Written By: Dottie Huggins Goodman
I want to dedicate this to my family, those of my extended family
and a friend Charles McClure who encouraged me to write this
story about my childhood.
To my mom who I love dearly and for her help in trying to
remember the things I couldn't.
Growing up on a medicine show was an era in history to be
remembered and I will share with you in these pages.
To my only son Billy whom I am so proud of he is truly the light
of my life and my best friend.
To my wonderful husband Harlin Goodman who has endured these
years in my life as I learned to live in one community. I
compliment his parents Aldolph and Georgia for raising this fine
person I have shared my life with in the town of Qulin Missouri
which accepted my family as one of their own.
"My Life as a Showgirl," How's that for a play on
words? Ha!! I was asked to share all my
experiences with anyone who would care to read
about it. I never really thought about sharing my
young life as a growing up on a medicine show but,
here goes. I really don't know how or where to
start but, I know once I start I won't know where
to stop, cause as the quote goes "I got a million
Click on any underlined word to view a photograph
Chapter One - Grandma Violet and Dynamite Huggins.
Not everyone lived in a house with all the daily routine which seems so common
to most. For a few living in a different town every week was a way of life.
There were several traveling shows and the Medicine Show was my home. As it had
been for my father since grandma married Dynamite Huggins until we finally
settled in Qulin, Missouri at the suggestion of Marvin (Crip) McClure. About
1959 or 1960
Circa; 1928 in a location unknown to me, my grandma Violet and my dad Bill at
the age of five were abandoned. She worked at any kind of work that she could
get just to get food and a place to stay; most of the time it was never enough.
Then to town blows "Dynamite Huggins" traveling with a medicine show. Somehow
Grandma asked: if there was anything she could do just to earn a few dollars.
Grandma and Dynamite eventually married and he adopted my father.
Dynamite and grandma worked with the medicine show for quite a few years and
finally acquired the medicine show. They added several things to the show, but
mostly he was a one man show. He did black comedy, sing, dance, play the piano
and tell stories. He had taught himself how to play the piano. If you put a
piece of sheet music in front of him he could not tell if it was right side up
or upside down as he did not read music. But, that was not a problem with his
natural talent for listening to music and duplicating the sound on his piano.
He was very talented and always gave a great show leaving the audience wanting
In the late fall or winter Dynamite would book hometown theaters in small towns
usually for a week and run movies. Dad was only 10 years old he was the one who
ran the movie projector. In those days the movie projector required your full
attention during the entire show. The heat from the tubes would often burn the
film and you had to quickly remedy the situation to continue the show also avoid
melting entire movie. There was no air conditioning in those days and the heat
from the tubes in the projector room was very uncomfortable. These days of
showing and viewing a movie was the fore runner of entertainment as we know it
When my father was 16 they booked a theater in Peach Orchard, Arkansas. A young
girl nicknamed "Pookie," worked the ticket booth her real name was Roberta
Sancomb. My father fell head over heels in love with Pookie, (she really was a
cute thing). She liked him too but, she was just 15 so grandpa (dynamite) and
grandma nipped this romance in the bud and moved on. Still my dad did not forget
about Pookie. Two years later grandpa and grandma would again book the theater
in Peach Orchard, Arkansas, (was this meant to be or what?) "Ha" and you guessed
it the girl at the ticket booth was Pookie. This time dad and Pookie had a short
courtship and married. Pookie's mother had died in childbirth when Pookie was
born, leaving a son, triplet daughters and mom who was about three years younger
than her siblings.
My mom was beautiful and she liked makeup and pretty clothes and flashy things.
When people would comment on how pretty my mom was; I would be so proud. Dad was
sort of jealous of mom. Often young guys would flirt with her and dad would get
so mad. Mom would just think it was funny. But, she did not think it was funny
when some girl would flirt with dad. Still the flirting never amounted to
Chapter Two - Along came Dottie
About three years after my parents were married I was born premature at my mom's
grandmother's home.Dad was out on the road working the show. I was a few days
old before he seen me or even knew I was here, I was early (I guess she should
have called on her cell phone)"ha" .
When I was just a few months old I was on the road with them. As if life wasn't
hard enough with all the things that goes along with a traveling show. Adding a
baby to care for did not make things any easier. I was a little trooper right
from the start and I sure didn't lack for care, attention or love. I had my
grandparents and who ever worked on the show with us as we were all one big
family. Needless to say I grew up being a spoiled brat and there was not a
bashful bone in my body.
I thrived on attention and grandpa seen that I got it. I was up there on the
stage more than off lining up prizes to be given away, or singing and dancing.
Grandpa bought me a little pair of tap shoes and I thought I was Shirley Temple.
I did have the curly hair and a hula outfit. I would hula, it was awful, but
better not tell grandpa that. - smile. Grandpa thought I was the cutest thing he
ever seen. Once when on stage in a formal trying to twirl a baton (notice I
said trying) and going down the wooden steps my dress got caught on the post and
I was just swinging there by my gown. Everyone started to laugh but I didn't
care even grandpa was laughing. I must have looked pretty silly, but I was
I always made lots of friends where ever we went. Kids always thought I had it
made and was so lucky to be a 'showgirl'. I thought so too. I loved my life.
Still it was lonely when we would move to the next town. Moving was usually on
Sunday evening. We would move in to the new town and everything would so quiet
and not know anyone. I can still remember how lonely I felt when we moved to a
Chapter Three - Starting in a New Town
Photo Josie second wife of Dynamine in front of Concession stand.
Photo Dad and Me
Photo Mom and Me
Photo Me on Stage
Photo Grandpa and concession stand
Photo The movie screen with benches and concession stand
After arriving in a new town it was the next day before the electricity was set
up. The first night dad would always hook up the 'dynamo' and we would have
lights for about three hours. I recall how loud it was and how we hated the
sound it made when it was about to shut down; we knew we had better be ready for
Early on Monday morning dad would hook up the gas bottles to our little cook
stove in our very small trailer. After we rounded up some water mom and grandma
would cook breakfast. We had big jugs that we got water in from whoever would
sell us some. We always liked to pay for our water as we always needed quite a
lot. But so much of the time people were so nice they wouldn't take any money,
still a few did.
After we ate everyone had a certain thing they did to make it all come together.
The electricity would be hooked up on Monday morning as dad always arranged for
this to be done ahead of our arrival. We had to have the electricity so we
could have our show that night. (Remember the Show Must Go On!!) Anyway (I'd
hate to depend on that today right, "ha") Most of the time there would be men
and boys hanging around just out of curiosity and dad would offer them a few
bucks to help with the set up. Usually around noon or soon after most everything
would be in place then we would have lunch. Now it was time to go 'Balley' I
really loved this it was when dad would fix a huge speaker on top of the panel
truck then hook up a microphone to it. Then he would drive all through town
while grandpa would talk through the microphone telling everyone to come on down
to the free show tonight. Grandpa had a way of making the pitch so it made
everyone want to hear more. People would come out of the house; women out of the
kitchen with their aprons on wondering what all the commotion was about. Kids
would follow along side of the panel truck. Some would follow the entire route
and we would keep picking up more kids along the route. By the time we would
get back about every kid in town ended up with us and that is how I got to know
a lot of kids.
While dad and grandpa were driving through town making their pitch about the
show tonight, mom and grandma were busy getting ready for the show. They
cleaned and set up the concession stand, made syrup for the snow cones, crushed
ice in the huge ice crusher. The ice had to be stored properly so it was still
ice when they needed it for the snow cones. They had to have the popcorn popper
ready to go at show time. When dad and grandpa returned it was time to do all
the last things before it was time for the show to go on. Then we would all
relax for a couple hours, grab a bite to eat and get our better clothes on; then
it was show time which was around 6:30 pm.
The show opened with granddad going on stage with his welcome pitch, then
leading into his 'act'. Besides all the other things we mentioned he did, he
also did skits with the other guy who worked with us. Sometimes he would bring
kids out of the crowd to participate. The kids really loved it when he did this.
He would not do the same thing every night. He had a lot of opening pitches,
seldom using the same one often.
About our trailers
We lived in three or four trailers during the duration of the show, each time we
would try to upgrade. The first little trailer of course holds most of the
memories. I remember it was so small, almost like a camper. Mom and Dad's bed
was a full size fold down bed at one end of the trailer and the middle was a
very small stove and small refrigerator and a fold down table, one sink and a
very few cabinets, but it seemed sufficient. My bed was a chair bed. But, I
loved it when we all got up we sure had to make sure the beds was all put up or
you couldn't move around. I must mention this - There was a big square hole in
the top of the trailer with a top that latched and had a chain attached to it.
Dad had a huge box fan - not like the ones today, it was a real trick. Anyway
it was about the size of the hole he would turn the fan down over the hole and
blew it into the trailer, this served to cool. It always was so hot. And it
also served to keep the mosquitoes from biting - they were horrible. When it
would start to rain dad would climb up in a chair and give the fan a huge shove
to slide it down, grab the chain and pull down the cubby hole lid, then go back
to bed. Now I ask you what child would not 'envy this.'
Chapter Four -What is a Medicine Show?
You can't have a medicine show without medicine. After grandpa's opening it was
time for the 'medicine sell'. This consists of: snake oil, liniment, black
salve, cel tonic which was black and in a tall bottle. The 'Liniment' was good
for everything from a mosquito bite to a snake bite and people would swear to
this. The 'Salve' was good for poison ivy, poison oak or any kind of rash. The
'Tonic' was a kill or cure for whatever ailed you, which pretty much would kill
or cure you and we would have a lot of people who had used these products to
stand up from the crowd and tell about their experiences after using these.
When I recall these concoctions I think I still smell them. Be assured they did
not have a pleasant perfume smell, but one which made one wonder how you get
past the odor to get the benefit of the product. The liniment sold for fifty
cents a bottle and the salve and the tonic was one dollar. Can you imagine
purchasing any medicine at that price now. Grandpa would give his pitch about
the medicine then sell it from the stage with my help. While this was going on
mom and grandma would be getting ready for the 'candy sale'.
I really liked my part of the candy sale, because I got to line up all the
prizes on stage. As you can see I had to be in on all of the show. I had done
it so much even when I was little I was pretty good at keeping up. Ten boxes of
candy would have a slip of paper inside the box with numbers from One to Ten.
The prizes would be numbered the same way. The number on your piece of paper in
the candy box would match the number on the prize you received. The prizes
were; Kewpie Dolls, Tall Figurines, Dolls, and the best prize was the big bronze
looking horse with the clock in the belly of the statue (remember these). The
dolls were often Charlie McCarthy dolls which were popular in the late 1930's
Mom and grandma did the candy sale, I was only part of the on stage decoration.
They had to close the concession stand long enough for this. To do the candy
sale they had big black cartons with straps on them to go around their neck
stacked with boxes of candy. They would go through the crowd and out among the
cars selling the candy. If you were in your car and wanted candy you simply
turned on your headlights or honk your horn and they would bring the candy to
you. Most of the candy was sold to the young people sitting in their cars. It
would be dark among the cars and they carried a flashlight to see how to handle
the money. Compare this to the danger we would face in today's world. The Candy
sale was usually about one half hour. During this time they open their candy
and if they had a paper with a number inside they claimed their prize.
Following the candy sale I would always help clear the stage and it was time for
the film (movie) which usually consists of a Cartoon and Short Subject. These
were free movies our monies were made from the candy, concessions and the
We would make these candy boxes up during the day. We ordered the boxes by the
thousand and we would have to sort of put them together. It was not a hard task,
just time consuming. We also ordered the candy by big drums. I can still taste
them. They were very good, sort of like candy kisses. But the taste was
different from anything I've tasted now days. I helped fill the boxes as did
everyone working the show. I hated doing this part. I preferred to eat the
candy. Dad insists I ate the profit.
After the show they would tally everything and would always say if we had a good
night or not so good. Then we would all get in the panel truck and go see if
there was a place to grab something to eat. Most of the time we would find a
place and sometimes we wouldn't. Then when we got back we would all sit outside
and talk until we got tired or sleepy then we would go to our trailers. Mom, dad
and me together on one, another was for Grandpa and Grandma and the hired hand
in the other one.
Tearing down was what everyone dreaded, but it had to be done. After the last
show everyone would work feverishly again. Dad would again hire a few locals to
help and it was usually one or two o'clock before it was done. Then we would
fall into bed and get up very early to hook up all the trailers, and concession
stand. Dad would always hook up to pull the concession stand with the panel
truck, because it was the longest. Mom would pull our trailer with a station
wagon, and then the hired hand would drive the Big truck which was full of all
the show equipment. The side of the big truck was the fold down stage and
screen for movies. The stage would fold up almost flat against the screen. The
bad part we still had grandpa and grandma's trailer that we would always have to
go back for after we got to where we were going. Dad would have to unhook one
vehicle, go back and hook up the other trailer and come back. This was very
time consuming especially if the move was pretty far. Later we hired another
guy to work for us and he was able to haul grandpa and grandma's trailer. Dad
built a little bit more on to the trailer of grandpa and grandma's making room
for the hired hands to be together, but separated from grandpa and grandma.
Chapter Five - About Grandma
My grandma was a typical grandma. Sort of plumb with her hair pulled back in a
bun. She wore no makeup at all. I thought she was beautiful. One time mom
talked grandma into letting her put makeup on grandma's face. She looked funny
with make up on and grandpa asked, "What in the world do you have all over your
face?" I have to admit she looked much better without the makeup. She had a
glow about her and that was all she needed.
Not long after the trailer remodeling was completed, grandma got sick. She was
doing the candy sale one night. Those candy cartons had started getting pretty
heavy for her and she collapsed from pain while she was selling the candy. We
were soon to learn she had cancer and had it for a long time. She had suffered
in silence not making any fuss about the pain and hiding it well from the
family. My grandma was one of the sweetest ladies on the face of this earth.
Grandma was the glue that held us all together. Grandpa loved her dearly and dad
was so very close to her. Grandma was the only mom my mother had known. As for
me she was so many things, but, mostly my very, very best friend. She was so
jolly and funny. She would tell me stories about her childhood and about her and
dad and she would always play games with me. But when I look back on the last
and recall I wanted her to do things with me, she would say; "Baby, grandma just
too tired today. I just want to lay down for a couple hours before show time."
I know I was awfully young when grandma finally had to go into the hospital. I
remember all of this so vividly when we went to the hospital to see her, she was
on the top floor and we could hear her screaming from pain. Back then they did
not have the pain medicines they have today. I still recall her screams. But
when she saw me come in her eyes just lit up. Before the day I was taken to see
her she had a stroke and couldn't speak but motioned for mom to pull up a chair
by the bed and stand me in it. I had a new dress on and it was bright pink.
She managed to touch the dress and look at me as to say 'how pretty it was and I
was the grandest thing in the world.' My own young heart was breaking at seeing
her like this. I never saw her again. She was so young, only 52 years.
I will share a couple stories she told me hundreds of times. Once when she and
dad were visiting one of her cousins he had an old model T Ford. Dad loved cars
even until he died. Anyway, grandma said her cousin Ben came in the house
yelling that someone had stole his car out of the shed. Not long after grandma
looked out the window and yelled at Ben; "here comes your car up the road, but I
swear don't look like anyone is driving." About that time it hit a big hole and
jarred the driver up to the top and you guessed it - Dad was the driver. He did
get a flogging over that one. Then there was one about mom. She didn't know a
thing about a car when she and dad got married, much less how to drive so dad
taught her. And it wasn't long before she was pulling trailers with a panel
truck with stick shift.
Anyway being the good driver she was, riding a bicycle was a different story.
Dad bought the two of them a bicycle. She never really mastered it. Grandma
said one day she sent mom to get three chickens on her bicycle - they were sold
live back then. The man tied the chickens feet together and throwed them across
the handle bars. Grandma said by the time mom got back she had turned over so
many times no need to worry about wringing the chickens necks cause they are
Well, as the saying goes, 'The Show Must Go On' and it did. But it was never the
same for a long time without grandma. It wasn't too long after that - about 2
years I guess - we dropped the Medicine Show part and just went to 'Free Shows'.
We never had full length films before and it was quite different. We also
dropped the 'candy sales' part. It was time we made a change anyway and the
medicine and candy weren't doing very well as times were changing. Since we had
to drop these things we had to add things to our concession stand, besides sno
cones and popcorn. We added shake ups, hot dogs and a couple other things I
really can't recall.
We would order out films from several movie companies. Of course, they were far
from being new films; but, they were real good ones. We would both rent and
purchase these full length films. We always got a list of all the movies that
were available - in our price range. I always loved to look at the list since
most of them would have little picture inserts and tell about the movie. Not as
often as I would have liked dad let me pick a movie. I always wanted a movie
with a pony in it.
When we ordered the movies it only took a few days for them to come in. They
always came by train or bus to the closest big town and when we got to go pick
them up was always a fun time. It was like going to the big city. We would get
to shop and eat at a fun place, usually a diner. Dad would always give me and
mom some money to shop on. He would always go look at cars, get a haircut or
just stay in the diner drinking coffee, usually finding other men folk to talk
with. I loved clothes, actually I liked flashy things. Sometimes mom would
make me take it back if it was too bad; still she liked pretty wild things too.
So I guess I came by it honestly. We sure didn't make a lot of money and we
don't remember actually going without things we really needed; now wanting was a
Chapter Six - workers
I must now tell you about the guys who worked for us. The first one was Cecil.
He was around 35. He came around every day when we were showing Vanduser
Missouri. He would always ask if he could clean up the grounds every morning
for a meal or couple of bucks. Dad and Grandpa would let him work and when he
cleaned up there wouldn't be one piece of anything anywhere. In the mean time
grandpa and dad got to really like Cecil. He could really tell some tall
stories. We didn't know if all of them were true or not, but it didn't really
matter. Cecil wasn't the sharpest tool in the shed but, he certainly had a big
heart and was really a hard worker. I remember one thing that stood out, -
besides his really big ears. When anyone would ask him how to get somewhere he
would always say, "Well, first you go to St. Louis," as if where ever you wanted
to go you to couldn't there without starting in St. Louis. When we packed up to
move from Vanduser, Cecil ask if he could go with us. Since he didn't really
have a home, he was willing to work for his keep. When we left Cecil came along
with us and became like one of the family. Since he could drive having him was a
really big plus to our family.
Next we acquired Charlie when he was about 15. Charlie took a liking to grandpa
and seems everywhere grandpa went Charley was right behind him. I think grandpa
really felt sorry for Charley, because he had heard people say how bad he was
treated at home. When we left Wyatt Missouri, Charlie wanted to come along.
Grandpa went and talked to his mom about his coming along with us. It was
decided Charlie could work with us for a season, just to see how it worked out.
I remember grandpa saying, she said; "if he goes it's for good." Sort of like
saying just one less mouth to feed since she had nine kids. Charlie joined our
group and became another member of our family.
Me and Charley became real close friends. He was like the big brother I never
had. Dad bought us a couple of old bicycles and we would get to a new town we
would get on our bikes and go exploring for hours. Sometimes we would get in
trouble for being gone so long and not knowing where we were. Dad would say we
better check in pretty often, cause we don't know this town and we wouldn't know
how to look for you. Back in the 1940's and 1950's you did not have a lot of
things to worry about with children as you do now in 2010.
Even though he was only 15, Charlie was a pretty big boy and it really helped
with things that had to be done around the show. Charlie liked to cook. I guess
he had done a lot of it at home coming from a large family. Anyway he was
another bonus to our family as Cecil had been. Grandpa taught him a lot that he
should have been taught at home. Both Charlie and Cecil were happy to be a part
of 'the show crew family' and we were just as happy to have them. They remained
a part of our family until we later dissolved the 'road show.'
Chapter Seven ---- Our Animals
We always had a couple of dogs and kept them as long as they wanted to stay. A
lot of times after so many moves the dogs would just disappear. I would always
become attached to the dogs. I would cry and want to keep looking for them when
we were ready to move on to another town. But, there were always more that came
around wanting to be a 'show dog.'
Just to show how much I loved dogs. Once when we were showing in a town the
woman across the lot had some puppies she wanted to sell. She would let me play
with them every day. There was one that I really fell in love with so, when we
moved on I took the puppy from the pen, hiding it in the trailer. When we got
to where we were going mom and dad was so mad at me. They still had to go back
for the other trailer and made me go taking the puppy back. I had to face the
lady with what I had done. The lady was so nice she told dad since I cared that
much about the puppy I could keep it if dad was willing. He let me keep the
puppy and taught me a lesson I did not forget at the same time. It is easy to
steal, but when you face the person you stole from; take my word for it this
does teach a child.
Mom's dog, while we had many dogs mom had her baby whose name was Judy. She was
a real small black Chiawawa, and she returned mom's love 100%. I recall Judy
had puppies while we were on the road. It was in August and hot as could be. It
always seemed hotter on the road as there was no shade to get under. Judy was
having complications giving birth. Mom helped her deliver three of the cutest
puppies you ever seen, course mom wanted to keep all of them. But, soon as they
were old enough we had to let them go.
Once Judy was following us while we walked in a park and she picked up a piece
of meat on the ground. Dad was afraid that it may be poisoned so he threw a
small rock at her to scare her into dropping the meat. Instead he hit her just
right in the neck and she died. Mom became very upset but we all grieved for
Judy she was a sweet dog.
Dad knew how much I loved ponies. I felt I could have died for one -to pun a
child expression. He also knew how hard it would be to have one in our
situation. But, one day while I was outside playing I seen a strange truck
pulling in on the lot. Right behind the truck was dad in our truck. When I got
close I could see not one but two of the most beautiful ponies I had ever seen.
One was larger and was black and white. The smaller one was sort of light tan
color. I remember running as fast as I could toward them. When the man and dad
got out of the truck I jumped on him screaming and asking whose ponies, almost
certain they were mine. He started kidding me saying someone was coming to pick
them up. I went over and started petting them, about then he said o.k. maybe we
will just keep'um.
Come to find out dad had been in town and a guy had them in his truck with a
'for sale' sign on it. Dad just being curious asks how much he wanted. The man
said: "son just make me a reasonable offer and they are yours." That is how we
acquired Trigger and Tarzan (who ever heard of a horse named Trigger. I don't
know why I choose these two names, it just seemed to fit. These ponies gave me
years of fun and love. They were really good. It's like they knew they had to
adjust to a very different kind of life and they did. Dad even had them doing
some tricks he was like a big kid with the ponies. He would often ride with me.
He rode Trigger since he was a pretty big pony, sort of like a small horse.
Since dad wasn't real big they sort of fit together. Photo of Me, Mom, Tarzan
Then comes Jessie the monkey; a great big Reese monkey, reddish orange in color
(with a rear to match) and pretty ugly. We were showing in Dongolla Illinois
when grandpa was walking back from the store and seen this man whipping Jesse
with a chain. Grandpa said to the man, "Why are you doing that to a poor
helpless monkey and why don't you just get rid of it instead of being mean to
it." The man replied, "Since you seem to care do much, why don't you take him?"
Grandpa gave the man Five Dollars and came home leading this poor looking
monkey. You could tell he had really been abused by the way he looked and
acted. It wasn't long before grandpa had him looking like he should - which
still was not real great.
Jesse was ugly with a personality to match. He worshiped grandpa and hated
everyone else, especially dogs but he loved cats. He had to stay tied to a
stake with a real long chain. He was quite interesting to watch. Once in a
while he would catch a cat and it was funny to watch him with it. He would
stroke it and of course look for fleas. But when a dog would come close he would
chase it as far as he could being on a chain while making those loud monkey
sounds. Once he did catch a dog and bit off half of its tail. The poor dog ran
off with his tail tucked between his legs, (well make that half a tail.)
Dad got a bright idea how to transport him when we moved. He built a cage
underneath the bottom of the show truck, since this was a huge truck. Anyway,
after our first move when we got to where we were going and opened the cage poor
old Jesse just fell out on the ground. We all thought he was dead and almost
was. The fumes from the motor were coming back at poor Jessie and he had all
those fumes in his lungs. He did get all right, but grandpa was sure mad at dad
over his 'bright idea.'
I was the human that Jesse disliked the most. I have a huge scar on my leg now
to prove it. I was always teasing him and he loved orange soda. I was letting
him drink it out of the bottle from my hand. He always liked to hold it, but, I
insisted on holding it for him. He wanted it so bad he let me hold it. Soon as
it was all gone he got mad. I forgot to move out of his way fast enough. He
slapped me on my leg real hard with his long claw and took a huge piece out of
my leg about one inch long and one inch deep. Mom bandaged it up real good and
it took a long time for it to stop bleeding. (we may have used some of
grandpa's liniment - ha) I got alright and maybe should have seen a Doctor and
had about 100 stitches or more. But back then you only seen a doctor if you
were near death.
After his attack on me; dad was determined to get rid of Jesse. We all talked
him out of it. Jesse was mean but also really smart. He just loves to ride on
the handle bars of our bicycles. Dad would take him for rides a often even
though, he really did not like dad. Jesse like to ride bicycles and would behave
himself to get to ride with dad. He knew dad was not scared of him. When he
acted up, dad gave it back to him. Jesse was smart he knew how far he could
push dad so he sort of left dad alone.
Jesse also loved to ride on my pony. He and Tarzan hit it off right away but
trigger wasn't having any part of him on his back. We had Jesse for many years
and he wasn't a young monkey when we got him. One night he just died. He had
not been sick and seemed to be doing just fine. We were all sad at the passing
of Jesse and missed him for a long time. Jesse was only a monkey, but a part of
I suppose a reader would wonder about my schooling. Today in 2010 home
schooling is very common, but it was not so when I was a young girl needing an
education. While I was getting an education in life, I was not acquiring the
academic learning one needs to succeed in today's world. I went when we would
fold up for the season. I went a lot in Benton, Illinois and Qulin, Missouri. I
didn't go a lot and disliked school. I am really surprised no one ever
approached mom and dad about my not attending regularly. I guess we were on the
move so much of the time and never in one place long enough for a school
official to take an interest in seeing to it I attended their school. I did
however, get to go most of the time when I was a little older. I liked going to
school in Qulin and never did like going in Benton.
The kids in Benton were always picking on me. I recall dad would come pick me
up after school on one of my ponies. He rode trigger and would be leading
Tarzan. I could look out the window and see them waiting for school to let out.
You could tell all the kids were jealous and 'I loved it.' From where we were
staying you could get to the school from back roads. The kids at Qulin all
seemed to really like me and made a lot of friends there. I even got to be a
cheerleader and was a majorette in high school
Chapter Eight - after grandma died
About a year after grandma died things got to be too much for mom to handle.
Dad helped her as much as he could in the concession stand, but when the movie
was running he pretty well had to give all his attention to it. Mom had to get
all the stuff ready every day for the night's sales. I can still remember how
sticky the floor of the concession stand would be the next morning before mom
could mop it. The floor would be so sticky it would actually pull the shoes off
your feet. This was caused from all the drips from the syrup that went on the
sno cones and shake ups.
Mom made all the flavoring that went on them and I remember how much sugar we
had to buy. These were made up in gallon jugs turned upside down in a big
dispenser. I think now they just use bought flavoring dispensed from bottles.
We had a large ice crusher. You would put in a big hunk of ice, push a handle
down against it and it would crush the ice really fine. The machine itself was
really heavy as it was steel. Pushing the handle down wasn't easy. Dad used to
joke about building muscles from this task alone. So much of the time with your
hands being wet, which they always were, this machine would shock the dickens
out of you. I know mom would get so mad when it happened she would almost curse
- note almost.
The pop corn popper was also really large and took up almost one whole end of
the concession stand. It had two big poppers on each end when they were through
popping you opened the doors and flipped the handles which turned them upside
down. I ate so much popcorn back then I don't like it today. Cleaning these
poppers was a big deal. They would come off their rims and about once a week
mom would have to clean them with a special treatment. Then they had to be
oiled on the inside with some sort of thick mixture of peanut and coconut oil.
Mom had to do all this before the actual selling started.
One day along came the Mr. and Mrs. Shadowens. He and his wife had a huge
station wagon and very small trailer. They traveled around selling anything
from rings to pots and pans and everything in between. I remember thinking I
never saw so much stuff - junk by today's standards. He had the sides of the
station wagon where they would open out for selling and also the back opened
out. They thought it would be a help to them and us if we hooked up and
traveled together. So we decided to give it a try. What worked out so well was
his wife really had a lot on the ball and she worked with mom in the concession
stand like her and grandma used to do. This took a lot of work off mom. The
Shadowens were with us a few years but they had to move on. Mom sure did miss
the help and the two women had become pretty good friends and they were close in
age. But the separation had to be.
Not long after the Shadowens we ran into the Eagles and had a similar
arrangement with them. The Eagles was their real name. They were American
Indian and very nice people. He did rope tricks and his wife Mary did Indian
dances along with telling the meaning of all the gestures. The public found
them most interesting and they sold their handmade jewelry. The jewelry was made
mostly by her and I recall how beautiful it all was. She also made little glass
figurines. I know they are not so unique in today's world but they were in
mine. Once in a while she would make me a beaded ring or bracelet and I loved
each one. I was fascinated by her work and would sit for the longest just watch
her make all her stuff. She was a very sweet lady and reminded me a lot of my
grandma. The two were about the same size only Mary Eagles wore her hair in long
The Eagles had a teenage son R C. I really liked him too. He was really funny
and always told me a lot of stories about his life and things they did.
Sometimes he would tell me the most outrageous tales that he later admitted he
just made up. I guess I was so naive and hung on every word he said. He and
his father made and dad sold knives. They had about any kind of knife you would
want or need. They also did a lot of detail work on the knives they made. They
stayed with us a long time and she was a big help to mom as Mrs. Shadowens had
been. The Eagles had to leave because she was became real sick and wasn't able
to do all the work anymore. We kept in touch with them for a long time and we
talked about them in conservations recalling what truly fine people they were.
We had made friends in Benton Illinois and they had in the past let us stay a
couple of winters on their property. He worked in a coal mine for many years and
smoked real heavy. Needless to say, he passed away at a young age. They had
three boys and a baby girl. I got to be real good buddies with them. We always
played together after school and on Saturday. Often their mom would take us
into town for the Big Saturday afternoon matinee at the big theatre. We got in
by saving and finding bottle caps. This was so neat going to a big theatre with
pretty flashing lights and watching the movies on a large screen. This theater
always had a double feature on Saturday and Saturday was mostly kids day. The
movies were always westerns or funny ones. They would always have a serial
which took weeks to play out.
Lots of times when we were on the road we would always load up and go to the
next biggest town and go to the Drive In theatre. Some nights a car load could
get in for a buck (one dollar.) Charlie would usually always go with us, he
liked to see the girls.
Chapter Nine - Other Road Shows
There were other shows on the road and we knew them all. Some were pretty good
friends with my family. I don't think this ever was a problem for us. I
remember dad and grandpa lining up our show in a new town they were careful to
learn if a road show had been there in recent weeks. I remember Barnes &
Beaver, always had those three cute little Pomeranian dogs. I believe they
raised them for acts on their show and they could always do the neatest tricks.
My being a dog lover I fell in love with them.
Now the Browning family had a large Chiuwawa named Misty. He was so fat he just
waddled when he walked. She kept him so clean and groomed he smelled as good as
people. He was black and his fur glistened from being so well groomed. He was
very smart and was trained to do a lot of tricks in their show. His show tricks
came to end when he got so fat and he became like their child after that. He
would sit up the whole time you were eating begging for food, and you could see
he had been fed a lot. This family always went down in the 'valley.' Whatever
the valley was, I just remember them saying that is where they went every
winter. One winter they were on their way to the valley and Misty died while in
the back seat. She must have been real old. It was a sorrowful thing for the
Browning family. They had to put her away on their way to the valley was even
worse for them. Misty did not care for me, she only liked older people.
Mr. Browning's first name was 'Al' and he had only one arm having lost his right
arm when he was in the military service. Having only one arm really made him
unique for all the work involved in open road show business. He drove, pulled a
trailer and ran his show with only his left arm and the help from his wife
'Lil.' Mr. Browning referred to his wife as his right arm and she had a great
impact on their success.
Chapter Ten - Dad's Bright Ideas
We were doing real well with the show. Still, every season dad tried to add
something or do something different to trying to keep the show fresh and
interesting. We started having 'talent' show every Friday night and the winner
would win $25.00. Twenty five Dollars was a lot of money back then. This was
fun and went over pretty well and actually we seen some pretty good talented
people. When we would book a town ahead dad and grandpa would always go there
and Bally letting the folks know our show was coming and the dates as well as
what to look for.
Two other people living in Ullin, Illinois; 'Doc and Elsie Kesler' played a
role in our lives to make this all come together. They ran a café and were also
show people. He like Mr. Browning had only one arm. He had acquired a lot of
films over the years and contacted us wanting to know if we wanted to buy any of
them. He really had some good films and this is when we started showing the
full length features. He told dad to make him an offer on all of them. Dad did
and we acquired his complete collection. I seen those shows so many times I
could talk right along with the characters in the movie and hardly miss a word.
Dad and Grandpa got the wild idea of trying tent shows after the season end of
the free show. Around the middle of September through the first of November was
their test for this new scheme. We charged a small fee to get in and we would
usually have the tent packed with people. It was a pretty big tent and
sometimes it would get real cold so they just put in big barrels poked with
holes in them and burned some kind of stuff that didn't smoke. This worked
pretty well. I shudder to think how easy it would have been for someone,
especially kids to get badly burned, but thank heavens nothing happened.
There would be so many kids that would try to sneak in under the tent. Some you
could catch and some you just let sneak in. A lot of people would bring canned
goods or any kind of non perishable items if they didn't have the money to get
in. Since we at times collected more food than money we ate well that winter.
I recall one lady bringing a 'live goat' to give if we would let her four kids
come to the show every night for the week. Grandpa was real nice to her, he
said: "M'am we have no means of taking care of a goat but, you send your kids on
down anyway and maybe before we leave you can make me a big cherry pie." Well
it turned out to be four pies.
Sometime later Dad got the idea of adding a few rides to get attention. That,
like the talent show, the rides turned out to be a success. We ran the rides
during the day as well as night since they were doing so well. It was soon
decided to open the concession stand during the day also. Mom was having so much
to do with the concession stand and all her other duties it was a blessing when
her niece, then sixteen, wanted to come on the road with us. She turned out to
be really good help for mom. I got real jealous of her because I thought I
could help in there too: but, dad always ran me out for getting more in the way
than helping. (Oh Well there were plenty of other things to get into around the
Later dad decided he would take the rides and book them at picnics and
celebrations around the other places. That was short lived because by the time
he hauled them there, put them up, ran them for a day and night, took them down,
loaded them and drove back it would be 3 o'clock in the morning before they we
got back. He did not do all this alone; we still had Cecil and Charlie in our
family. I think they did this about four times before they realized it just
simply was not working out. Dad said he would have quit after the first one had
he not booked so many. He lived up to his obligation of the ones he had booked
before he gave up that idea.
We sure had a lot of fun with the rides, especially the big swing ride. It had
sort of like chairs on long chains they are quite common now at fairs and
carnivals. Seems to me they were bigger than the ones you see now. But, then I
was smaller. The chairs would swing out and me and dad would ride them. He
would get on one next to mine and hold onto my chair to pull my swing way up to
his. When they got to going full speed he would turn mine lose and I would go
way out and up. I can still hear grandpa saying; "Bill, you're going to kill
that kid if you don't stop doing that. As if dad really listened.
We got rid of the swings after a few seasons. It got to where we had so much
stuff and people must have looked at us like we were a band of gypsies when we
came through or was lined up to move.
My most favorite place we showed at was Mt. Vernon, Illinois. I have to say
thought that I enjoyed every place we went, because each of them holds some sort
of special memory. We must have worked there at least four times and we always
set up on the fair grounds. They had a big horse racing track and me and my
best buddy, my dad, would saddle up Trigger and Tarzan and run them around the
track fast as they could run. One time my saddle was not on tight enough and it
slipped underneath my pony. I went down saddle on top of me. Tarzan stepped on
me knocking the breath out of me. I guess dad thought I was dead, but I soon
came around. I was ready to go again, but dad said: "No, I think we have had
enough for today."
Chapter Eleven - Time Changes Things
Grandpa would have a few lady friends and he would say well, Dottie we just have
to learn to love'um and leave'um. I recall one of his friends really fell for
him and followed us from town to town for one whole season. She had a daughter
just a couple years older than me and we got to be really good friends. I
always looked forward to seeing them drive up on the lot after we would move to
a new town. Their arrival sure helped keep the loneliness of a new town away. I
think I liked seeing them pull in better than grandpa, because, when he told her
how he felt or didn't feel and they quit coming; I really did miss them.
One Season and grandpa had seen a few by now. He met a lady and fell for her.
She had a nine year old son. It was sort of like when he started with grandma
and dad and she sort of reminded us of grandma. Perhaps this memory was the
attraction for him as she was quite a bit younger than he was. Mom and dad were
not pleased with this but it happened just the same. Now we have Josie and
Frankie added to our family. Josie turned out to be really good for grandpa and
was a lot of help to mom since by now mom's niece had been gone a long time
having met and married a guy at one of the towns we played in.
In the beginning of grandpa and Josie's relationship, mom and dad had many
doubts about the marriage of grandpa and this much younger woman. As it turned
out she was the best person for him. Josie took care of grandpa and seen about
him all the while he was sick and that was quite a long time before he died.
She stayed right by his side to the end. Mom and dad told her how they felt and
she had sure proved them wrong and how sorry they were for all their previous
actions. Josie was a gracious lady and said: "she had really loved my grandpa
and he had taken her and Frankie in when they had no place to go."
By this time I was getting older and liked to dress good and wear makeup and
look at the boys. This gave my dad a lot of cause for concern. I always did
have lots of boyfriends but, that's just what they were 'friends,' as in
buddies. I had always been sort of a tom boy now I like to look pretty and have
the boys looking at me.
Time passes I grew into boys and the ponies were not as important as they once
were. They needed working out and a place to run. Dad remembered a cousin who
had two young sons that wanted Tarzan and Trigger. Knowing they would have a
good home and people who loved and wanted them did not make it any easier to let
them go. I cried as I held on to each of them for the last time and I swear I
seen big old pony tears in their eyes.
Somewhere, somehow at sometime, grandpa got to know the 'Wilburn Brothers (Teddy
and Doyle).' Grandpa managed to talk them into doing a short session on stage
before the show. Everyone loved them, their records and radio shows were
becoming the top hits at that time. They were known in every household and are
remembered to this day by folks who were children when the Wilburn Brothers were
going strong on the radio and records.
Chapter Twelve - The End of the Road and Qulin, Butler County, Missouri
The end of the road show was so sad but it was past time we folded as times were
changing. Life styles were changing along with the times. The last couple of
seasons we were out were pretty rough. The young people seemed to think it was
more fun to come and drink in their cars than watch the movie. Things got pretty
unruly about every night. They would cause quite a ruc'as throwing bottles at
the screen and on the stage. I recall dad saying this is it. It's time to pack
it in for the good before someone gets badly hurt. I recall how the next
morning after the show we would always have to pick up a bunch of beer bottles
and a lot of other things on the lot. As my mother-in-law often says: "nothings
ever stays the same." And it was time for our family to come to an end of a life
style as we had known it for the best part of three generations to this point in
The hardest part of ending the show, making adjustments, saying goodbye, was
watching Charley and Cecil move along with their lives without us in them. They
had been part of my young life what seemed like forever.Charley made his
decision to go into the army and kept in touch with us for many years. Cecil was
different, he was a grown man, but he cried like a baby trying to say goodbye to
all of us, especially grandpa. Cecil had no family, but he thought he would go
to St. Louis. I thought he might as well since he always said: "you have to go
there first anyway to get to anywhere else."
The last show we worked was a tent show in Qulin, Missouri. Grandpa was
acquainted with 'Bill Monroe' from his youth and was able to talk him into doing
a show at our last picture show. We packed the house as Bill Monroe was a well
known radio, recording artist and well loved by all the country folk. We went
out with a BANG after all the years of being in show business it has come to an
We had worked Qulin a lot with the free show and got acquainted with Marvin
McClure, better known as Crip. He invited us to stay and store our stuff and
park our trailer on his big lot that we had showed on. Crip and dad got to be
real good friends. He was so good to us and he and grandpa got to be very
close. Crip owned and operated a package liquor store beside the lot. Mom
would watch the store for him when he needed to take off and run errands or
whatever he did. Mom always found a job during our off season, be it factory,
laundry, bakeries or whatever she seemed to have the knack for finding some kind
of gainful employment. Everyone in Qulin was so good to us, especially while we
were trying to adjust and get on our feet.
My family decided to remain in Qulin while Grandpa, Josie and Frankie went back
to Benton Illinois. All the traveling around had taken a toll on grandpa and the
years were not friendly either. There they rented a little house and he started
pastoring a small church about three blocks from where they lived and he played
the piano for the church. Everyone in Benton loved him and he seemed so happy.
This life for grandpa was all too short lived; as he became very ill in a couple
of years and learned he had heart problems and cancer. Mom and dad let me go
and stay a while before he got really down and I was always glad I did because
he loved me so much. Mom went to work for Ilene Lancaster in the café in Qulin,
Dad went to work driving a truck for her husband Chill Lancaster; the trucking
company was Boeving Brothers. They held these jobs several years before mom went
to work at a factory in Poplar Bluff and dad sort of went into trucking on his
own. In 1966 I married and in 1997 dad passed away. Mom is still living and
has reached the age of 85. She is still the sweetest mom on earth.
I loved my life and wouldn't have changed one thing. There has been so many fun
and happy times but also a lot of sad times, but, that's just life. I was
either 14 or 15 when we quit the road show. I never even thought about putting
all this down on in words if Charles McClure hadn't asked me to and I'm so glad
he did because it took me back like I was reliving it again. I laughed and
cried as I wrote seems like all of it just came spilling out. There is so much
I didn't really touch on because you have to stop somewhere. I think the saying
is true especially for me. I do indeed have a million of em'. My very favorite
line always comes to mind and seems to fit perfectly - "Thanks' For the