The Tumbler

While in Michigan I couldn’t resist seeing what was going on at the Elliott Amusement Company. Years ago, as a sign painter in Michigan, I found an interesting outlet for my work at the fairgrounds. I discovered a fun place to work. With several weeks open I headed for the winter quarters.  

Upon arrival at the barn, I saw Red had a new ride partially set up in the yard. Delighted to see me, he filled me in on this quest. He had a friend in Europe with a large fabricating company that built exhaust systems for ocean going ships. This same man had a hobby building carnival rides. This man had created a large spoked unit that stood high in the air. When his ride was complete, he asked Red to give it a shake-down on his route.

This ride was plain. It had tubs that actually looked like Fred Flintstones car and this unit was heavy. Red had stories about having to get overload permits and how he became familiar with the overload laws of the states he trucked through. While using this ride Red discovered the tubs created a claustrophobic feeling for the passengers.

Here at the yard Red was busy removing the roof and side pieces from the tubs. He had another idea for a theme and asked me to make it look science fiction. I got busy with my airbrush.  The dog-house, or operator’s cubicle, the lower scenery and back-wall scenery soon received a fantastic other-worldly-scape with outer-space garbed figures in various poses.

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I collaborated with sign friend Tom Gonder who had a computer and a plotter for making vinyl letters. I composed twelve different space sounding names to place on the underneath side of each tub. He generated these large names out of white vinyl.


During set up prior to the Lenawee County Fair, Tom had the vinyl names ready for installation. While the tubs were in the air, our installation began. We had a challenge installing the letters overhead on the bottom of each tub, but when complete our contribution gave this unique piece some personality.

By this time in my career, the only people in the carnival industry I painted for was Tim Bors and Red Woods who partnered the Elliott Amusement Company. I always made time in my schedule to work for them. The following summer they acquired an office semi from Floyd & Baxter, an early FRP paneled unit. The exterior panels developed a consistent pattern of stress cracks due to some aspect of the resin formula. Tim wanted me to make it look like a party. I enjoyed the challenge.

I began by making a detailed scale drawing of my concept – a large carousel horse flanked by marble pillars with coils of confetti coming down. Tim gushed over my concept. Once my idea was approved, I began drawing my image full size on the semi-trailer.

Using a large brush, I started to cut-in the background to delineate all the features. One at a time each color shape was established. The large horse was depicted using the wet-blended technique. After a week of work the effect was spectacular.

Tim had the ambition to become a show owner and had me design a logo for T&T to initiate his partnership with Tom Arnold. I finished the rear of the trailer with that design.

Soon I responded to yet another request for a mural on a motorhome and headed away from the carnival.

I have the carnival to thank for where I am today. When the bread and butter of the sign business began to erode, due to the computer arriving on the scene, I had my hand with the airbrush. I accidentally discovered a huge market for murals on motor homes. The transition into this new field of endeavor was seamless, thanks to my fairground prerequisite. I soon transitioned to attending motor home rallies where I provided this service to the demographic immersed in the motor home experience.

The following year I heard from my friend Debbie. She called to tell me that Tim had died in his car after going off the road. That was a shock. I painted for Tim since the beginning. I helped him with his ambitions that hinted toward having his own show. That loss affected my being around the carnival because I wouldn’t paint for just anyone.

Later that year Red died prematurely. Red was one of my favorite people of all time. This news also prompted grief. I now had no reason to return to the carnival.

Demand for mural work on motorhomes increased. By this time, I had a regular route between hot-spots of activity, rallies to attend and requests to travel to homes and businesses to create beautiful art.

My life was a blur of custom painted images and a series of intimate touches into the lives of the wonderful people I served. My life was full.

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