Consistency is the key to the success of the James H. Drew Exposition of Augusta, Ga., owned by Jimmy Drew, his wife, Evangeline, and their son, Jim, according to the convivial Jimmy, who is a Trustee of OABA and former president of the Showmen's League of America in the same year, 1984.
Tradition and nostalgia are other words associated with the carnival that has maintained basically the same route for the last 50 years. “I don't get involved in the rat race of who can take the biggest fair away from who,” said Jimmy, who, technically is James H. Drew III.
James Graybeal, manager, has been with the show for 48 years. The Rick Sergent Family, that books games, has been with Drew for 68 years. “We have developed a following of people who keep coming back and I firmly believe that American workers are some of the best in the world. As far as the H-2B foreign Visa program, I believe it's just another drug. You become addicted to it and then you have to have it.”
Since it was founded in 1948 by Drew's dad, James H. Drew Jr., who was known as Georgia Boy, and his mother, Eula, who started with a Ferris Wheel and Merry-Go-Round, the carnival has always featured an antique organ, and has booked attractions such as a motor drone, and artists who are shot out of the cannon, along with most of the modern and spectacular rides.
In that latter class is a Wheel that was purchased from the manufacturing firm of Lamberink in the Netherlands. “It's not as tall as the one owned by Michael Wood and Frank Zaitshik.” That one is over 150 feet tall. “This one is about 80, so it's up there,” said Drew. The ride is expected to arrive later this season. Also new for this year is a Barnyard kiddie ride that was bought from Zamperla. “It's only the second one in the U.S. Wade Shows (owned by Frank Zaitshik) has the other,” stated Drew.
The show is now set up at a still date in Simpsonville, S.C., after playing the Greensboro, N.C., Coliseum for two weeks. Asked how that spot went, Drew said, “We've played there for years, and as is true with most locations, we do well when we get good weather, but we had rain on both Saturdays.”
Drew said he plans to bring out his Space Wheel two or three times this year, including at the 15th annual Williamson County Fair in Franklin, on the outskirts of Nashville, Aug. 2-10. Drew has played the fair since its beginning. he ride was manufactured by the Velare Brothers in 1958, and Douglas Aircraft made all of its rotating parts. “It has been completely refurbished and looks tremendous.”
Drew said his grandfather, James H. Drew, worked for $23 a week, while raising nine children. Georgia Boy hopped on a train in 1931 and joined Cole Brothers in a town called Wrems, Ga. “I have always been told that he told his sister that if he didn't get on that train, he'd never get out of Wrems.”
Jimmy, who loves the music of Steven Foster who penned “Way Down Upon The Suwanee River,” “My Old Kentucky Home,” and numerous other classics, made me his Man of the Year at the Miami Showmen's Association when he was president of that club. He and Evangeline had Christine and me as their guests at the 1995 Masters Golf Tournament in Augusta, an experience neither of us will ever forget. Neither will my son, Kevin, who was working as a mechanical engineer in Savannah, Ga., at the time for Gulfstream Industries. I called him from Augusta, gave him a million reasons of why he shouldn't try to join us in Augusta, including too much walking, and not being able to get a ticket, until something of a miracle happened.
At dinner that night, Drew said his son, Jim, had gone to Atlanta, and he wondered if we knew anybody who would like a ticket. Kevin, it seemed, arrived, driving the distance of 121.3 miles, almost before I had dropped the phone. Bernard Thomas of Mighty Thomas Shows, OABA chairman in 1975, was also a Drew guest that year.
I have so many memories of the trip. One was being amazed at how cheap the costs were for food, drink, and parking. It was the first Masters for Tiger Woods, who hit a ball that landed at my feet. He smiled and asked if I would like to take the next shot for him. John Daly took one of his booming shots that flew dangerously over our heads. We walked to Amen Corner, even though the distance just about did me in, and we really had a memorable experience when play was delayed by fog one morning. We asked the lady next to us if she followed a particular golfer around the course or waited at certain holes for the golfers to approach. When she said she did the former, we were curious as to why and whom. She replied it's Lee Janzen and I'm his mother.” How about that! I have rooted for him ever since.
I was watching a baseball game on TV (what's new?) Saturday when I received a phone call from Tom Gaylin of Rosedale Attractions and Shows, Baltimore, who was inquiring about my health. I told him my oncologist and surgeon had told me I was clear of cancer, but both recommended I take treatments because it had a high risk of coming back. I could get hit with a car today as well, so I turned it down, especially after talking to my regular doctor and learning of the high risks. Not only that, but the cost of each treatment was to be $6,700, and it wasn't covered by my insurance. My dermatologist also wanted me to take full body scans every three months, but to use a carnival term, I wasn't getting on that Roller Coaster again, where they take a biopsy to see if you have a malignancy, and if you do, move you on to one doctor, then another, and it never seems to stop. Well, there is another possible ending. Yikes!
Then Tom and I got down to business. We discussed how much alike farmers and carnival people are with the long hours, hard work, dependency on the weather, etc. He told me Rosedale, which has been around since 1928, was started by his grandmother, Ann Gaylin, who was the daughter of John and Mary Padlick, who had worked at Seabreeze Park in Rochester, N. Y., and Owasco Park in Auburn, N. Y. “She started the traveling show on the streets of Baltimore, booking independently at first, with Heyday, Caterpillar and Smith and Smith Chair Plain.”
Gaylin, who was Chair of OABA in 2016, is optimistic about this being a good season. His show has been out for seven weeks and the first four were good, with bad weather hurting the next two. “People seem to be spending and the economy is good. People are looking for good, local entertainment, and I believe we will reap the rewards of that.” Last year was not one of the show's best, to say the least, as it was hit by more than 100 inches of rain in six and a half months.
Currently, the carnival is set up at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds in Gaithersburg, Md. “It's a rental for five days with the Montgomery County Police Department. They are doing a Safety Patrol Picnic for crossing guards and their families, and drawing more than 2,000 people a day.” Next on the route is a 10-day spot for the Gamber, MD, Fire Department.
A wrestling aficionado, Gaylin was a champion matster in high school and at Towson State College in Baltimore County. He was also on the U. S. Army team and was a National Collegiate Athletic Association referee from 1978 to 2006. From 2006 through 2015, Gaylin served as coordinator of NCAA Division II and III officials, before calling that part of his life quits. I wouldn't want to tangle with him, but when we started joking about that, I told him about my old friend, Gene McQuater, who owned McQuater's Greater Shows and the Midway That Sparkles. Gene lamented that the last time he hit somebody who displeased him on his carnival and he didn't fall, he knew it was time to get out!
Have all great days, and God Bless!
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