New Work – The Midway

smokeys greater shows early morning

Smokey’s Greater Shows, Walmart parking lot, Ellsworth Maine

From the Fryeburg Fair Chronicles:

Bud Gilmore, the show’s owner, explained that when Bud was four or five, his father Ronald had the “largest mare in the world” named Gene which weighed 3200 pounds. They lived on a farm in Bolyston, Massachusetts and showed the mare around rural New England and into Canada.

“Then shortly thereafter we built a hotdog and hamburger stand, and we traveled with that quite a few years. We had an old truck, and we carried the stand in that. We’d set it up, then my mother and father slept in the truck, and my brother and I slept on the ground. We did that until school started. Then we’d get boarded out, and they’d finish up fair season. Somewhere in the 1950s we built a french-fry stand to go with it, a couple of games, and bingo later on.”

About 1965 the Gilmores loaned some money to a fellow with a fair route, and when he couldn’t pay it back, they took over the route. They didn’t own any rides at the time; they took care of the bookings, sold tickets, and collected the rents. Then they started buying rides. Their first one in 1965 was a tilt-a-whirl; a brand new one; which cost $22,000. “Now a tilt-a-whirl; of course they’ve improved somewhat, basically the same ride, just a little easier to set up; is around $250,000,” he said. “My father died in 1970 when I was finishing college. We had seven rides then, and I just went out and started running the show and buying more and more rides. Until now I’m at the point I’ve got too many rides. Don’t need them all, but we’ve got about 50 rides now I guess.” What was it like being a young boy working the fair circuit? Gilmore made it sound like an adventure with story after story, but he worked hard, too. He helped in the family’s hotdog stand, hustled soda or popcorn in the grandstand, helped with his father’s games, and found other moneymaking jobs for neighboring concessionaires.

And on a rainy summer morning I found them all laid out and idle in the Walmart parking lot at nine o’clock on a Sunday morning. I wandered around for a while, trying to make little sketches and samples of the amazing chemical colors, but I gave up and moved to a vantage point farther away. It was just too private down amongst the machinery.  Campers and RVs were scattered around and people were wandering half dressed, brushing their teeth or drinking coffee – I felt as intrusive as I would have been in a stranger’s living room, and moved off to make my observations from a nearby hill.

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