Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Midway Memories: More on the Diggers

The diggers required some maintainence.   Sometimes one would go all funky and drag the shovel back dragging along the prizes. Sometimes a chain would break.  We had an out of order sign but it was rarely used. There was also one extra machine ( cab and mechanism) that was kept under the counter just in case.  My Father In Law and Far Guy were the fixers of the machines.  When you are making money ten cents at a time you wanted all of the machines to work.  Especially if you had a “tip.”  A tip is when all your machines are being played at once.  Being that busy for an extended period of time was a good thing. It was fun being busy!  People would tap their dime or quarter on the top of the machine, you would grab the dime or make change and turn the machine on.  There was a lever that turned the machine on.  You could usually hear it click and then it was ready to play.  Prizes were scooped up and then brought back to the chute, sometimes they would get hung up and need assistance…the glass tabletop lighters we tried to catch them before they were dropped into the chute.  No sense in breaking a lighter and cleaning up a mess. 

During slow times we would get out of the trailer and play the machines ourselves…I got pretty good at it!

Marvin Unknown year

Far Guy writes:

This photo shows how the machines were set up in the trailers.  In the photo above you can see the aluminum trim on the diggers.  Dads main intent was to cover the hole in front where the coin slot was.  Connie usually worked with Dad in the big joint.  Mom and I usually worked the little joint.  There was a reason for that!  Dad and I talked to the customers all the time, we kept things interesting, joked with the people and would call attention to players when they scooped up a prize.  It didn’t make much sense to put two talkers in one joint.  When Connie and I worked together I didn’t pay as much attention to the customers.

Far Side writes:  During the winter at the house in Park Rapids, all the digger mechanisms would come into the basement and get cleaned with  kerosene.  Fairgrounds are dusty places.  One by one they were inspected.  The work bench in the basement was busy during the winter.  In later years, a machine was purchased at a Antique Shop in Duluth Minnesota. I believe it was $250.  (We heard one was there and went to look at it several times before his Dad bought it.)  It was that machine that remained in the basement until they sold their home.  (Far Guy’s Mom did not want a digger in her living room.) We have had it in our living room  since about 1990 it was a gift for Far Guy’s birthday…and then it was upstairs in this house and now that machine belongs to our daughter Jennifer, she has it in her dining room.  Far Guy fixes it on occassion and has showed them how to adjust it.  It was that machine that Jennifer played when she was little.  I will share part of a poem she wrote:

A stool I’d sit

For hours

Turning a crank

Playing an ancient machine

Prizes never gained        Jennifer

You could get prizes out but they had to be returned to the machine!  That was always the rule, you could play for free but what you won went back in the machine.   A hard rule for some kids to follow, we have had to replace a few rabbits feet over the years.

Newspaper diggers Algona Iowa

This is an old newspaper photo from Algona Iowa.  It shows how the prizes were laid out in the machines.   See that light bulb?  That was one thing you had to watch out for when replacing prizes!

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  1. Fascinating story! I think you are the only people I know who actually lived the Midway life. How cool to learn more about it. :-)

  2. They had to be meticulous and well organized to run this business. A good spiel brings in more customers.

    1. I've been following these comments all along and I must say you seem be a little more knowledgeable about things then most. ??????

  3. This is so fascinating especially since my daughter who is now 40 still plays those machines! She's very good at it as she has loved them since she was little. She's got her kids playing them now. They're a bit different and I have even seen pictures of little kids crawling inside of them. Huh? I have to remember to tell Amy when she calls. I need to write things down so when she calls I don't forget. So many times I get off of the phone and it dawns on me I forgot to tell her or ask her something...never fails!
    I thought that was so sweet when Far Guy said he didn't talk to the customers as much when you were around! LOL! I wonder why? Young love!

  4. I remember playing these at the fair. It seem like you could crank it around fast enough that the claw would clank against the glass. Did that ever happen? We were very poor so I never had much money to spend at the fair. But one time I got lucky with a digger and won a little miniature gold glass mug. I kept that thing for years and years! What fun memories you've brought back with your series on the diggers.

    1. Oh yes the glass was pitted with spots where the shovel would hit the glass when it was swinging. :)

  5. I won a tiny brass rocking horse (or some kind of heavy metal) that I probably still have someplace--LOL! I love these stories. Makes perfect sense they had to split up you lovebirds. ;)

  6. I was never very good at these... though I could occasionally win a girl a prize shooting hoops at old Excelsior Park at Minnetonka.

  7. I don't know why the cigarette lighter jogged my memory but I remember that so clearly. I guess it seemed to be an unusual thing for a prize. Now that I see the photo, I do remember the diggers. They didn't come our way very often. The other thing I remember clicking of money on the top of the glass.

  8. I saw a digger this summer, will post it.


Thanks for stopping by! I appreciate your comments! If you have a question I will try to answer it here. I no longer accept anonymous comments. All comments will be approved before posting...due to spammers...may the fleas of a thousand camels infest every hair on his body. Connie