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John Drummey

Ottawa, Tuesday, 23 August 2005

I was born in Ottawa. I started working with Eunice Murray, right here at the Central Canada Exhibition, Bert Murray’s wife. They used to have 42 feet of concessions space over by the Manufacturers’ Building. World of Mirth had the midway then, ’61, ’62, I was 14, so whenever that was. I lied about my age and told them I was 17. Eunice and I worked well together, of course, and I made a $100 for the week, and that was big money then. She asked me to go out west the next year. My father worked on the railroad, and he said, “Yeah, you can go, but I’m going to get you a pass for the whole route. If you ever get tired of it, and you want to come home, just get on the train and come on home.”

I took the train from Ottawa to Winnipeg, 50 bucks in my pocket, stayed at the YMCA for two days, before anybody else got there. They all showed up, and I started my western tour. I was out west with them for Winnipeg, Brandon, Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Regina, and then we used to go back to Fort William, then Toronto, Ottawa, and then played London, and then went back to school. I did that for five years. Royal American, out west, then the Amusements of America pulled in here, and Toronto was Conklin and independents. We did a lot. I put myself through school, high school, then I went into a CA firm. I used to take the summers and work on the show. They were glad to get rid of me.

April 1, 1968, I was talking to Neil Webb, and they hired me on over at Conklin’s. I worked for Neil, I worked in the office, I did payroll. Then they only went to the CNE and they had the road show in Ontario, but it wasn’t quite as elaborate and big as it is now. Campbell was an independent then on the show. We played a bunch of still dates in the spring and then we started the Oshawa fair, I don’t even think there is a fair there now. We played Leamington and a whole bunch of other fairs. We used to go down to the CNE, and it was like an event for us. We used to stay at the King Edward Hotel, $10 a night, imagine.

The first year I was there, Patty was around. I had a 1963 Acadian convertible. He was a great guy, oh he was a fantastic guy. He and I would have dinner, I stayed down at the King Edward, and I’d go back to the grounds. Him and I’d drive around, with the convertible top down, and he’d look at everything. He was laying out the lot, getting it ready for the rest of the rides. He was looking up at everything and looking down at everything, and if he saw a nail or a piece of blocking, for something that he could use, he would put it in the car. At the end of the route, we’d go over to the shop and unload everything. He was a hell of a guy. We’d just chat and chat. He’d talk about buying, like my department in the office, stationary or tickets, or that kind of stuff. “Buy it cheap, buy it right.” He just thought about everything. He was a neat guy.

Then, of course, Jim took over, after Patty died in 1970. He did a lot of things that nobody else did. He got into the parks, he got into the eastern road show in a big way, because Campbell went on his own, he just left. I think Barry came along.

Jamieson: That’s when I came on. When Campbell didn’t send his show with Conklin, that’s when Ray went down to Atlanta and bought all them rides.

Then we had the rides, and produced our own rides for the show, and Campbell went on his own and did his own thing. We had parks all over the place. We had Hemmingsford, Kingston, Belmont—Belmont was a great little spot—it gave us a lot of cash flow in the spring. Paid our payrolls for the whole spring. Jim of course expanded that part of it. Of course, the CNE got big. And we would buy what we could and always pour our money back into the business. It was kind of neat, it was interesting. There was something different every day and different people every day. You’d go from the sublime to the ridiculous. People who didn’t own diddley squat, but are really good people, and people who are big shots, who didn’t give a damn about you.

Jamieson: Drummy only had one saying: “The gross isn’t the net.”

The west came along at the end of ’75. That’s when Royal American got raided out there. As a matter of fact, about seven or eight years ago, I got in the Laycraft Commission report from the National Library in Ottawa, and I read it. Very interesting, of course, it turned out to be a big fight between Revenue Canada and the RCMP. It got Royal American out of there, and they don’t even exist anymore. The young Sedlmayer went into an operation, he was about my age at the time, and he didn’t survive the operation. They must’ve just lost interest. They just went down and down, and finally they were all done.

Anyway, the west came along, and that was exciting as hell. Everybody did their own thing. That was neat, the way Jim did it. He was the president and chief executive officer, but everybody did their own little thing. Give them the reins, and let them handle it, that’s what I liked about Jim. The joint with all color canvas. A lot of games that Royal American didn’t have, because the game business is Conklin’s business. I was there for many years, and when the Paratrooper went in that spot this year, it stayed there forever. Royal American didn’t change it at all. As a matter of fact, they painted it all, the Paratrooper, that’s where it goes, every year.

It was challenging, it was enjoyable, it was great fun. It was almost a killer. You put the time in on that thing, 24/7, by the time you’ve finished that route, the first year, it was brutal. I had a tension headache, like you wouldn’t believe, coming out of the west. My god, I’ll never forget that. We saw a whole lot of efficiencies come out of that. We normally would go down to the CNE, the first couple of days and drag our butts, but coming out of the west, we were all gung ho and ready to go, and it showed. We were up the first year.

Then there was the universal tickets. We did that for the CNE. The CNE used to sell the tickets and then we took it over in ’73 or ’74. Exact same procedures, and we went up 10%, just the same procedures, us taking it over. Then the next year, we went to the universal coupons, and we went up about 25%. And after the efficiencies coming out of the west, we went up again. We couldn’t do anything wrong. Everything was just going right. Everything went our way for a good long time.

So that was ’76 and ’77 that I was out there. One thing that did happen, ’76 was so great, that we thought, we’re going to expand this, expand that, spent a lot of money, add to all this. Got the same money, but we spent more getting it.

Then we went down to the Deggeller thing, and that was kind of my demise. It didn’t work out very well for me. Joe Pigott and myself—Joe’s passed away now—used to fly down one day and back the next, and we finally put the deal together, on March 6th, 1978. They were in Stuart, Florida, then, and Key West. From the 16th to 26th was Dade County, and that was the first year they popped a million bucks. I didn’t even know what the hell was going on, there was so much gross. Herb Deggeller was there, Alan Deggeller, the wives, they were still there, and all that was there for me—in fact, Frank wasn’t even there, Frank stayed over in Corpus Christi. So there was just little old me and Bob Rice, Bernie Shaumbacker, and one other guy, that’s it. They were killing us.

I was done in July 1978, that was the end of my career with Mr. Conklin. A whole bunch of other things happened. It just wasn’t right anymore. And that’s when Ray Coffing went down, and he spent two years, down there, but he didn’t do anything with it either. So what they finally did is that they told fairs that the fairs were too expensive. They wound up keeping Dade County, and they didn’t have these other ones, although they did get Springfield. They didn’t have these other ones like Lexington, Louisville. We had them the first year, but they were tough to play. And then there was Tumonium, Richmond, Columbia, West Palm. Deggeller played in January and we tried to renew it, but we didn’t renew it. There was a whole bunch of stuff that was still going on, that just wasn’t right for us, so we didn’t get it.

After the years went by though, when Frank put his operation together, yes, they got back to Columbia. They used to come to me, and say, “Not enough rides, not enough rides.” I said, “Listen, you have riding capacity, that’s what you measure it by, and the quality of rides, not the number of rides.” I can give you a hundred rides, but it’s not going to do you any good. You want a nice, good midway, with riding capacity. You’re dealing with a whole different kettle of fish down there than you are up here. Frank eventually found his way, but he has some good people around him, too, though. He knew what he was doing. He was weaned very well in this business by his father and his grandfather, plus the other people around him. So he got all those spots back, and he got his route, and now it’s sold.

Frank took over in ’79, I think. Ray Coffing was in there and I think they worked together. Tommy Coffing was there, and Jim Caskey, a lot of good guys. Not just good quality guys, but really good guys. We worked together really well. My best years, I think, were the first few years out west. And the CNE, universal coupons, that kind of stuff. I helped bring in universal coupons. Evan McGugan was the first guy to bring it into the carnival business, down at London and we took it from there. We did our own thing, we put all the tickets together. We made it more efficient. My end of it was to make it more efficient, and we made a little bit of money that way. It was a really neat experience. I wouldn’t give it up for anything. I’d love to do it all again.

I went down to the east coast and worked for Bill Lynch Shows, Soggy Reid, a great fellow, a Lebanese fellow. He had three units, but we expanded that to four. And we played every place in the Maritimes, even if it didn’t make any money. If they wanted a carnival, they got a carnival. It’s nowhere near the same down there now. I worked for Soggy from ’79, through to his death in 1995. I commuted for nine years, and then I finally bought a place down there. When he died in 1995, I looked after the estate for three years, sold one of the units off. Then in 1999 I bought the main unit. In the year 2000, I bought the smaller unit.

So I had a unit and a half, 22 rides and a whole whack of joints, candy, candy is the best. I had some competition, but I held it for five years. Campbell is in that area and he got two of my better spots, cause he does have a nice operation. He’s been going there for 30 years. A couple of other fellows come in there from Ontario. Then there’s some up-and-comings, there’s Headwaters, he was one of our managers, he ran a unit. He bought and then sold.

Now I’m out of it. I sold in the spring of ’ 04. I’m out of that end of it, I wouldn’t go back into it full fledged, unless I was forced to. I do hold some paper on the people that own it there now. So if I had to go back into it I would, just to keep my investment. But it’s a young man’s game. I’m sure Frank would say the same, and Jim Conklin, although he’s playing around with the Supershow, it’s just a toy to him, and I’m sure he enjoys it immensely. And his guys would do anything for him.

I enjoyed Neil Webb, he was a fun guy to work for, and we accomplished so much. We found some fellows stealing once, in our schoolhouse operation; that was the cash office. We had a lot of money. Those guys, they were gone. I brought guys in from all over, all the satellite operations. We stayed up for three days, getting it done, very little sleep. Challenging things like that. We didn’t accuse anybody, we just got rid of the ones we knew of: “Goodbye. We know what you did, and don’t come around here anymore.”

The first year we went into Calgary, I sent a guy down to the bank to pick up $13,000 in halves. He went over to our cash office. He picked up a deposit slip, Conklin Garrett Ltd. on it, and made up the soft for the 13 grand, out of my bankroll in the office. I carried 100,000. He took the deposit slip and the cash, went down to the bank and picked up the 13,000, gave them the 13,000, and then the bank should have ripped up the deposit slip and threw it in the garbage. But they didn’t do that. They credited our account with 13,000. This was the first year in Calgary, and these people didn’t know what to expect from us. We’re just a bunch of regular guys.

I got all my bank statements back from the whole west. I did the rides and the joints and the whole banana, I did it all. I get back to Brantford and then get all the bank statements, except Calgary’s. So I phoned around and I finally got them. I do the books, and I find 13 grand. And so I say, “What the hell is going on here.” So I called the bank, and I said, “Are you guys short to 13,000?” Yes, they were short 13,000. But you see, they didn’t have the balls to come back to me. They thought that maybe I would steal it. Anyways, they got their 13,000. The sad part about, that was, that one of the girls got fired. That’s bad. I did make a point of letting them know, whoever the hell had to know about that, because that guy shouldn’t have done that. If they had come to me right then, everything would’ve been solved, but they didn’t do that.

Another time, in the joints, they were using powder on the laydowns for the birthday game. I think it was quarters, this time. Bobby Cohen, he had a guy there, oh man, they had some action. Two birthdays in Toronto back to back, it was fantastic. Powder all over the god damn place. Of course, what that does to my machines, they won’t count. I said, “Fellas, how the hell do you expect me to read regenerate the coin, and put them in the floats, and buy them back and get them back out there again, if I can’t get them through the god damn machine?” So what I did, Dave Bastido and Brian Reilly, and I, we get together there, and what we did is we took a french fry scoop, and loaded it up with quarters and leveled it off, and said, “Oh, this is almost 100 bucks, we’ll run it through the machine.” And it was, it was damn close. And so we said, “Hey, you’ve got your floats now.” French fry scoop, there’s one float. We just use a french fry scoop, we didn’t run it through the machine.

I really enjoyed working for Conklin, I really did. It was a lot of fun. Then, some not so good stuff happened, but that’s the way it is. I would do it all over again in a minute. I wish I was younger, again. As a matter of fact, I’ve got my kids in Toronto right now, my daughter’s 27, she works for Greg Gravelle. My one son is 23, he’s got a Bachelor of Science in geology, he wants to go through pre-med and be a doctor. I put him out there this year just to see what it’s like, and he enjoyed himself and saved himself a lot of money. And then I’ve got my 16 year old, he’s out there now, and he had a great time. He worked for Greg on tear down, and then he’d get the overalls on and go do the wire with the boys. He loved to do it and he would go and do it on my show. He ran the Tornado. So he’d tear down the Tornado, help the other guys with the rides, then the wire was the last, so he would go and help Johnny, and load all the wire up, and the junction boxes, and all that stuff. Then he’d come in at the end of it all, have a shower, and down the road he’d go.

For the fellas out west, he got to know the electrical guys, and in Regina they gave him his own tow motor and three guys. He’s 16 years old. He knows what to touch and what not to touch. He had his own little crew, putting the stuff together and then helped set it up in Thunder Bay. He’s going into Grade 11.

My daughter goes down to Springfield, Columbia and wherever else. I’m interested to see how this bigger unit is going to succeed or expand or collapse or whatever they’re going to do. I’m going to the CNE tomorrow to see what’s going on. I hope things go well. I’m sure there’s lots of glitches.

Yeah, I’m satisfied with what I did, most of the things that I did in the industry, in that I started with a little grab joint and then went up and bought a show, then sold it. I haven’t got paid for it all yet. When that happens I’ll be a happy puppy. But it’s nice to be able to do that. Eunice Murray was a great lady and I’ve met so many nice people along the way. Bert Murray, he’s in a home two blocks from the CNE, Elmgrove Living Centre. When I go there tomorrow, I’m going to have a visit with him. He’s 83 now, or 84, his birthday’s this month. He’s lucid enough, a good guy.

Neil died in 1980. He probably finished working in ’74, or ’75, maybe. Al Ross was brought in for the interim period, very mature, a good secretary-treasurer. He fit in quite well. Joe Piggott was a good guy, a nice guy, very down-to-earth guy. I enjoyed travelling back and forth to Florida with him during the negotiations for the Deggeller Show. That was the year of fluctuating interest rates here in Canada. We left at 21, 22%, and we locked the deal in at 8%. We gave it a good down stroke and then owed them the rest at 8%.

The US thing didn’t pan out the way it was supposed to and that led to the restructuring. There was no bottom line, so they had to bankroll it and bankroll it. At some of those fairs they just wouldn’t play ball. Jim just finally sent them a letter, here’s your ultimatum. The neat part about that is that they got back the ones that were giving us a hard time, under our terms. Like Columbia, now we’re going to give you quality rides and riding capacity; not numbers, we’re going to give you a proper carnival, like I said right from the start.

I remember once, we were in the Cameron Hotel, that’s where the Showmen’s League used to have the banquets. We had this guy come up from United Shows, Terry Portemount, and he got up and welcomed everybody on behalf of the US Showmen’s League and he says, “Now we must be in Conklin country.” Everybody boos and hollers, oh my god. Bernard Shows, King Shows, were all there. We had a meeting the next day, and the next year we started doing the Conklin banquet on another day and they’ve been doing it ever since. It was nasty.

That time I was talking about before, when we found something wrong with the counts, they were coming out of John Miller’s joints. Alfie came to me and says, “There’s something wrong with the counts.” I said, “No, what do you mean, there’s something wrong with the counts?” Then he told me what Miller was doing, Miller was counting all the money, having everything organized, then he would stuff it the bag, like a mess, like it wasn’t counted. When they got to the cash office, it was short.

Jack Kenneth was our security guy. We marked the bills and went through the same procedure again, had everything all straightened, all written down and verified. I was there because I couldn’t believe it. Then he took all the money after that, scrunched it up as if it wasn’t counted, put it in the bag, sent it to the cash office. Sure enough it was short. So that’s when we chopped head like you wouldn’t believe: “We don’t know you, bang, you’re gone.” I think it was six or seven guys. That would be ’73 or ’74.

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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