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Bea Negus

Toronto, Tuesday, 30 August 2005

A lot of the people that Bob Hunter was talking about were from the same era that my husband, Bob, came from.

I’ve been in the business 45 years now. When I came into the business, all the other shows were fading out. The World of Mirth was only in business two years and I knew absolutely nothing about the business. I’d never even been to a fair. Bob got me in the business. His uncle had bingos. His name was Bill Jones, and he had Jones bingos. At one given time he could have 26 of them travelling in the States on different shows.

So, when Bob got out of the Service, he went to work for his uncle, who was in the Air Force. He said he never worked a day in his life. That’s how he got into the business. And then he would remember all of the carnivals, and Patty Conklin. Patty Conklin was President of the Miami Showmen’s Club. That’s where he lived, in Miami. So I had met him when I was real young but I didn’t know any of the history behind anything. Then three years after we were married, the World of Mirth went out of business. That was ’62, I think. Bob used to travel with the World of Mirth in the fall of every year.

After Labour Day, different things would change. All the parks would close, and Bill Jones had all the bingos in all the parks. So then we were all sort of joined together, because at that time in Columbia, South Carolina—which we work today, the Jones bingo sits on the very same corner that it sat for 45 years that I know of—we had three bingos in there. So all of the managers whose shows had either closed or the parks had closed would go in and work those southern fairs, because when they worked Ottawa, they had four bingos in Ottawa. And all of the southern fairs had no less than two, three or four bingos at any given time. That was years ago, a long time ago. And that’s how I got into the business.

We had the bingo with Conklin for 15 years. I heard that Red Cohen used to have the bingo before. Morley something or other had it before we had it. Then we had it, the Jones family. My husband was working in the marketing department when the show was in the States in the late ’70s. He dealt with the fair boards and the committees; he did a lot of things. He also handled all the insurance claims. Like when they went to court and everything, he did all of that, in the US. And he took care of any entertaining that they did for the US fairs and things like that. He pretty much took care of all the press. That’s what he did before he passed away.

When he passed away, I took over the entertaining part, Frank took over some, and John Anderson took over some. I really don’t know who handles the insurance claims and who goes to court and things like that. That’s strange, I never heard of who does that. Howard Pringle takes care of the press. It’s really like, four people who took over what Bob did. He covered a lot of ground. I take care of the fair manager and the liaison between the show and the fair board in just in Springfield. And John Anderson sort of took care of the rest of them.

The first 15 years after they bought the show, we came to Canada and we had the bingo up here. And my husband basically operated that. In the States, we had the bingo in Columbia and I operated that. That’s the only spot that we had a bingo down there at that time. Then after we sold this one we didn’t own the one in the US, we just operated it for Bill Jones. When his sons bought us out up here, then they took the other. That’s what we did for years.

Really, the only shows that I’ve been with are Strates Shows and the Coleman Brothers’ Shows, the first year we were married. I was only there a month and then the bingos all were closed for agricultural fairs. Then that year, the first year we were married, actually, we came to Canada with Racine Greater Shows. We had the bingo with them that year, and then they developed a game called “I Got It.”

The way that it was explained to me is, once bingo is legalized, then you usually can’t operate it at fairs. Generally in the US, when it was legalized, there would be clauses that would say that it has to be in a permanent building that was standing for more than x amount of years. There were a lot of stipulations and travelling bingo companies couldn’t meet the standards. So then they developed this game called “I Got It,” where you threw little red rubber balls in a box that had holes that you lined up five in a row just like a bingo card. That’s what we operated from then until we got out of the business. Bingo and “I Got It,” when we could work bingo. But for most of the fairs it was “I Got It” in the US. When we came up here we started with the bingo and we also put an “I Got It” up along with the bingo.

Bob was a very well-respected man in the carnival business. I have people coming up to me to this day and tell me how much they miss him, and they don’t have to do that. He really started marketing with Jim Strates. We were on the Strates Shows 14 years and he started working some in the marketing department with Jim. Entertaining used to be a lot different back then when we started out with the convention. It used to be in Chicago for the IAFE, the International Association of Fairs and Expositions, before they moved to Las Vegas. When you would go to that convention, you would take different people with the fair board out every single night. They would have other people from the show involved in helping with that.

So we went to Chicago and helped with the fair boards. Sometimes he would go with one fair board and I’d go with another. Sometimes we’d get spread a little thin. It was sort of who you gelled with was who you helped to entertain. And that’s how he really got started, with the Strates Shows. Sometimes they would work two different spots, and he would be the lot manager of one, then they split.

Then after that, we were with Deggeller Shows and then I sort of took over the bingo and he went more into the marketing and working for Deggeller. When Conklin bought Deggeller out, he stayed in the marketing and I still took care the bingo. Then when we came up here, thank God. By that time Conklin had basically bought the route in the States, and so then he came up here and in the beginning, I was going to operate it myself, but as things evolved, they didn’t have that much in the States so he came up here, too. And it was a job for two people. I always thank my lucky stars that I didn’t try to do that by myself, I couldn’t have. I had managed bingos for years by myself, but …

We moved the Skooter building. That’s the building that Jim had a wood floor put in so it was 100 feet by 60 feet. It had scenery all the way around it, lighted scenery. It was a huge project, like setting up a ride. The first year we came up here, nothing was racked on it, so the first piece that came out of the trailer was the last piece to go up in the air, and vice versa—the first piece to come down was the last piece to go in the trailer. It took a long time to set up and tear down. So, after the first year, we racked the trailers, and then everything as it came down went right into the truck, the way that carnival equipment should move. So he got it so he could tear it down in four hours with a crew of 12. And then the Regina jump, we tore down in Edmonton on Saturday and had it up by noon on Regina on Monday, and he always made it. Never missed an opening. I remember one time he tore it down and they set it up in Regina in eight hours, which was a phenomenal record for us. Usually took 12 hours to set up; you could set it up in 12 consistently if you pushed it.

Morley used to fly a crew into Regina, before we had it, so they would be fresh to start setting up. I don’t know exactly how he worked it; that was just what we were told. We were not really here then. I was up here one year and Bob was still in the States. I just brought a game up. I told my sister-in-law, “Well, there’s no sense of walkin’ in that bingo, that’s one bingo we’ll never have.” And then the next year we did, and I told her, “I wished we had walked in that bingo to see what was going on.” But that year he came up, the first year we bought it, so I never had to operate it by myself. That was the plan, but it was too big a job. So when he came up here, when we left here, he started in with the marketing. That’s pretty much what we did.

When he died, Frank kindly offered me a job. What I basically do is what I did when he was alive, to help him out. At a lot of our fairs, we have a dinner where we entertain the fair, and I used to take care of that. And 90% of the time we’d cook the food ourselves and everything, just a home-cooked thing. So I just continued doing that and I would take care of booking the rooms in Las Vegas and making the arrangements for the dinner that we had for the fair boards up there. A lot of that stuff Bob did. He didn’t cook the dinners, the ladies helped out with that. Like I said, I do liaison between the fair and the show in Springfield, and sometimes when fair people come to a location and everybody is busy, I’ll take them out to dinner. Just more the entertaining, the marketing end of the business. And then anything nobody else wants to do. John Anderson’ll say, “If there’s nobody wants to do it, then they give it to me.” I’ve still been basically doing the same thing that I did before, but I don’t know for how long now.

Things really haven’t changed that much with the new owners, but I’m only going to Springfield. In West Palm I did everything that I did before and in Miami I did everything that I did before, and I went to Florida fair meeting, took care of that dinner and everything there, so now we’ll see what happens. Anytime there’s a buyout or a takeover, I don’t really have a problem with that. I always figure, one door closes and another one will open. Whatever they decide to do, it’s all right with me.

My daughter, Bunny, started her games with Conklin Shows three years ago. She went to half a year of college when she graduated from high school, and ever since then she’s been out here. She came out on Deggeller Shows, when we were there. She had two games and she’s been out here ever since. They also have a Cinnamon Roll that they have booked independent in the United States. They work Tampa, Dade County, Desmoines, Iowa, and Minnesota. Her husband’s at the Minnesota State Fair right now with the Cinnamon Roll. And so they’ve had that for a number of years, but prior to that, she had games. She stayed with Deggeller. Actually, the boys, when Alan and Mervin sold the show, Donny was with Conklin Shows one year, and then they bought their own show, they started their own show, the sons of Alan Deggeller. She was with them for years until they sold all of her equipment after she married Paul and then they operated the Cinnamon Roll. Then three years ago they bought this operation up here, which was the same operation that belonged to Joe Staten when she first came up here, which was who she worked for.

I came up here 26 years ago, Greg Gravelle, that’s the first year he was lot manager. I asked him, “When was the first year you were lot manager here because that was the first year I was here?” And he said 26 years ago, so that would be ’79. She wouldn’t have been here in ’79, but she would have worked for Joe in ’80. She worked for Joe at least one year, and maybe two years, and then when we put the “I Got It” up here, she started operating the “I Got It.” And then when she married Phillip Evans, they went with the Deggeller Shows with concessions again. And then my daughter, Elizabeth, started to operate the “I Got It.” I think Bunny operated it four years, and then Elizabeth operated until we sold it. Then they bought a Mini Doughnut and Curly Fry and they’ve been here ever since. Right out of college, she came here. And she had never really been in the carnival business, she never came out, she hated it, she stayed in camp all summer. And then she came up here to visit and she said, “This isn’t so bad.” It was just such a difference in this show and the show in the States. When she came up here, it was just a difference between day and night. Then after she graduated from college, she never left.

Compared to the States, 26 years ago, it was a huge, huge difference. It was unbelievable. Frank just had major, huge rides, like four or five, that only he worked. He worked Phoenix, that’s the only one that I really remember. I know there were several big, big spots that he worked in the States. Dallas, San Antonio, Battle of the Roses. Then he would come up here and work the summertime with his father and then he took his equipment and he went back and worked those independent fairs. Southern Comfort is what I think they called the Deggeller Shows but I’m not positive. Bob Rice worked with him and Jim Caskey and Tommy Coffing. But then he would come in and work the west and he must have worked here, too.

Back in those days, these grounds were so much different. I came here the year my husband died and I never did figure out where I was, never could figure it out. Now I’ve walked around here enough, because I’ve been here 13 or 14 days and so I can get it in my mind, but everything still looks so different with the stadium gone. We used to take the streetcar if we wanted to go anyplace while the fair was on. I didn’t even know you could still take it from the grounds. Everything up here was different when I first came up here; everything was beautiful. And they kept everything so clean. They used to pressure-wash back in those days. They pressure-washed everything, every week. Every truck was glistening white, and every truck had a huge Conklin logo.

Most of the larger rides that Frank had, which was what he was noted for, they haven’t gone up this summer. That’s also a financial thing. Most of everything in this business, Conklin was the first to do it. All the big rides, there’s still no carnival company anywhere that has the type of rides that Frank had. They were the first ones to have Guest Relations. Conklin Shows has really been a leader in the business.

It’s just not the same place as it was when we first came here. A lot of the problems is not having the stadium with the Blue Jays games here and a lot of different things that they had. It made a big difference in our business as we would be able to judge what our business was going to be. I kept records of what happened the year before, and you could look back and see and then you’d know, and then mark all the Blue Jays’ games and everything like that each day of the fair. You could judge your business by that. It’s sure not the same now. I know they have fireworks at Ontario Place every night and I ask, “Do we get anything on the midway like after the fireworks or anyplace on the grounds?” and they said no. We always got something after the games or after the concerts when they were over here.

Conklin Shows certainly has been innovative in the business. I wish I could remember all the things that they were the first ones to do, because I know there was a ton of them. I think that they were definitely the leaders in making the industry a legitimate business.

I don’t know how many years ago it was that Bill Jones’ started, I know his wife is 98, her name was Barker, and she was Jim Strates’s stepdaughter. He married her mother; her father was an electrician who was killed, and her mother married Mr. Strates. When she married Bill Jones, he was already in the bingo business. He had a game called Housie. He had a stand-up Housie game. And he said you can make more money by running a legitimate bingo, because they always had people in the audience that won. He said that you can make more money running a legitimate bingo and giving the prizes away. That’s how he got started in the bingo business. I don’t know how many years ago; I’d have to say that was 70 years ago.

Bob loved this business. People used to ask me occasionally, “What would you do if you weren’t in this business?” And I’d say, “I don’t know—I’ve never thought about it.” When I first married him, my mother-in-law used to say to me all the time, “Now, you get Robert out of that business.” And I said, “Wait just a minute here. I married him in this business.” I met him in the off-season through a mutual friend, a girl that I worked with dated one of his best friends, and so she introduced us. That’s how I met him. I lived in Arlington, Virginia. He lived in Maryland, which was on the other side of Washington.

I had been to Glen Echo amusement park when I was a kid, but in Washington, DC, we didn’t have fairs and carnivals and things like that. So I had never really been. I’d been to a little fair up in West Virginia when we went to visit my grandmother on the 4th of July and it had a Ferris wheel and a chair plane, and probably a merry-go-round, at a little park that’s still standing to this day. I was just by there when my mother passed away. I drove all over town, looking at everything.

My husband used to hunt up there and he got 225 acres, which I still have. My uncle and cousins hunt on it. I just keep it. As long as I don’t need it for the money, I’ll just keep it so they can hunt up there. We went up there a lot, but I never took the time to just drive around and look at everything where you’d go visit when you were a kid. After she passed away, I did that. I took all the flowers. All of her relatives, every time we’d go up there I’d have to take flowers and put them on the cemetery for her grandmother and everything. I went and did all that for her, because I knew that that’s what she would want to do if she was there. The park still looks the same, actually. They’ve moved the fairgrounds from the park now, I don’t know where it is, but I know that the 4th of July carnival’s not there anymore. And I’m sure it has more rides.

The first year was quite difficult, not because of the carnival business per se, but Racine Shows was a little bit different. I mean, the towns that we worked, nobody spoke English, and I had only been to visit him with his brother and sister-in-law one time prior to that, so I had never been on a carnival, and back in those days you didn’t have washers and dryers. They didn’t have laundromats up in northern Quebec and I can remember getting my laundry done and you could tell when you got it back that the lady had washed it by hand. You could tell, the way the clothes looked and were. It was a difficult year, but I had to stay because my former boss said when I got married, “You will never be able to do this, and I’m only putting you on a leave of absence because you’ll be back.” I used to cry and I’d say, “I can’t go home, everyone said I couldn’t do this. I gotta stay.” So I did, I made it the first year and then we went with the Strates Shows.

There was a lot of good experiences there with Racine Shows. When we worked Quebec City, there was a Trappist monk monk that came and he sold candy because that’s how they made some extra money. He was from the order where they didn’t talk, and he had more personality in his little finger than most people have in their whole body. He talked, he could talk at the fair. He was the cutest, the jolliest, the greatest person you ever met in your life. How he stayed quiet was beyond me. He was pretty close to us, and we became really good friends with him.

Back in those days, when you had two winners, they received a gift like pounds of coffee, and cookies and different things, in a certain price range. And my husband ran out of his split wins and the monk said, “Use my chocolates,” because that would be good for his business and for us. My husband said, “I’d like to, but I can’t do that because it doesn’t cost enough money.” He said “You give it away, and if anybody says anything to you, you send them to me. I’ll take care of it.” So we did. We bought the chocolates from him and there were no complaints. They were delicious chocolates. Now that was almost 44 years ago, and I’ve never forgotten that man.

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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