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Bob Hunter

Toronto, Thursday, 1 September 2005

Kenny Galuska has worked for me forever. His father, Stan Galuska, worked for Patty. He ran the ring toss game out in the midway. The cops came down and busted the ring toss, saying the rings weren’t big enough to go over the blocks. When it rained, the hoops all shrunk and wouldn’t fit. Before the rain, they fit. Stan got pinched, stepping in for Patty and Cy Hardy and all the rest, he and Normie Green. This was ’62 or ’63. Cy couldn’t take the wrap because he’d been busted before and would have been out for good.

So, because Stan took the wrap for Patty, they put him to work behind the scenes in the mechanical shop, like for the rides. If they needed a wrench or a screwdriver, they had to come in and see Big Hands. One time a guy came in and asked for a screwdriver and Stan told him he could get it down in the basement. The guy told Stan to get it for him and got mouthy. Stan opened the gate at his counter and reached through and knocked the guy down the stairs.

He was an ex-middle weight fighter and he had hands the size of a ham. They called him Big Hands. Even to the day that he died, he’d rather stroke you, than talk to you; rough, mean. He did $20,000 one Saturday afternoon, five rings for a quarter. All hard flash—no stuffed toys—alarm clocks, vases, lamps, plastic cats, radios; eighteen-foot joint.

The first year I worked for Mr. Conklin’s company was 1967. My father, through being a thoroughbred racehorse owner, knew both Frank and Patty. My father talked to Mr. Conklin and said his son was looking for work. He sent me down and I met with Mr. Conklin out in the bullpen area the day before the show started, in the centennial year of 1967, and I’ll never forget the question, he said, “Son, where would you like to work? On the rides or where the money is.” I said, “Where the money is.” He took me down in his golf cart, with his driver, Jack Kelley, and he brought me to a fellow by the name of Gary Loomis, who had a dime toss down the centre of the CNE midway.

Prior to that, I had helped Cy Hardy for two summers getting his equipment ready, painting his Hardys and carrying stock. In those years, right up until 1967, the CNE was not open on Sundays. So I’d have to come every Sunday and flash Mr. Hardy’s joints. The following year, in ’67, I flashed all the midway games down the centre of the midway. There was 11. There were 13 centres, two were food owned by Bert Murray, working for the show, and 11 centre games. I’d do that Sunday morning and get out of here in the afternoon about 4 or 5 o’clock, and it was like a day off. I worked for Gary Loomis for one year in his dime toss.

At that time, the majority of the boys working the show were either road-hardened professionals or students at Ridley College, all Jim Conklin’s friends. There were so many men that had spent their entire lives in this business—Bill Harding, Cy Hardy, George Hall, Curtis Deniers. On the rides, they were all Frank Conklin’s people from the eastern road show.

The CNE at that time was so much different than it is today, because it was all permanent stationary buildings, so we’d have to work in them at nights, after we closed. Occasionally, we’d have to whitewash the shooting gallery. It was enjoyable working down here because you heard the stories from the old timers. In those days, the old timers might have been 35 years old, but we considered them old time carnival workers and they were of the old breed, the last of their breed, really. They were enjoyable to work with. It was a brand-new language; we learned words we had never heard before and had no idea what they were talking about because the carnival people spoke their own language so that the general public didn’t understand what they were talking about. Every day I would go home with a new saying or a new phrase, and I’d give it to my mother, or my sister, or my dad.

As a young boy, it was a completely different world and they were a different breed of people. Highly respected amongst themselves, frowned on by the general public, for what reason, I don’t know. We didn’t have many flat stores down here at that time, it was cleaned right up, but that reputation survives to this day. I still have people going up against the games and saying they’re all rigged. There’s nothing rigged, nothing was rigged; it’s all done on a stock percentage. The Conklins run the cleanest, friendliest show I’ve ever seen in my life, and I’ve seen a lot of shows.

The friendships that I’ve made over this past 40 years have been unbelievable. People I stay in touch with more than I do with people I went to high school and university with. The people themselves, each one had a story, they all had a name, different nicknames, Doniker Dick, Whisky Dave, Mr. Round, Hunky Joe, Newfie Curry—God rest his soul, Jimmy’s gone now. He died ten years ago. Newfie had gone out to work for Bill Lynch Shows with Soggy Reid and John Drummey, then he stayed in Toronto. There was always characters—Gus Harvey, Joe Simpson.

I can remember when I was fourteen years old, I was carrying stock to the Birthday Game and Joe Simpson, who had maybe five teeth left in his mouth, started yelling, swearing and screaming at me. I started to cry, I was totally intimidated. Then later on, Joe became like a surrogate father to me. He taught me all about the percentage operation. He’s still working to this day, occasionally, with West Coast Amusements. Joe was one of a kind. He could be polite and well mannered, or he could be the bottom of the barrel. He could associate with both sides.

The characters I’ve come in contact with in this business is just phenomenal. In the winter when I’m telling friends stories about how I started and what I’ve done … Like imagine, counting balloons for 12 hours, single-handed, or unloading a 48-foot transport with six ton of ceramic plates, cutting your hands on every other skid. It’s been very enjoyable and educational. Every day something new comes up. And the help, the people that I employ or I’ve worked with, every one has his story. Each and every one of us is different. We come from all backgrounds, all races, all creeds, all sexualities. It’s like one large family; it always has been, it always will be.

Now, different people I’ve worked for, I worked for the Headless Woman at one time, Dorothy Marco. I worked for her for three years. That’s how she started. Dottie started on the ten-in-one show, probably an exhibit by herself, the Headless Woman. Louis Dufour had the shows here at the CNE. Louis Dufour and Sam Alexander, the no-face man. Sam 2 ran the show. They had Little Alfie, the Frog Boy, from El Paso, Texas; Schlitzie the Monkey Man; Little Abner, who could put 28 golf balls in his mouth and whistle Dixie. They had different attractions every single year. The Maguire twins, the two fattest men in the world, riding motor scooters. They had monkey shows, they had live animal shows. I can remember the pitch they had for the live animal show: “Animals you won’t see in a Walt Disney movie.” They had monkeys on motorcycles.

Oh, it was different. All the permanent buildings and permanent rides. Everyone remembers the Flyer, but then underneath the Flyer was a go cart track. One of the toughest jobs I ever had to do, because I used to work here all summer long after school got out, was painting the flag poles on the Flyer. Climb up on a ladder and paint the flagpoles. There was always work to be done, always things to do, they never ran out of jobs for kids to do, as long as you were willing to work. I can remember cleaning out building after building. Piling in maybe a million Colonel Sanders ten-cent banks into Bill Martin’s arcade, which was a permanent building down by the Derby Racer. Cleaning the gears on the Derby Racer, which was my favourite ride of all time. It was a ride that came from Sunnyside Park. When they closed Sunnyside down it came here and sat down at the bottom end of the midway.

It was fun coming to work, not only talking to these people, but learning more and more about the business. I spent all my summers here, when friends of mine went on the eastern road show. They were the upper echelon of what we call the carnival slugs. I was working set up and clean up and painting. I can remember Bernie Kirby telling me, “Mr. Conklin said, if you can see it, paint it. If it can’t be seen, don’t waste the paint.”

I had the honour of working for a fellow named Ernie Deniers, who was a carnival carpenter, he and his brother. His brother’s name was Hamilton, he was a cabinetmaker, but Ernie was a carnival roughie. He could build any counter, any game, and it was immaculate, precise, pristine, it was fabulous to look at. He took his time, but he did a wonderful job. I worked for him for 15 years, all summer, then after the Exhibition for a couple of weeks before I went to university.

Ernie told me how he drove a truck for Al Capone, running whisky across the Detroit River, then shanghaiing people and bringing them across the Detroit River. He used to always lie to Joe Simpson and me, telling us how he started in the business with Tom Mix and his 101 Indians when they opened up Chicago Stadium. So we asked him when they opened up Chicago Stadium and he told us 1911. We looked it up and it opened in 1922. But you didn’t know what to believe and what not to believe. He’d tell me that, at night, the Indians wouldn’t sleep in hotels or trailers, they’d sleep in the barns with the animals and they’d get all whiskied up. They’d wake up in the morning and some of them would be missing one or two fingers, or an ear lobe, from the rats that would chew them off. He talked about how, in the ’30s and the ’40s, working the Johnny J. Shows, they travelled by trains and the parades when they’d come into towns. It was the mystique of the carnival business that held my interest.

While all my friends were going to school to become doctors and lawyers and dentists and chiropractors, I was becoming a basket agent and a balloon store star. Then in 1969, the gambling wheels were allowed here at the CNE. They put me in a gambling wheel the very first day and I’ve been there ever since. They put five of us in, there’s eight lay downs to the joint, we each took one lay down, and Georgie Hall took the rest, took a side and a quarter. They called him Wee Georgie, he started with Cy in 1932, he used to tell me; he was dealing dimes. He had a full-time job and he was getting like $6 a week, and at the end of the first night, he’d made $5. He asked, “How long has this been going on?”

I can remember the first year I worked; I got $300 for 18 workdays with two days to off. That’s $20 a day. I was on a percentage, $10 for myself off each $100 in dimes I changed. When I was paid off at the end, I said to the fellow, “Ask me back. I’ll come back anytime.” Imagine, a 17-year-old boy getting $300 to work the CNE, where it would cost you maybe $1.50 to $2.00 a day to gorge yourself with food: the free samples at the Exhibition or a hamburger for a quarter or Bert Murray’s cookhouse where you got to eat off real porcelain plates; the dinner special was $1.50. We’d go up to the Food Building where you’d get a pop for a nickel, a hot dog for a dime. My favourite was Aunt Jemima. I used to watch Aunt Jemima doing her pancakes. Then I’d go over to the Lands and Forests building and see the cow, Bessie, from Borden’s, and that was a big thing. As a kid, you got so many free samples, you didn’t have to buy school supplies, they gave you all the erasers, the rulers, the notebooks; you got everything you needed. You’d go to the Automotive Building and see the new cars.

But the midway has always been something special to me. And Mr. Conklin, Patty Conklin, was just a fabulous man. I saw a lot of him. I can remember stories. He’d pick me up on the golf cart, with Jack Kelly driving, and we’d run up to the Bavarian Beer Gardens and he’d drop me off there, and he’d tell me, “It’s two hours before opening and you’ve got to stain these 300 planters.” They were four by eight feet, and I’d just look at him and say, “I’ll do my best boss.” There was no way in the world you could get them all done in time. They filled them with little pine trees and I’d have to go up in the morning and water them.

I can remember leaving the show at night, 12:30, 1:00 in the morning, after the grandstand blow off, and I’d see Mr. Conklin standing out in the middle of the midway. I was a too intimidated to go up and ask him what he was doing, but he was watching all the help go home, to make sure they went home or they didn’t go home with something that wasn’t theirs. I have all the respect for the entire Conklin family, Patty, Frank, Jim, young Frank.

I’ll never forget, one day, there was a small turmoil at the Bavarian Beer Gardens. I happened to be on the back of the golf cart before opening and Mr. Conklin, Sr., said to Jack Kelly, “The kid’s going to make it. He’s all right. He’s a showman.” He was talking about his son, Jim. He was running the whole show at the time. I think they were a little short on beverages at the Bavarian Gardens for the Sunday that we were open. He told Jack, who was his chauffeur and another wonderful man, “This is all right. It’s in good hands.” I’ll never forget that.

There’s so many memories, so many people, and so many of them are gone. I miss ’em all. The Silver Dollar had like 28 joints in it, all small games, Diggers and stuff like that down the centre. Bill Harding in there. They had two giant fans at the back of the building. And the fans didn’t work. I think they had the fans not working so everybody sweated off more than they did. It would be jam-packed, maybe 1,000 people playing the 28 games. Greg Gravelle was working in a box ball, an eight-sided basket, and he was the new man in there. That’s where he got his start, working for Mr. Phillips, Alf, Dave, and cousin Pete. And Ronnie Manning had joints in there with Sandra Mahigh working in the games. I was one of the lucky one, ’cause I was working outside where there was a breeze. The midway would be packed, on a Saturday 200,000 people walking down.

The two fans never worked and I knew why. John Gray had the stock compound on the other side of the Silver Dollar. He had two pop machines, selling the pops for a quarter. They were plugged in on the power and he sold more pops to the people working in the joints to keep them refreshed and cooled down. Free fans would cool everybody down, but this way with the heat like that, the people would come in, make a big circular lap, spend their money at eight or ten games. Then it would get too hot for them, they’d leave, and a fresh bunch would come in.

There was three or four permanent cookhouses. Ernie Leiberman had one, the Singer family had one, and Bert Murray had one. I’d have to clean out the freezers for Mr. Murray in the spring, get them ready for the CNE. We’d spend all day doing absolutely everything and got $50 a week for it, and we felt like we were the kings of the world. A box of beer was like $4.50, a movie was a buck, but money meant nothing. It was just to be around the business, meet the people, listen to them cut up jackpots. You’d go into the cookhouse and they’d be telling you stories about the Seattle World’s Fair, the New York City World’s Fair, the Chicago World’s Fair. You were in awe listening to these people.

Mr. Conklin played the Seattle World’s Fair in ’62 and New York was in ’63, ’64. He had another wonderful gentleman with him in Seattle: Harry “Centre Pole” Shore. I saw Mrs. Shore this year in Calgary; we talked about 10 minutes. Harry’s been gone now eight years. We’d see him in Calgary every year. We stayed at his motel across the street, the Elbow River Inn. They built a big casino in there. He was another character.

There were so many characters. Every day, you’d meet a new character. As a kid, you had to mind what you said to them. These people, who you thought were a little bit older, the stories you would hear from them. Cy Hardy used to tell me when I worked for him in the fall, “A PC dealer always carries a pencil and a pad.” So I started carrying a pencil and a pad, and I’ve been keeping notes ever since. He was the sharpest dresser, the smartest man, mathematically, for game percentages. He could stand outside a wheel, watch it for an hour and guess on the gross. I betcha he wouldn’t be out $10. He was just a remarkable man. The last 40 years of his life, he never had a drink. He used tell me that the beer and liquor would influence the way he worked. Right to the bitter end, he was so sharp and so well dressed. Tailor bench pants, $400 jackets and shoes.

All the showmen then, the upper echelon like Frank Eastman and his wife Dorothy, Al Bush, Louis Dufour who had the ten-in-one, you could part your hair with the pleat in their pants. I’ve got several stories that he wrote about Patty Conklin posted on the lumber truck wall. Kenny Galuska and I are probably the two longest employees for Conklin Shows at this time, and everybody asks questions about how it used to be. The stories we tell them, they wouldn’t believe it.

At 16 and 17, not old enough to have a beer, we’d close the show on Saturday night, and not have to work on Sundays, but we’d have to come in and flash the joints. We’d go up to the U of T fraternity houses and drink beers, fifteen and twenty cents a beer. You could tell which joints the guys worked in by how they paid for their beers. Dime guys paying in dimes, quarter guys paying in quarters. During the ’60s and early ’70s, you’d get kids who went to Ridley or worked the show to pay for their tuition in university. They come back to this day and look for familiar faces, and they see Kenny Galuska or myself. They ask the same question: “You’re still here?” I say, “You’re a lawyer or a doctor, and you’re asking me the same question. No it’s not me, it’s a Bob Hunter clone.”

There was so many Ridley College guys out here, we were all classified as showmen, real or not. Until they got to know one another, everybody stuck to themselves, the different crews. The Ridley boys all hung around together and all worked for like Mr. Phillips or Mr. Miller. The travelling showman would have his travelling crew with him. Like Patty and Dorothy Marco would have Joe Simpson, Jimmy Currie, and Joe Madinsky. Georgie Hall worked for Cy Hardy.

Some of them were so easy to talk with and some of them were so difficult to talk with. You got to know who you could talk with and as a young person, the only way you learned was by experience or by asking questions. I was very lucky, because the fellows that I worked with were more than willing to show me and take their time with me. As all young boys growing up, you’re awkward, sometimes you don’t think things through too well. But I was lucky and they kept me in this. I think that’s one of the reasons there aren’t as many guys today that stay in this business: no mentors.

There are people out there that are trainable, but like I used to tell all my college friends, “One fellow that works with me is sharper with his money and sharper with his mind, than the whole classroom you’re in.” A lot of those guys didn’t have a high school education, came from hard times. Remember, during the ’30s and the ’40s, life was tough in this country and anyway that you could survive, you survived. You didn’t have government programs, so people went to work and they respected their job. I tell everyone what a fellow told me a long time ago, when I was a young man, “Respect the equipment and the equipment will take care of you.” That’s what we all try to do.

Cy Hardy had the two Birthday Games back to back at the CNE from the early ’60s to 1968. Then in 1969 Cy called me and Ernie Deniers into Ernie’s shop, and he said, “You have your choice. You can have one centre PC wheel or take the two Birthday Games.” I’m kicking Ernie, “Take the Birthday Games, take the Birthday Games.” Ernie made his made mind up that he wanted a PC wheel, ’cause there’s no stock, they’re easier to set up, easier to open; you’re out of there five minutes after you close. You don’t have to wait around for stock. The only stock you count is the money. So Ernie took the wheel. He had one, John Miller had a line-up, and Joe Simpson had the bottom Over and Under. Ernie took the Crown and Anchor. Bob Cohen, who I think was a lawyer from Montreal, operated the Birthday Games.

I’ve been behind the counter or turning that wheel since 1969. I put in an apprenticeship of 16 years. I started in ’69 working them and then in ’77, Ernie decided this was enough. He had to be in his eighties at that time. In the last two or three years, all Ern would do is make sure the joint was open and then disappear to his shop and do projects for Mr. Conklin. I’ll never forget, one year the buffalo was a very popular item on the midway. Early in the spring we had to take all the pictures down and all the wallpaper down out of Mr. Phillip’s office and paper it with buffalo skins, skins from the small toy buffalo.

There was always jobs like that. Ernie would say, “Jeez, we got stuck with another one.” And I’d say, “What do you mean, ‘We’?” He’d be around to supervise, but all the lugging and all the roughie work would go to me. I’ve always been a roughie and I’m proud of being a roughie.

Cy took Greg under his wing, Mr. Phillips took Greg under his wing, and they left me out there with a paintbrush and a hammer. They used to get so mad at me because I would butcher everything and they didn’t know I was butchering it on purpose, so I wouldn’t have to do it. Like washing 200 Skee Ball machines in the middle of the Silver Dollar, 100-degree temperature, and everybody’s outside putting up the stick joints. We used to spend all summer doing the solid steel joints that the show built for security reasons. When it got to the end of the Ex, Bernie and Ernie and everybody else, all they ever did was use the broom to sweep up the ground scores, and I’d have to lug them all down, put ’em all away.

There’s been some characters. It brings a tear to my eye just thinking of the people that I knew and that I miss today. There are stories that people wouldn’t believe. I hate to use the term Oriental, but running a hundred Orientals across the Detroit River in a flat bed boat and then throwing them in the water. That’s one that Ernie used to tell me, about when he was driving a truck for Al Capone.

Everybody’s got a Joe Statton story. He used to fall asleep standing up, making change for the Skee Ball and never miss a dime. And Joe Simpson, old Joe, how he used to wrang up the people on purpose. Known as a wrang, he couldn’t lick his lips, but he’d get into more heat scores than anybody I ever knew, just by smiling at people, because Joe was one of the first Canadians to fail the Crest test, and fail it good. They used to say … I can’t tell that story. That’s obscene, I can’t tell that one.

And Wee Georgie Hall was always full of stories. Telling me how he worked for Cy in western Canada and got paid off in apple pie. They were only three- or five-days spots, and they’d have a bad spot, and Cy paid them off in apple pie. And Georgie would say, “Don’t worry, boss, I’ll be at the next one.” Because he knew that the next one was always going to be better. That’s always the way it is.

I can remember, watching people moaning and crying about the rain, and hearing what Ernie would tell you: “Thank heavens it’s rain and thank heavens you’re alive to see it raining. Tomorrow will always be a better day.” He used to tell me that all the time. “If it rains today, you’ll catch up down the line somewhere.” It all works out in the end and that’s the most important thing.

PC Bowen, that’s a name out of the past. We’re playing Puerto Rico in ’77, I got three stores in the air, three trailers. We all come in with red and black shorts. He says, “You can’t wear non-company issued shorts.” They don’t have any shorts. It’s a 100 degrees outside and it’s humid. “Well take them off,” he says. I said, “Fine.” I said to the boys, “Take off the shorts.” None of them had underwear on; they worked for the first 20 minutes naked, with only their aprons on. PC Bowen came back and said, “They can wear those shorts.” They knew my boys would do what I asked them.

Puerto Rico was a lovely spot. It rained the same time every day and it just made things hotter. It never cooled down, but it was probably the busiest fair I ever worked in my life.

It made Calgary look like Buttonville, it was humongous, it was amazing. That was a collection of showmen from all over. Next to the first year we went out west in ’76, it was a rendezvous, like the backwoodsmen used to have. It was a rendezvous of carnival professionals, legends, who came out of the woodwork to work the west the first year.

That was really my first time on the road, in 1976, when they got the western show. Outside working at Lindsay or Markham or Simcoe, that was my first time on the road full time. I had turned down my own wheel because I was working for the Toronto Blue Jays, who set up an office in ’76. I decided there was no future for me with the Blue Jays, working their front office. I phoned Mr. Phillips and said, “Listen, I made a mistake, I’d like to come out.” He said, “Sure.” I said, “If there’s nothing for me in the concession end, I’ll work maintenance, help Ernie and Freddie Stein.” He said, “No, we’ll find something for you.” Johnny Miller and he decided that I was a likely candidate to be John’s partner, seeing that John would bring two people when he needed ten.

I loaded up the car with Geoff Silverstein, Big Vern Hillock and Smokey Savoy. We drove straight through to Winnipeg, arrived there two days before open. Now, Big Vern was 6” 9’, 350 pounds, buff, so we reported to Mr. Phillips and he said, “You boys better go get your pictures taken, get your passes and get out there and set up those seven steel joints we have.” We got out there and butted right in the picture pass line. A voice from the back said, “You four get out of that line. You gotta stand at the end of the line.” Big Vern turned around and he didn’t know who the fellow was. It happened to be one of the lot bosses, Steve Adamski, and Vern said, “You have the opportunity now to shut up or I’ll shut you up.” He got off the chair, Mr. Adamski looked up and this man just kept growing, Big Vern.

Steve went over to Mr. Phillips and said, “I had a small run-in with that Hunter and his crew of hoodlums.” Mr. Phillips said, “You haven’t seen the start of it. Wait till they open because they’re all wrangs, they’ll all get in a heat score every night.” I take pride in being the founder of Guest Relations because that first year out west I betcha we got in a fistfight every night. We lost more than we won, for nothing, because we were immature. Mr. Phillips would have to come and patch up the beef. I’m pretty sure I was probably the reason for starting Guest Relations.

It was something. That first year we went out west it was amazing. You’d see people you’d heard of and heard rumours about. It was one large party. It was hard work, it was fun, but we were all 25, 26 years old. Today, we’re 56 years old. This was my thirtieth western road show. I’ve been out there every single year since then. The first year I only had one wheel, the second year I had two Hardys, the third year Johnny and I put in 12 Hardys. We ran the 12 Hardys and an occasional centre for a decade. Johnny pretty well packed it in in the early ’80s. About ’89 or ’90 with Greg, we started on the colour flasher and the Over-Under flasher, so I’ve been with them and running the one-man Hardy wheels, named after Cy Hardy, since then.

When I hire somebody for one of them, I ask them, “Do you know what these are?” And they say, “They’re Hardys.” I tell them, “They’re also known as traps because once you’re in one, you’re not getting out. You better not eat, you better not drink too much fluid.” We had a flu epidemic one year in Calgary. I had 12 Hardys and 16 men; four men were so sick with the flu they couldn’t come in to work to break the Hardys. So everybody was issued pop bottles and a cardboard box. If you had to do something, there was the box and give the kid a fin to get rid of it for you.

We did that midnight madness, I think it was ’78. I’m in a Hardy all day. A friend of mine, Irish Larry Boyle, had come out to hook up with us because I only had the two Hardys. We opened at nine or ten and Larry jumped in at opening. At six o’clock he got out for his dinner, Simon Dingley broke him for his dinner, and he said, “What time are we going to?” I said, “About twelve.” Midnight, he came by and said, “Jeez, there’s a lot of people here.” They had all just started coming in and I didn’t tell him we were going to five in the morning. He didn’t know about midnight madness because he had just come in the day before. So around quarter after three, I see him coming up the midway with the money bag in one hand and Simon carrying the wheel behind him. I said, “Where are you guys going?” They said, “We’re going home to bed.”

That night we closed at like five in the morning and we had to reopen at nine. I had a 36-slot Hardy with four 20-to-1 payoffs, so every nine slots there was a 20-to-1 payoff, with real money pasted onto the wheel. I slept on top of the wheel with the pegs in my back. I wasn’t smart enough to turn it over and put the pegs down. I was so tired. We worked all day Saturday, had another fabulous day, went home and had to be back in for 11 o’clock open on Sunday. By Sunday afternoon I’d been in that trap 48 straight hours with maybe five hours sleep. In those days, 25, 26 years old, you didn’t sleep at night, you went home and partied.

I’ve had a cast of characters with me and without them I couldn’t have done this. The people I’ve met and the respect I have for the Conklin family. I never had the honour of working for Frank Senior, but I met him when I was a young lad at the racetrack with my dad. My father used to tell stories, I don’t know if they’re true or not, that Frank, if he saw somebody sitting down when they were supposed to be standing up, he’d walk right over and give them a cuff. If they did it again, they were shown off the lot. My dad would tell me, “They have a rule there. They never close the show until every bar in town is closed. So don’t come home and tell me you were drinking beer, ’cause I know they’re going to keep you there until it’s done.”

I’ve known young Frank since he was old enough to come on these grounds. Very capable; started in the ticket department, went to the rides, and he’s done a wonderful job. I hope nothing happens to the show now. I want this show to continue on for my kids. You can’t beat it, there’s nothing like it. Like they say, “with it and for it, for life.” I got six men out there now who have been with me, some 30 years. I don’t know what we’d do. We spent our childhood and the majority of our adulthood for this company. They’ve been more than fair. I used to receive letters from Mr. Phillips when I was at university, asking me when I’d be coming back. It’s been like the movie, A Wonderful Life, and I hope I’ve still got another 20 years at it. That’s what I need.

The first time I met Mr. Phillips, he was running the stock compound, hiring all the help for all the games. I had worked the year for Garry Loomis and I had the line-up, and he assigned me to Dorothy Marco, over in the Crystal Palace. I heard stories about Mr. Phillips and Mr. Phillips’s father with the swim show, the Aquarama. I used to look at Mr. Phillips and say, “Jeez, he’s a big man.” Then, as I grew up, he became general manager, partner, chairman of the board, president.

I worked a couple of spots for Mr. Phillips that I possibly shouldn’t talk about. One time they opened a bar in the old Place Pigale, on Avenue Road. Betty Sellers told me the opening was coming that evening, so I took four of my friends in. Of course, they couldn’t leave without causing a ruckus. The doormen challenged us. Needless to say, the next Monday I reported to work and Mr. Phillips called me. I told the boys, “I’m in shit because they’re going to know it was me and my boys that caused the disturbance.” He called me in and he said, “We had a small problem at the Penny Arcade,” which was what they called the bar. I said, “What was that?” He said, “Opening night a bunch of hoodlums come in and roughed up a few people.” I said, “Sir, I’m sorry to say, but I was the ringleader.”

One summer I worked for Stan Dorling when he had Dainty Dora’s, the Conklin bar at Ontario Place. I worked there all summer as doorman, bartender, bouncer, whatever. When the eastern road show was in reach of the city and had the day off, they’d all come in to the show bar. So I’d see all my friends that I started with, Mike and Steve Dobson, Wally Chomsky, Greg Gravelle. They’d all be flush and laughing at me. I was making whatever and they were highline operators.

Everything that they’ve ever asked me to do that I could do, I’ve tried to do for them. We went to Belmont Park in Montreal and tore it down in freezing cold rain. Frank Eastman told me to save the cinder blocks. I said, “They’re frozen to the ground, it’s the middle of February.” He said, “I’ll go in and boil water.” We all pissed on them and hit them with a sledgehammer, broke them all. He was another one that saved everything, broken glass, bent nails, you never know when you’re going to need it.

In the early ’70s, we had to go down and close up the bingo at Crystal Beach. There were two 60-foot pylons made out of plywood on top of the bingo. We had to take them down, so we flipped coins to see who would go up the ladder with the chainsaw. Of course, I lost, and had to go up the ladder with the chainsaw. I cut through the pylon, the ladder, I fell 25 feet, but threw the chainsaw away when I saw I’d gone through the ladder. To show how tough I was, I went to get back up on the ladder, but I couldn’t because I’d sawed it in half. They had to go and buy a new one, so I got even with them. The things they made me do. I almost got suffocated by the one million Colonel Sanders banks that I had to go in and count.

Mr. Phillips used to have a wooden house trailer that he used as his office. We were putting carpet down, so we were using that hallucinogenic glue. I got to like that. You shut all the doors and windows and start spreading the glue. I was working with Ernie and he was 80. He was punchy and all glued up. I said, “I’ll do this any day.” We lost a lot of brain cells.

I’ll finish off with one story. We’d be working here Monday through Friday before the Ex started, and Monday through Friday after the Ex, doing concession set up and clean up, putting everything away, closing up the buildings, counting stock. It was all permanent buildings that we used for storage. Every Friday afternoon we would go up to the Palace Tavern at King and Strachan. There would be Freddie Stein, myself, Larry Drummey, Bernie Kirby, who was our boss, and Ernie Deniers. Freddie, Larry and I knew, that if we got four beers into Ernie, we weren’t coming back to work because he would sit around and tell us stories. We picked the Palace instead of the Wheat Sheaf or the Belwood, because Massey Ferguson was across the street. Our lunch time was from 12 to 12:30 and at that time of the day every table was full of draft beer because the workmen from Massy Ferguson would run across the street, the draft was already poured and on the table, they’d chug five or six down and run back. We’d get in there and get Ernie half whipped up. Ernie would drive us all up there in his wagon and Bernie would walk back to work and wait for us. We’d never come back. We’d leave there half in the bag late in the afternoon.

Mrs. Conklin, was the loveliest lady I met in my life. She would see Kenny Galuska and myself, and we’d say, “She doesn’t know our names.” And she’d come right up and say, “Good morning, Ken, good morning, Bob.” She’s such a wonderful person. One thing I want to mention, on the birth of each of my children, Mrs. Conklin always sent a card and a selection of little handmade bears. Always.

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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