Caregiver’s Diary: My Father, The Carny

My widowed father, now 89, has returned to his roots, in a way. He now lives at Serenity Towers, a luxurious assisted living place in Niagara, just blocks from the old Lakeside Amusement Park in Port Dalhousie.

He got his start there as a carny after the war. He ran the bingo game. It was owned by Conklin Shows, the company founded by the legendary showman Paddy Conklin.

Dad discovered that he could sell twice as many bingo cards by increasing the prizes slightly, with no effect on earnings. It was a neat trick, and word of it got to Paddy

Soon, Dad was Paddy’s driver, chauffeuring him around in a brand-new post war Chrysler. Paddy put Dad to work on some other math problems.

Soon Dad was working the winter midway in Brantford, Paddy’s home town. He was an enforcer. He figured out the rate at which the carnies in the game booths should be giving out the sawdust filled crap toys you win, and if they were giving out fewer than that, they were screwing the house.

He was respected and feared and called “The Professor”, because he wore glasses and could add. Carnies are tough, but they’re not that bright, not even Paddy, and this was the carnival industry’s first experience of forensic accounting.

By the summer of 1947, dad was working the Midway at the Ex, still counting the stuffed bears and going over the receipts at night. He was making $1500 dollars a week in 1947, the equaivalent of about $15,000 today. Paddy valued him, obviously.

What goes around comes around. A client of mine is the CNE. I happened to mention to a senior executive that my dad one drove for Paddy Conklin. His eyes lit up. “Your dad KNEW Paddy? He drove for him?” This was like meeting someone who had met god to him, and his staff were equally enthralled. When I told them about dad’s role as “The Professor”, they exchanged looks. Apparently those accounting rules are still used on the Midway to this day.

Dad didn’t stay a carny long, just two or three exciting, lucrative years. It allowed him to get married and get set up doing what he was born to do, sell pipe organs. But, for a while, Dad was “The Professor”, feared on the Midway by the toughest guys on the road.