In 1969 I lost my summer job as a laborer for a local masonry contractor in Clearfield, Pennsylvania. My job was to mix mud for three masons, lug concrete blocks and break brick tongs while balancing on ladders and scaffolding.
My good friend David, one of the masons and son of the company owner, had been drafted into the Army and assigned to the “Big Red 1” heading to southeast Asia. I was very upset, angry and worried for his welfare and perhaps too outspoken. My boss disapproved and decided to terminate my employment. Probably not an entirely bad thing. David, I am happy to say, survived two tours and eventually returned home to take over his father's business.
About the time of my dismissal, the local county fair opened its gates and the James E. Strates Shows came to town. Strates is billed as the largest traveling midway in the world and at that time played locations up and down the east coast moving from state to state by train. I had visited the fair every year as a small child during my annual week-long summer stay with my grandparents. The show always looked for summer help. I ran off with the carnival.
The rest of the summer, before returning to college, I worked with “Jack Norman's Broadway to Hollywood Review,” a strip show. We put up the tent (with elephant help), set up chairs and benches, prepared the stage, sold tickets and generally did stuff to make the operation work. It was a popular venue.
Recently I learned, through correspondence with Mr. Strates, that the “Shows” would be in Essex Junction, Vermont, at the Champlain Valley Fair. It is the closest to Maine they would ever be. After 50 years, I thought it might be fun to revisit, and off we went — a 300-mile drive, each way!
No strip shows anymore, but the odors of foods, barker chants and some of the rides brought it all back. We had a blast and I even got to meet the grandson of thee Mr. Strates, who started it all in 1923. I was not able to win a stuffed animal for my wife, however, we did get to see the “world's smallest horse.” And, I almost ate cotton candy and fried dough!