I left that curious mix of animal trainers and ventured east. With my livestock on board and the orange bus in tow, I headed toward my role as show painter at an amusement park to help them get ready prior to their annual opening in the spring. After the final bend in the road, I found the entrance to the quiet park.
Being familiar with the components of a working carnival, what I found at this amusement park expanded my understanding of this unique business. First, I found Glen Bergathon who was not only the manager but a gracious host. He gave me a tour of the quiet park and pointed out several projects for me to work on. He also found a place for me to keep the livestock. I housed the horses in one of the many picnic shelters.
Lake Winnie, as the locals lovingly refer to her, was a quaint, folksy place. A regional favorite, the park had many permanent attractions in buildings. The park had both features that did not exist on a traveling carnival and old favorites found on every midway.
Among the permanent attractions at the park were a flume ride alongside the lake, a large dark ride in a building with two roller coaster-like dips across the front, an elaborate forty-horse carousel and the wooden roller coaster. Portable rides and park-model rides were set up all around that made an impressive line-up.
Off the main thoroughfare was a road that went behind the attractions and up to several large metal buildings with a variety of equipment, park components, trucks and trailers all parked haphazard.
The shop in the middle was where the work took place. The men handled projects for both the park and the working carnival that were parts of the Floyd and Baxter operation. Although I never painted on their traveling show – called Cumberland Valley Shows – I did decorate rides that came to the park for rejuvenation and repaint. When these were complete they resumed their role on the road.
Inside the dark shop building the crew accomplished various tasks. One old man had a comfortable work station in the corner. Old George rebuilt bumper car motors full-time. Floyd and Baxter had several bumper car rides touring and in stationery locations besides the large one here at the park. All the worn motors were sent here to old George to rebuild. They usually needed brushes and bearings. A friendly fellow, as he worked I heard colorful stories of when he was a young ride man around the Olsen Shows.
I found an area in the shop to make patterns, create designs, cut out fancy shaped sign boards and plaques. I coated-out these boards and decorated them to give the attractions personality. I studied old time advertising examples and created period looking signs for the old-time railroad station, the carousel, rides in Kiddie Land and created an Alpine themed sign for the Sky Ride that took passengers across the lake.
I also airbrushed scenery on several spectacular rides. The Himalaya was one. I painted snowy mountain scenes with skiers in abundance on all the panels. The Rotor had been renamed the Black Hole. That ride received my painterly touch with images of the galaxy and dimensional lettering.
Over the years the park provided me with a great place to break up the jump from Florida back to Michigan. I left eighty-degree tropical weather each year and found the chilly spring time in Tennessee. Because of the permanent situation here, my signs lasted a long time compared to the beating my art received on a traveling show.
Mary joined me that spring in Chattanooga. We had a plan. She would help out and when the sign work was complete here at the park our T-shirt painting service would resume on the carnival midway in Michigan.
We entered into our rhythm of horse care, sign making and living our lives together. We were very much alike. I was a workaholic who found satisfaction with my accomplishments. I aspired greatness with my horses. Mary wanted to belong more. When my work was over she wanted me to teach her how to ride Bingo.
The process of learning to ride a horse involves correction before the student starts to produce commendable behavior. I learned the hard way that my attempt to teach the skills of horsemanship to my love interest was not always a good thing to do. After listening to me point out flaws and make demands for her to comply with, Mary became sullen and retaliatory. All I could see was the goal she wanted and what was needed to get there. Those sessions contributed to our not getting along. Apparently, I was suffering from compound ignorance; I didn’t know that I didn’t know. I was not effective with cheerful support. Encouragement and reassurance would have been helpful. We also became aware that our drinking may contribute to the unrest. We had the pattern of drinking every day.
In the midst of this tension we actually agreed that our beer consumption was what interfered with our finding harmony. So, we agreed to not drink but we did not know how to not drink. Regular consumption had a stronghold.
As we attempted to be with each other and not drink, tension mounted. We did not know what to do. After several hours of this tension, we relented and went to get a six pack. Then we experienced an immediate sense of relief. The tension melted away as the amber beverage did its magic. Years later we learned about the typical symptoms that exist with alcoholism. This was one of them. We must have been in an embryonic stage back then.
As Memorial Day loomed, the park prepared to open. We moved the horses out of the picnic shelter to an area where the public did not go. I moved the horse trailer behind the roller coaster and set up my canvas awning on the side to rig up a stable. This placed the horses near an area filled with grass. The coaster ride was silent most of the time I was there.
Because my two animals had bonded, I simply tied one of them up and let the other wander around to munch grass. They stayed in proximity of each other all day while I worked elsewhere.
As opening time for the park grew near, Jack and the coaster crew had to get their ride ready. The steel track had a thick coat of rust from lack of use all winter. Jack explained to me that when the train went around for the first time each year the rusty track slowed it down. If the train was too slow to make it over one of the hills, he had to climb up with a come-along and winch it over each hill. During the first coaster run of each year, Jack always kept his fingers crossed.
In preparation for the first run of the coaster train, I tied Bingo along the coaster fence and let Sassy walk free. At first, the roaring sound of the coaster train going down the first hill terrified them. Bingo strained at his tether and Sassy ran away. A moment later the sound came from the other side. Jack was glad. The train made it all the way around. The horses resumed their grazing. As the days went by, the horses actually got used to the noise. They remained calm in the midst of this unusual racket.
I finished up all the sign work about the same time as the park opened. Lake Winnie turned into a bustling center of activity. Busloads of kids and cars filled the parking areas opening weekend. I enjoyed seeing my finished work adding to the fun. I enjoyed this time at the park and all too soon, it was time to go. We bid adieu to our friends and loaded out. We headed toward my parents in Arkansas prior to going to the next work situation. The concessionaire in Kansas wanted me to create graphic paint jobs on his ice cream trailers and get his fleet ready to go.