On my initial visits to Gibtown I was always amazed at the sights. You could see the bears roaming in the backyard of John Welde. Billy Rogers had all kinds of curious creatures at his shop. When you'd pass the winter quarters of Ward Hall and Chris Christ, you'd see folks practicing their fire eating or sword swallowing skills, and big rides, games and food trailers were set up in most of the yards.
Thanks to the late Andy and Ethel Osak, who owned Showtown USA, Jim Elliott, Whitey Slaten, Frances Hadsall, Joe Mikloiche, Paul Dell, Nick Lucas, and others, special zoning laws were installed. Every time they're threatened now, guys like Elliott, Larry Habeck, Ivan Arnold, Lee Stevens, and many of the newer breed step up to fight that never-ending battle to keep what was long ago earned.
One of the first images I remember from back in the early 1970s was the big Cortina Bobs ride that was set up in the back yard of Ken and Barbara Detty. She's running a very successful restaurant business now, but Kenny has been the right-hand man for Joel Golder of Palace Playland Park in Old Orchard Beach, Maine, since he sold his carnival, Funtastic Midways, in 2003. In fact, Detty found a Roller Coaster from Preston & Barbieri of Reggio Emillia, Italy, that would fit the footprint of Old Orchard Beach, and it arrived at the park in June of 2018. “It was a big hit for the rest of the season,” said Detty.
Due to a vein problem in his legs that has been corrected, Detty missed the Memorial Day weekend which drew record-breaking business. “It took four and a half to five years to put that Coaster purchase together, but it's a beauty.” The ride cost $4 million and is 70 feet high. An adjacent parking lot had to be removed to make room for it. Detty is no stranger to big rides. He booked his Mack of Germany-manufactured Cortina Bobs with Strates Shows, Mile Kaufman's Gooding's Million Dollar Midways, Jerry Murphy's Murphy Brothers Exposition, and Johnny's United Shows when it was owned by Arthur Lamkin. Asked about the difference in being at an amusement park or traveling with a carnival, Detty laughed and said, “at the end of the week, you close the gate and put the padlock on instead of loading up all the trucks.” For Golder, he has refurbished rides, built signs, made sure all the rides had LED lighting packages, helped with all the amenities, including benches, etc. Of Golder, he said, “He's not afraid to spend money and it pays off. He has a first class, beautiful operation.”
We reminisced that Hickey and Bonnie Culpepper, who spent years with Royal American Shows, also booked with Golder as have other carnival people such as Don Catania and Bobby Cassata, with games. Golder is a good friend of Harold Fera of Rockwell Amusements, Scituate, Rhode Island, and the two always make it a point to attend the various trade shows together, including Gibsonton. Marlo Yhnatko, granddaughter of Hickey and Bonnie, and daughter of Trish, who is with Premier Amusements in Myrtle Beach, S. C., will be spending her first year with games at Old Orchard Beach.
Born in 1942 in Dayton, Ohio, Detty recalls that his family was “dirt poor. When I was nine, I was sweeping floors at barber shops, stores, bars, and theaters, when a carnival came to town on Halloween. It was owned by Earl Barber, Jerry Barber's father, and he had four or five kiddie rides. I heard somebody who was helping with the electrical work remark that they needed somebody to operate the little airplane ride. They asked if I could and I said I could if they'd teach me. Years later, I left the show, took the Tip Top and booked it with Gooding's, Jack and Mayo Royal, and all over South Florida.” Jerry Barber was awarded the OABA's Pioneer Award in 2015.
Detty and I share another good memory. The National Association of College Baseball Coaches was holding its annual convention in Nashville, and one of the coaches from a community college in Ocala, Fla., was enjoying the hospitality of Johnny Hobbs's Nashville Palace, when he remarked to me that he would love to get a carnival for a fundraising event. I immediately put him in touch with Detty, whose show covered that area, and they built a relationship that lasted until Detty sold his show, small world.
I contacted Joel Golder for some comments about Detty, and here's what he had to say. “We've been friends for 50 years. He helped me to get where I am. There is no way I would have the beautiful park we now own if it were not for Kenny. At one time I would say he was the best ride man I ever knew. He's slowing down a bit, physically, but he still has all that knowledge stored inside his head.”
Speaking of the Sea Viper, Golder confirmed that it was Detty who tracked it down. In fact, there is not a piece we ever purchased that he wasn't involved in. He is a great friend and tremendous asset.” Golder also reiterated that the park enjoyed its biggest opening weekend in history over Memorial Day.
A couple weeks ago I wrote about a man named Jack Coxman living in a trailer park in Tampa with Butch Netterfield, Joie Chitwood, Danny Fleenor, and Chris Christ, according to Darrell Desgranges, The Mizuno Golf Pro. Desgranges also runs Meridian Entertainment of Traverse City, Michigan, with his partner, Brad Coombs. Darrell's brother, Todd Desgranges, and Joe Blume handle Evelyn Deggeller's Stuart Concessions on Cole Shows of Covington, Va.
The more I thought about that, the more I figured that Darrell was actually referring to the late Jack Kochman, a thrill show operator, not Coxman. In another place, Patty Dee, concession manager of the Miami-Dade County Fair, pointed that one of the top 10 food grossing operators, Vicki Hunter, was Vicky Lis last year, so I reckon she must have got married. Thanks, Patty!
I heard from Bill Blake, who was a longtime manager for Ron and Bev Burback's Funtastic Shows in Portland, Oregon. He wrote: “I see from your articles that you are doing well after your surgery. Keep up the good work. I really enjoy your part of ShowTime. Today was a beautiful day at the Pacific. It was the first day of a three-day Razor Clam Dig. It will be the last one until winter comes. I opened my Giant European Slide the first weekend of May.” Blake sent some photos of the razor clams with his wife, Feng Yan, stepson, Hongsen, and grandson, Marcus. It looks like they caught a lot. Blake added, “Hey, how about those Seattle Mariners, best start in years, and it's a rebuilding year at that.”
Ironically, coincidentally, or whatever, before Golder hung up the phone, he asked how I thought my Boston Red Sox were doing. I said they were doing okay after a very slow start but couldn't sustain without a closer. I admitted Craig Kimbrell was erratic at times in 2018, but more often than not, he was automatic in the ninth inning. Nobody has replaced him. A few hours later, Boston carried a 5-2 lead into the ninth against Cleveland, and wound up losing 7-5, toughest loss of the year. Case closed!
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