365 days a year, over 600 Carnival Ride Companies perform at thousands of Fairs and Festivals all over the United States.
But even with those impressive statistics, and considering the billions of dollars generated to our economy, all the carnies get is grousing about their teeth and smell. They call us thieves but they come back to play our games, over and over. And to add insult to injury, we have people who work a few days a year at a fair or festival that call themselves carnies when frankly, it just ain't so.
Don S. points out that "carnies are becoming lost in the quest to be civil, nice, clean, homogenized and safe." Don, who has been in the carnival industry for 60 years, or so, expresses his opinions below.
"If a Carny meets someone who says I'm a carny, I ask questions. Simple ones like where's the Doniker or are you with it? You probably would not be surprised at how few of these so called carnies have any idea what I'm talking about."
" I started in the business just before the World War II and then had a 4 year layoff. We were kinda busy with non carnival work.The first 10 years or so after the war we traveled mostly by railroad. We joined a show back then and always stayed the season sometimes even a few years.
We wintered out in Florida mostly but played some spots in Texas."
"I can remember going through floods, hurricanes, tornadoes and all other mother nature baddies. I've been hungry and not eaten for a couple days but was to proud to ask for a draw. They were unheard of in any case."
"I was fortunate in that in my 60 plus years never been in such dire strates that I needed to handle pig iron. However I have done it to help out when short on help. I have slept under trucks, under bridges in joints and in sallys. I have rode the rails, hitch hiked and even snuck into big rigs to get somewhere."
At the present time the term carny has (thanks to its use in the Mike Myers movies) tends to be a derogatory way to refer to carnival folk. The word Showmen has been popularized during the 90's to describe showpeople, and those who travel with Carnival Ride companies. Several other descriptions have come into general use such as "showperson".
Don points out; "I have paid my dues with blood sweat and tears. The reason I am still doing this crap is because I have to be out, it is in my blood. I put my picture on the Carny Town website with Joe Bartosik (formerly B&B rides owner-see picture) because he too has to be out. We know no other life. Now don't get me wrong. I have a college education and can (could) go to a factory or even office building and work but I have to be out on the lot"
"My family is the carnival. There was a time when the only people I would talk to were carnies.
Why you say? Because non-carnys had no idea what the hell I was talking about. Today you find a kid in a little town you hire him to push a button or to he calls himself a carny."
In reality a person that is hired for a spot, a day or any other short period of time is considered "green help".
Don continues; "A lot of the older carny's like myself prefered to be called Showmen to get away from the stigma of being a dirty unkept slob known as a carny. There were and still are people in towns that shudder knowing the filthy Carnies are coming. Today for some reason the bigger shows are hiring Mexicans and Europeans to run the rides. In the 60's I knew every show owner in america and they knew me. Today we have no idea who they are.
I love the carnival business and I know that soon I'll be out there, calling them in, with a LET ME SHOW YOU THIS ONE, at least take the free one. Which by the way you hear very little today".
"If you have any questions as to if your a carny or not address them to me I'll be more than happy to tell you where you really belong and what to call yourself."
To most of us who have been in the business for a while and have traveled with the shows, we wear the badge of being a Carny, with pride. Yes, some of us do have missing teeth (so does my Grandmother and she is NOT a carny) and some of us do have a tangy smell after several days of sleeping under or in a rig or tearing down a multi-million dollar ride but we are that way because we enjoy being a Showman, we enjoy entertaining our audience.
Ok. I am a Showman but Don and I, both from different generations will never be unhappy if you refer to us as "one of those old time carnies".
Please add your comments by clicking on the "comments" link at the bottom of this post, we welcome them and would like to hear from you.