Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Midway Memories: My First Days

I went out on the road in June of 1968.  I stayed out until Labor Day that year.  Then I went back home to finish my last year of High School. 

I was a forty miler for a few days…then I went farther than forty miles with the carnival. After you made it through a few spots and travelled down the road aways you were considered a real carnie.
It was a different way of life for me.  Far Guy’s parents were really good about sheltering me…and Far Guy tried really hard to teach me the ropes. Do this, do that…it was a lot to learn.

I made some mistakes…luckily they were not huge life altering mistakes…only life lessons. 

I was an agent in the diggers and sometimes I was a ticket seller.  The first time I was in charge of a ticket box…Weird Harold (everyone called him that) took some money from me when I opened the back door of the ticket box for him.  Edna knew right away that I had been robbed…she hollered at weird Harold, he confessed and gave the money back.   Never let a Ride Boy in your ticket box unless The Boss or Edna said so. 

One night I walked back to the camper after dark to get sweaters for Far Guy’s Mom and I.  On the way back a group of teenage boys from town started hassling me…there were about six of the smart mouth creeps.  I kept walking and all of of sudden I was surrounded…just then a fellow I had only known for a few days walked right through and grabbed my arm and off we went.   That was Leon, he was a farm kid from Iowa and was out on the show with his Uncle Hubert.  Leon was a looker, tall dark and very handsome.  Far Guy says “Leon was sweet on you.”  Perhaps he was, he would stop by the joint and talk to me and ask me if he could get me popcorn or a soda.  I liked Leon as a friend…nothing more…however IF I hadn’t been going with Far Guy I would have went out with Leon.  Leon went into the Navy during Vietnam.  He died when he was 36 years old, I think in a car accident…but I am not sure.

There is no such thing as a Skyhook, Tent Stretcher or a Key To The Midway.  If someone sent you for any of them they were just sending you on a wild goose chase.

The first day I was out on the road I met lots of people and nearly every one of them told Far Guy “This girl is way prettier than the one you were with last night.”
Al and Edna #2 (2)
Edna and Al Merriam with Joyce Berry leaning on the post in the background, unknown year possibly early 1960’s.

Today I will introduce you to some of the people I met.  Most are dead and gone now.  Very few are alive. I met so many over the years…I will be writing about them for a few more weeks.

Al and Edna Merriam: They were the show owners from Ogden Iowa.  Alva or Al better known as “The Boss” suffered from migraine headaches and was a tad cranky.  He ran a tight ship, drinking on the job was not allowed, if he caught one of the ride boys drinking he would run him off.  He didn’t care what you did after the show was closed for the night or on your day off.  Edna was in charge of payroll and the ticket sellers and Al.  Edna was really good to me, and well Al was Al…after Edna died he talked to us quite a bit about her, he was really lonely after she died.  We visited them a few times at their home in Ogden Iowa in the winter time. Edna died in 1986 and Al joined her in 1994. On a side note Edna had Trigeminal Neuralgia, we didn’t know about it back then but after Far Guy was diagnosed a good friend of Edna’s shared that information with us.

The Berrys: We called them Farmer and Mrs Farmer, I am certain they had real names but I do not recall them.  They had a sno cone joint and the pony ride.  They made their own sno cone grape juice…probably why Far Guy still likes Grape Snow Cones. They also sold Chocolate Covered Bananas one of my favorites!  They kept them in a huge cooler along with ice cream sandwiches…the homemade kind.  (They would slice off squares from a half gallon of ice cream and sandwich it in between two waffles that were crunchy.) They had two sons, Marvin and Eugene and one daughter Joyce.  Joyce was always sweet on Far Guy and Paul too, they used to take her along to the movies with them on nights off.  Joyce was a little cool to me…I was competition.  The Berry’s were from Minnesota.   Far Guy called and talked to Joyce a few times.  Her parents have passed on.  Joyce never got married and still has a sno cone joint that she sets up in local celebrations.   Her brother Marvin has a mini doughnut joint out on Stipes Shows.  Back in the 1960’s he ran the tilt and his beautiful wife with red hair sold tickets.  Not sure what Eugene did, once in a while he came out to help his parents.

Bill and Helen Campbell:  Bill had a Novelty Joint and was the mail man.  Helen had a spin the jewelry wheel and she would engrave it for free. Helen had a large goiter.  They were from Dennison Iowa.  They had a son named Lawrence that was a school teacher, during the summer he had a Guess your Weight/Age Joint and would draw quite a crowd.  It was fun to watch him work the crowd. Bill died in 1993 and Helen in 2003.  They were kind people.  Bill was tall and lean with a crew cut and mostly he wore grey pants and blue shirts and a funny little hat, he walked really fast!  Helen had curly grey hair and wore white anklets with her black old lady shoes with a bit of a heel, she usually wore slacks and a flowered blouse.  Helen also wore glasses and a smile…she also knew most of the gossip on the show.

Some older history from Far Guy.

Sno Cone Pete was an old bachelor.  He had a machine just like a wood planer that shaved ice.  Far Guy says “It fell into a bucket”  His sister says “ The ice fell on the ground and the kids would eat it.”
Al merriam 1975 Tama Iowa
Al Merriam in Tama Iowa in 1975.
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  1. What great memories. You tell the stories well, Connie, and many of these people come alive once more as you paint them for me. Thank you for introducing to me to such interesting characters. :-)

  2. I've been enjoying this series immensely!

  3. What an interesting post. What a great way for a teenager to spend a summer!

  4. Quite eye-opening for a girl from rural northern Minnesota, but it does sound like there were many nice people to get to know. I can't imagine my parents letting me go off with the carnival for a summer at age 17. You must have been very convincing!

  5. I enjoy reading Midway Memories. What a legacy you're leaving your grandchildren.

  6. I love these memories. Those were such good times. Not at all like the Midway's at today's fairs.

  7. Ditto what Iggy said. I am enthralled! :)

  8. You sure had an interesting life as a teenager. That must have been fun. Did you know or ever see the girl everybody said you were prettier than?

  9. People became attached to the carnival. a good part of it was the people they worked with as you describe some great people in this post.

  10. They really are good memories and different ones for the people who watched the shows and the carnival booths as customers. I was always a little bit curious about that other side as I looked through a booth buy tickets or ride the ferris wheel.

  11. What wonderful memories and people. I think every person is interesting if you just get to know them.


Thanks for stopping by! I appreciate your comments! If you have a question I will try to answer it here. Connie