May 2000

Showmen, Traveling Shows

Over the years I have had the privilege of knowing and working for some very special showmen. Many of them were small operators but were men of integrity. The two from Ohio were the Carpenter brothers and Jimmy Chanos shows.

Today we will dwell on the Chanos shows and relate some of the times shared and some items which were passed on by the old timers. I might stand corrected by you readers if you know any of the old workers who might have been there.

The first time I can recall anything about the Chanos shows was many years ago when I was in high school and my mother had a concession stand set up on his midway in Fort Recovery, which is near the Indiana border. Now Jimmy liked to spend his spare time at card games and wagers were always on the table.

Some concession man came down the midway and told everyone that Jimmy had just lost a pile of money in a card game and might have lost the whole show. He might have lost some dollars but no way would his wife let him lose the show.

I do know that in later years when doing work for him and payment time came he would cut the cards for double or nothing but I never gave him the chance to clean me out as he was too good with the cards even in a simple thing like cutting the deck.

The first time I approached him about servicing his band organ was in Lynn, Indiana. I recall him standing on the carousel while the men were turning it by hand and installing the horses for opening the next day. He told me he was an old man and he would let me pick the organ up at the end of the season and work on it in the winter but be sure and take good care of it.

Well, he might have been an old man, but we kept his band organ playing for many years after that and it was always a pleasure to go on his lot to service the organ. Jimmy had the most well preserved band organ in the world because of the way he powered the ride in those days.

Inside the carousel was an old Allis Chalmers gasoline engine which put out enough oil smoke to scare the wits out of the local firehouse if they would have looked in his direction. When the organ was taken down for repairs every part had a coat of black oil film inside and out.

The old people are all gone now and there is no one I can ask unless one of you readers can tell me whether he was born in the U.S.A. or if he came from Greece. The old showmen used to tell how he started out as a young man going into the ring at the local carnival and offering money to anyone who could last for a certain amount of time. Jimmy usually won and not many people collected the money.

One of the exceptions occurred when a big farm boy came into the ring and Jimmy punched him in the nose. The old boys tell me the farm boy just shook his head and with both hands held together came down on Jimmy's head like a sledgehammer. Jimmy lost the fight and was out of commission with a short neck for a few days and the boy went home with the money.

Jimmy never believed in spending money where it was not needed and the band organ was never repaired until the last pipe quit and that is when I would get the call. When he was ready to pay for the services he always had a large roll of money in his pocket and would count out the exact amount and request a receipt.

One year after doing extra heavy repairs on his band organ he took out the roll, started to count out my money and used up all the money in the roll. He then told me I had broke the bank. I was about to wonder what he would do when he reached in his other pocket and pulled out a larger roll with nothing but large bills in it. That is the way he ran the show.

One of the old men told me he was running the carousel when rides were only five cents and he gave a boy a free ride. Jimmy's wife caught him at it, promptly chewed him out and told him not to give any more free rides.

At that time the worker told her the Gooding shows was in the next town and needed help and he would just quit and go there and get a different job. The workers father was also working for Jimmy and said he was going where his son was going. The word got around the midway fast and several more decided to go with them. Now this left Jimmy in a tight spot with the show running and help starting to leave. After talking to the men he persuaded them to stay and turned around to his wife and said, "Look how much trouble you caused for just one five cent ride."

I could tell many stories about the Chanos shows if space would permit, but I will close with one last item. The last time I saw Jimmy was at Fairborn, Ohio. His carnival was set up there, as it was a location he had played for many years. I was just passing through and stopped to see if he was in. I was told he was a sick man. As he was of the old school and a true showman, he still felt he belonged on the show. I found him in his trailer and was told I could come in for a short visit. Jimmy had always had bad eyesight in later years and did not recognize me until I told him who I was.

He then rose up out of his bed and told me he was very glad to see me again. After a short visit I suspect he knew it would be our final meeting. He looked up and told me it was a pleasure dealing with me over the years and thanked me for always treating him with honesty. Even in his condition he was still a true showman and was still on the midway. Jimmy has been gone for many years now but the memory of the old gentleman still lingers on.


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