it was. We're at a spot in Franklin, North Carolina, for the Shriners next week. We play the Georgia Mountain Fair in Hiawassee July 18 through the 27, where Hilda Thomason is still the General Manager.” Christine and I visited that spot several times and enjoyed major cookouts where Billy and Sue treated us to steaks, lobster tails and our favorite beverages. Old friend Jimmy Jay of Jayson Promotions, Hendersonville, Tennessee, always books a solid lineup of Country music acts there.
Attendance has continued to slide in recent years at Hiawassee, which used to be a very good spot, and I asked Bitner his theory on why that has happened. He said, “During the economic bust several years ago, the demographics totally changed. People used to go to that fair from Atlanta, Chattanooga and even Knoxville. You'd have people coming to the mountains to enjoy the cooler weather, but now it's mostly retired people living around that area from Florida and Canada.”
Asked if he ever booked with other shows, Bitner said, “We do four, five or six weeks with Bobby Brinkley of Brinkley Entertainment, who is based in Walnut Cove, North Carolina. We help each other wherever needed, depending on the size of the spots. I sent a couple of rides with Big A (Amusements of America) to Charleston (the Coastal Carolina Fair in Ladson, South Carolina) last year.”
Asked if Billy and Sue still come to visit, Bitner said, “They did, especially at Hiawassee every year but haven't since he sold their bus.” Bitner admitted he's excited about the fact that pretty soon he and Katie will completely own the show. “We've been lucky this year with weather. When it hits us, it happens on the right days, Mondays or Tuesdays. We haven't lost any of the good days, weekends. I can't complain about anything. Having this show has not been a struggle since Day One.”
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Have a great week and God Bless!!
I'm not sure if I'm so tired today because of watching the Boston Red Sox lose a 17-inning game to Minnesota last night that didn't end until around 1:30am, or because of two days of mental anguish during the viewing, Mass, burial and wake of John A. Hobbs, my beloved friend of 61 years.
Hobbs was 91 and thank goodness, he did not suffer. He was ready to go even though many of us, quite selfishly, I suppose, tried to hold on to him for a little bit longer. The night before he died, he was searching for a baseball game on TV, and his son, Ronnie, called me to find out what stations they might be on. I would often call him late at night and tell him his favorite team, the Dodgers, were on.
We enjoyed thousands of nights drinking, partying and hobnobbing at his Nashville Palace with every Country music star imaginable, plus the likes of Governor Ray Blanton, Minnesota Fats, Fast Eddie Felson, Jerry Springer, Tommy Lasorda, Billy Russell, Mike Scioscia and his entire Albuquerque baseball team (before he managed the Angels), and his bench coach Mickey Hatcher, who danced with Christine, John McNamara, who managed eight major league teams, and Chicago Bears QB Bill Wade.
When Springer walked in, he immediately asked that the television set be tuned to ESPN. The former mayor of Cincinnati was a sports fan. I asked politely if he'd pose for a picture with some of the RDs (regular drunks), and he obliged. One of the women, whose name I won't mention, gushed and said that she watched his show every day. Springer, who later that night appeared with Hobbs, by remote on the Jimmy Kimmel show, looked at her and said, “Get a life.”
Little Jimmy Dickens used to come in and have a couple glasses of wine before appearing on the Grand Ole Opry. Semi-regulars included Jim Ed Brown, Vern (The Voice) Gosdin, Porter Wagoner, Del Reeves, Danny (of The Nashville Brass) Davis, Mel McDaniel, Jimmy C. Newman, Johnny Russell, Ricky Van Shelton, Alan Jackson, Lorrie Morgan, and Randy Travis, whom I spoke to for several minutes before Hobbs' funeral Mass. Travis, known then as Randy Ray, and I have an autographed album to prove it, was a cook and dishwasher there for over three years. I saw Randy once at the Great Allentown, Pa. Fair and he asked about Maxie, Shorty, Mr. Mac, Pigskin Louie, Fast Eddie Paschall, and all the regulars. Then he and his lead guitar player, Rick Wayne, wondered if Hobbs still worried about me getting home safely. Whenever McDaniel would come in the front door, we'd all get up and sing “Stand Up and Testify,” his signature tune.
Hobbs, who joined the Merchant Marines at the age of 15, was there for the Japanese surrender to General MacArthur. He was a real patriot who asked me to sing the Pearl Harbor song every December 7, which I did for more than 50 years. They played a rousing rendition of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish fight song as the crowd slowly filed out of the church. It was very appropriate. As was a “Mother's Love Is Endless,” by Billy Mangan, who owns Mangan's Irish Pub in Mt. Clemons, Michigan, a place we frequented quite a bit. Mangan, his wife, June, and Tommy and Joanie O'Halloran, who owned the Tipperary Pub in Detroit, made several trips to Ireland with us for Notre Dame-Navy football games. We first met when I was covering the Michigan State Fair.
John loved being around people. I introduced him to many from the amusement industry. He loved it, particularly carnival people, and whenever many of them passed through Nashville they made it a point to come visit with him and listen to his incredible stories. I believe the last ones I snapped a photo of him with were Jeanette Gilmore and Greg Ruda, Rick Reithoffer, Charles Panacek, Gloria Myers and Lucky Klinger, and the foursome of Bonnie Culpepper, Jo Ann Koza, Mary Jean Leonard, and Barbara Wilson. Hobbs actually had a double wedding with carnival owner Hillman Snyder.
Johnny became close to Paul (Duke) Smith of Allied Specialty Insurance, George Millay, founder of Sea World and Wet N Wild, Bryan Wittman, a vice president with the Walt Disney Company, Don Sandefur, who ran the Harlem Globetrotters, Buddy Lee, who booked most of the major Country acts, park owners Dick Knoebel, Albert and Dennis Carollo and George (Bud) Gilmore of Smokey's Greater Shows, whom we always sat next to during the trade shows. We enjoyed lunch with Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, and drinks and a baseball game with Gene Autry. We were on the field for a Yankees Old-Timers game, and he even visited my hometown of Scranton, Pa., and was hosted royally at Hershey Park by J. Bruce McKinney and Paul Serff.
When he built the Music Valley Amusement Park, Hobbs brought in ride inspector Joe Culver to manage it. Helping get it off the ground were Michael Wood, Mike Demas, Patrick Sheridan, Joe Bixler, and Kevin Dalton. We spent time in St. Louis with Carl and Roberta Mathis, Theresa Noerper and Ann Sedlmayr of Archway Amusements. When Sam Giordano, who became manager of the State Fair of Louisiana, Shreveport, worked for Rod Link Shows, Sam told Rod he was going to Nashville to see me. When Link asked if he had called, Sam said he knew I'd be with Hobbs at the Nashville Palace.
Every time Kenny Smith, Rick D'Aprile, Rene and Judy Piche, Jim and Janice Swain were near Nashville, it was a must to see Johnny Hobbs. I've taken pictures of him (always on the job) with the likes of Ed Gregory, who held all his employee parties at the Palace, Milt Kautman, Ray Cammack, Bernard Thomas, Jerry Murphy, Jim Strates, Frank Zaitshik, John (The Peddler) Curtis, Jerry Bohlander, Billy and Sue Clark, James Roy and Petrina Pope, J. D. Floyd, Butch, Kim and Ronnie Netterfield, Billy Baxter, Bobby and Sue Wynn, Claire Morton, Jean Clair, Ed Murphy, Jim Murphy, and so many others.
When Harold Case and David Starkey entered the door, Hobbs would have a double Crown Royal ready for Harold and a waitress on call for Starkey's order. They once were waiting for a shipment of goldfish at the Greyhound Bus station, so they lingered at The Palace. By the time they had left, the goldfish had died. The regulars loved when Gene (T-Shirt Kelly) Spezia passed through town because he always had tee shirts and other novelty gifts that he passed around generously.
Hobbs attended all our Polish Picnics at Andy and Ethel Osak's Showtown USA Bar in Gibtown, with Nashville buddies Eddie Paschall, Eddie Bryan, Wayne (Trucker) Beck, Bill (Gun Show) Goodman, Pat Mitchell, Paul Hatfield, and Jack Burns. Also there were Gene McQuater, who had owned McQuater's Greater Shows and kept the picnic going after Osak's death, Father John Vakulskas, Leah O'Neil, Terri Swyear, Marilyn Portemont, Ned and Lori Ludes, Bill Alter, and Umpire Joe West. Monsignor Robert J. McCarthy said several Masses at the Palace, often to the astonishment of those sitting at the bar. John always made sure there was a collection.
Dianne Sherrill sang one of John's favorites, “You Are My Sunshine,” which Louisiana Governor Jimmie Davis wrote about and dedicated to his horse of the same name. While in heaven, I'm hoping Hobbs doesn't try to get on that horse and ride. He fell off a motorcycle while he was down here.
For anybody I failed to mention, it was not intentional, and if you have a memory of meeting John, let me know. I have many more columns to write. He went on his terms, and that's how I'm ending this.
(read article in the Nashville Scene about John A. Hobbs here >>>
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