The fairground has always been a repository of high quality artwork. To be fair there has been some spectacularly bad examples as well which we will touch on in a later post.
In the early days the rides and stalls had ornate, gold leaf lettering, scrolls and swirls in bright colours. Modern attractions tend to be airbrushed, with more neon style colours, and there is a gradual move towards using printed vinyl wraps to allow damaged artwork to be repaired cheaply and quickly.
The first in our series of established artists is the man commonly know as ‘The Master’. Working initially for the ride manufacturer R.J. Lakin & Co, Fred learnt his trade on the companies Arks and Waltzers. His forward thinking style also earnt him the moniker futuristic Fred for his three dimensional lettering and images that were influenced by cinema posters and contemporary films. It was here he met another artist Edwin Hall, that led eventually to the creation of Hall & Fowle, long remembered as perhaps the premier decorators of their era.
Sadly at the start of World War II, Fred was laid off, and ended up working for a time on the railways, and a stint in the army.
Hall & Fowle
After the war, Fred formed a company with Billy Hall, his old colleague Edwin’s brother. They started in a disused tram shed in the South London neighbourhood of Balham. They made a perfect combination, with Hall taking care of the elaborate images and Fowle adding his trademark lettering and scrollwork, along with more abstract designs.
The pair quickly established themselves as ‘the’ artists in demand. Due to the seasonal nature of the fairground and the need to work mainly during the closed winter season, they worked long hours to keep pace with demand. Their work was noted for Fred’s insistence on only using the best paints, and applying multiple coats, upto 12, to ensure a high quality long lasting finish.
1964 saw Billy Hall stepping down, and Fred Fowle continued on as F.G. Fowle Ltd. The 60’s was an exiting era for the funfair, with bigger, faster rides taking centre stage. This suited Fred, who adapted his style to the emerging psychedelia that was so in vogue. Intense, super bright colours, and innovation such as using metal leaf, overpainted by opaque flamboyant colours gave a metallic sheen to his imagery. Fierce tigers leaping, and winged god Mercury all added to the illusion of speed.
Fred not only pushed the boundaries of what was technically possible, using up to date techniques and materials. He still used his mastery of the traditional style of sweeping brushstrokes and lettering.
Those who had the pleasure of actually knowing him remember him as a polite self effacing gentleman. Who’s biggest achievement was pleasing his customers.
Sadly there is little original artwork left outside of the preservation arena. Carters Steam Fairs have some rides that have kept their original designs, but most rides would have been repainted at least a couple of times since Fred Fowle would worked on them. Trends invariably change. Most modern attractions would have airbrushed artwork, little sports the old lettered styles so prevalent at one time.
In 1983, a few weeks prior to his retiring, Fred sadly suffered a heart attack at Craven Cottage football stadium. Whilst watching his beloved Fulham play. His heartbroken wife ended up burning his collection of drawings and patterns. Ensuring they wouldn’t be used by any other artists.
Within the funfair industry Fred Fowle was, and remains a legend, outside he is little known. Probably because the art world rather snobbily looks down its nose at such things.
The lockdown saw our tuk tuk photo booth being stood up for almost 18 months. Now, you might think that means 18 months less wear and tear right. Only what it actually meant was that it, along with some of the older vehicles, which were not the best constructed in the world, pretty much fell apart.
Our Indian Tuk Tuk photo booth had a few bubbles in the paint when Covid struck. By the time we were looking at using it again, the rust bubbles had turned into massive holes. In fact, at one point it looked like we might have to scrap it.
Plan Of Action
In the end, we decided that as we had time on our hands, with lockdown restrictions still keeping events pretty much closed, we would undertake a full nut and bolt restoration.
We completely stripped the vehicle down into its individual components. The steel that was badly corroded, we cut out completely, and replaced it with new. This was heavier gauge than the original steel work so hopefully would be more resilient to future problems.
After getting the shell to bare metal, and adding the new parts, we treated it with an anti rust wash, coated it in a zinc primer, then two coats of epoxy primer to seal it and hopefully stop it flash rusting whilst working on it.
The plastic trim etc was stripped to base using a chemical stripper, and all the individual brackets and smaller parts were shot blasted to bare metal.
Cleaning it back to bare metal did create another issue. The original construction was what could only be described as utter crap. The panels were deformed, bent, had lumps in them where they had been welded to the frame. In short we had cleaned about a tonne of fibreglass filler off the panels, which had been used to ‘skim’ them creating a flat surface.
Luckily one of the team is quite handy with a tin of fille. Comes he claims from always owning clapped out vans. He spent a week refilling the panels and flattening them back to a nice shape.
Whilst this was being done, I nipped the seats and side panels into a local upholsterer to be recovered, and we ordered a replacement top cover.
Putting It Back Together
After assembling the bulk of the frame we had it ready for spraying. Unfortunately we couldn’t find a local spray shop that could fit it in anytime soon. So decided that we would do it, or more precisely, I would. In the past I have done plenty of priming. Even some base coating, but applying the lacquer always seems to end up with runs covering every surface.
To try and give myself a fighting chance I decided to treat myself to a new spray gun. After looking at a few of the more typical HVLP (high volume low pressure) which I had used in the past, I decided to try a nice looking LVLP (yup, Low Volume Low Pressure) system. I hadn’t used one before, but felt our compressor was a touch small for the high volume type gun. We settled on a BURISCH GTR500 LVLP from GTAir which I have to say, impressed me greatly.
Paint Colour Choices
We also looked at the paint we were going to use. Originally it had been covered in a white Pearl colour. It looked nice, but I was never happy with the amount of pearl effect. We spent a week looking at different pearls, and eventually settled on a pearl white from Specialist Paints of Sheffield. We have used their stuff before and always liked it. I also decided to try their 2K show lacquer.
In the event the gun worked like a dream. The Show Clear Coat went on like a layer of glass. The only run I ended up with was when I switched from vertical strokes to horizontal and neglected to twist the end of the spray gun to orient it correctly. That left a nice long run, but luckily in a part of the bodywork that is covered up.
The trim we covered in a pearlescent color from Ford called Panther Black. The rear bumper and number plates were finished in a fabulous yellow pearl, again from Specialist Paints.
It’s first outing was to a private party in London. The pearl effect was stunning in the sunlight, and the client was over the moon. So if you want a nearly new Tuk Tuk Photo booth get in touch.
GT Air Supplies https://gtair.co.uk/
Specialist Paints Sheffield https://www.specialistpaints.com/
The George Flloyd affair brought racism to the forefront of the media last summer. The resultant riots around the world went way past any legitimate form of protest, looting and destroying shops doesn’t highlight racial equality in any meaningful way.
Now racism is quite wrong. There isn’t any viable argument you can make in its favour. There exists in this country at least, a great deal of legislation against it, as well as organisations dedicated to fighting it. I’m not claiming this solves the problem, but it is at least a step in the right direction.
Now, a curious thing is, that any reputable organisation, media outlet, website etc, wouldn’t dream of posting insulting content about a black person, a gay person, transgender etc. They do however feel quite comfortable in doing it about the funfair industry. I am going to look at a few examples of what we have happened across online, and in news print. Some are still viewable, others date back up to a dozen years or so. Still periods in time when it wouldn’t have been allowed about anyone else.
Firebox And Their Candy Floss Machine
This was an online gift supplier called Firebox
““Everyone loves candy floss. As far as naughty-but-nice nostalgic treats go, it’s right up there with toffee apples and giant gobstoppers. The trouble is getting your gob round a woolly mass of scrumptious spun sugar usually involves visiting the local fair. And trudging through puddles of diesel amidst swarms of screaming teenagers is about as much fun as riding the chariots after a hot dog supper.
That’s why you need to get spinning with our ingenious Candy Floss Maker. With this idiot-proof contraption you’ll be making funfair-style candy floss in minutes. Simply add regular granulated sugar and switch it on. That’s all there is to it. Well, almost.
As the machine heats up, the central head begins to spin, forcing liquid sugar through its tiny perforations. The instant the threads of sugar hit the air they cool and re-solidify, causing a web of sugary threads to develop in the dishwasher-friendly collection bowl. All you have to do is gather up the yummy wisps on your candy floss cone and get munching. The whole process is really rather wondrous.
The resultant candy floss tastes exactly the same as the woolly, melt in the mouth stuff you wolfed down as a kid. The only difference is you won’t have to blag 50p off your mum in order to watch some old hag with a face like a spat out toffee, drop fag ash in the bowl. Speaking of additional ingredients, a dash of food colouring is all you need to make pink, blue or whatever colour you fancy floss.”
Hmm, I wonder if we replaced the words old hag with gay man, or black man would it still have been allowed to be advertised?
A news outlet based in the lovely Scottish city of Edinburgh.
“I’ve lived in Marchmont for 25 years.
I use the Meadows pretty much everyday… going to work, going out, playing football, etc. and I’ve never had any bother, even when i’m staggering back from that amazing kebab shop on forrest road dribbling kebab sauce down my chin and onto my trainers whilst singing Bugsy Malone tunes to myself!!
However thats not say that the meadows are safe…A point was made in a previous post that mentions how attacks in the meadows seem to go up quite substantially whenever the “funfair” (more like Scumfair) is in town. I agree with that statement 100%!!
All that the fair does is attract teenage chav scum from nearby parts who do nothing but cause trouble and along with the fact the fair itself is run by a dubious bunch too!
Notice too how there always seems to be an increase in the number of car’s getting broken ito and houses getting burgled!! Coinsidence?? I think not!
Police patrols are quite regular in the meadows and i appluad thier efforts to get rid of vagrents, teenage drinkers and other menaces to socitey!
But yes, more CAN be done! Such as infrared CCTV being added to the area! Especially at the east end.
Anyway…when the fair is in town you best make sure your windows and doors are locked!!!!“
The atrocious grammar is the work of whatever higher form of life penned the complaint. Again, if we were to complain that a black group visiting the city increased the crime rate would it be viewed as acceptable reporting?
The ironic thing is, talking to a chief constable at one town we visited, he remarked that general low level crime tended to actually drop when the fair was in town, because, as he put it, the toerags are all too busy enjoying themselves at the fair to be out on the rob.
The Newcastle Hoppings Official Website
Now, like most showmen from the north East, I attended Newcastle Town Moor fair. Or the hoppings as the locals call it, all of my life.
I occasionally wondered why it was called the hoppings, but never really got around to finding out. Then recently I read the official website for the event, and they offer this explanation;
“Another idea stems from the clothing which the travellers wear-old, sack-like tops and pants, clothing often became infested with fleas from the animals they travelled with. People were often seen ‘jumping’ or ‘hopping’ about, itching from the bites they received.”
I have seen photos of showmen in the late 1880’s. What I noticed was their sartorial style was better than the modern era. Most wore three piece suits and hats. I haven’t actually come across an image of anyone wearing cloths, made from sacks.
Lack Of Socks
I suppose this one isn’t strictly racism, but it shows exactly how officialdom tends to view us. We had transported everything to Preston Park, near Stockton on Tees, for an upcoming event. As happened quite often, most of the guys were stood about just talking. Waiting for the site to be marked out as to what was going where.
Now out of the blue a police car turned up and a young officer got out. Perfectly polite to give him his due. He proceeded to tell us that a fairground worker had been found dead on the motorway. Claiming he had fallen from one of our vehicles. He wanted to know if anyone was missing a staff member. I asked how he could be certain it was a fairground worker.
“Oh it was obvious”, was his reply, “He wasn’t wearing any shoes or socks!”
Now, I looked down at everyone, and unsurprisingly we all had shoes on. I couldn’t swear to the socks without going around pulling up everyone’s trouser legs. But I am pretty certain we all had socks. This was in the days before the trousers rolled up and no socks look became fashionable.
As a side note, we don’t tend to carry staff members on the ride where they may be at risk of falling off. Though a few years later, a drugged up guy managed to worm his way into the centre of a ride. Went to sleep at Hartlepool carnival, and woke up the next day in Yorkshire. Where the ride had travelled to overnight.
This is a small town on the Northumberland coast. Once an important port and coal mining town, now more of a tourist place.
We used to attend an annual one day event there. Quite a good one as it happens, well supported and a pleasant place to be.
Anyway, one year whilst setting up, I broke a small sign, easily fixable with sellotape. If you had sellotape that is. Which I didn’t. No probs, I gave a fiver to a member of staff and sent him to the local newsagents for some. He came back empty handed.
“What, they don’t sell sellotape?”
“Erm, I don’t know” was his reply.
“What do you mean you don’t know?”
“They won’t let me in!”
Turns out there a sign on the shop window stating no travellers, gypsies or funfair folk allowed in. I went marching back with my fiver only to have the elderly gentleman refuse to serve me on the grounds of he didn’t like having the fair in town for the day. I caused a bit of a fuss and a passing policeman popped in. The upshot was I was informed that if I didn’t vacate the premises, I would be arrested for breaching the peace, as it was the owners right to decide who he traded with.
I of course with my awkward head on asked the officer what would happen if I was to place a sign on my stall proclaiming we don’t serve black people.
“Well now sir, I don’t recommend that as it will land you in trouble, your not allowed to do things like that!”
“But surely officer you have just pointed out it would be my right to decide who I wanted to serve”
“Not if it discriminates against a particular group sir!”
Obviously not, unless of course it is funfair folk you are refusing to serve.
My favourite one, is when someone I have just met finds out I come from a fairground background and smiles as they ask “Oh yes I have seen a program on the TV, Big Fat Gypsy Wedding’ so I know how you people live.”
My favourite retort is “Oh yes I have seen a program on TV too, so I know I you people live, it’s called Shameless!
This last one I was actually dragged in to. During our annual visit to Stokesley show. A young lady suffered a sexual assault on the Saturday evening.
A few weeks later I received a call from a police detective asking if she could come and interview me. I explained that on that particular day I was setting off for an event in Ripon. Turns out she did her probationary period in the city so asked if I could meet her at the local nick. They were interviewing people to see if they could gain any leads on the Stokesley assault case. I agreed that after setting up I would wander down to Ripon police station.
As I walked in I was directed to her temporary office, to find a stunningly attractive female detective. I introduced myself and she replied “Nice to meet you, you are free to go.” WTF, what about the interview? Turns out they weren’t actually interviewing people, they had a description of the attacker, and if you matched it you would be arrested. Hmmn, out of interest I asked how they would go about tracing the probably 50,000 people that would have visited Stokesley for the Saturday of the event.
Seems they didn’t need to, although there was about 50,000 visitors to the town, and a local population of about 5,000 locals, the suspect pool consisted entirely of the roughly 100 showmen in attendance.
What they didn’t seem to realise was that Saturday evening was the busiest part of the three day event. No showman was going to be absent from his equipment attacking young ladies, when he needed the income. Additionally anyone being absent at that time, would have had the rest of the fair out trying to discover what serious tragedy had befallen him to leave his attractions closed at the busy time, so most of the fair would have been non operational.
I pointed this out and demanded to know why we were the only suspects. “Just following orders”.
Yeah, wasn’t that the excuse the Nazi’s used when they dropped the Zyklon B pellets down the chute.
At one time, catering units, be they on the fairgrounds or at private events, tended to be basically a box. Nowadays however there are some really crazy catering units available, so that not only are you getting great food, you also get a centrepiece for your event.
We are going to take a look at some of the craziness out there, ranging from pizza’s being dispensed by fire engines, to something that looks like its driven straight off the set of Mad Max.
This is definitely one of our favourites. Resembling some post apocalyptic street food vendor that wouldn’t look out of placing serving a burger to Mad Max himself. Build to resemble a pig, with a snout and ears, it was built in 2009 for Kurt Beecher Dammeier, it took its name from the two ranges of food it served, one with a heavy sauce (MAXImus) and a lighter range (MiniMUS). Sadly from what we can see it appears to have closed down in 2017
Baby’s Badass Burgers
We love this concept, though with the way things seem to be going we are surprised it hasn’t been protested. Set up by an ex restaurateur and an event planner, this has a definite attractive lady vibe. With burger names such as Cover Girl, The Other Woman, She’s Smoking and The Good Wife, and Burger ‘Babes’ (attractive female serving staff), to spread the burger goodness. The company now has a number of franchised operations outside of it’s home of Los Angeles, so obviously it works well.
A natural frozen yoghurt dessert, sweetened with agave nectar and under 140 calories. What’s not to like. So when you need your first mobile store what immediately springs to mind. It’s obvious isn’t it, an ex London A.E.C. Routemaster bus. Built by a company specialising in luxury bus conversions, the original Snog bus opened in London’s Southbank in 2014.
Military Pizza Truck
Built into a 6 wheel drive, ex military truck, this is another candidate for catering in the Mad Max era. This one is kitted out as a pizza truck, but maintains it’s military colour scheme and feel. It’s also available for pretzels, popcorn and various other dessert options.
Space Shuttle Cafe
This one is an extreme conversion. TBH, I can’t see you getting this past the DVLA in this country. It is built to resemble the space shuttle, but it’s not a converted commercial vehicle as you would expect, no sir, this one is an actual Douglas DC-3 airplane fuselage, that has been fitted with running gear and an engine. It has a commercial kitchen and rest room built in.
Pizza Fire Engine
This is one of our favourites, so much so that we are actually carrying out a feasibility study to see if it’s something we can emulate for our own range of catering options. There are a number of versions plying their catering trade, including a couple of examples in good old Blighty. We particularly like the Company 77 effort, with a working water cannon (good for keeping the queue in order) and a photo booth built into the jump seat.
Airstream Catering Units
Originally built as caravans designed in America in the 1930’s. The sleek shape and highly polished aluminium finish is unmistakable. A number of companies make similar models, but Airstream is the oldest. For decades NASA used a modified Airstream trailer to transport astronauts to the launch pad. They have become increasingly popular for use as catering units both in the States and Europe.
Another one we really like the look of, we think it might be the shiny metallic finish, its just sooo nice. Dispensing the classic British summertime treat of strawberries and cream, along with bubbly for good measure. How can you go wrong.
Westport Flea Market Burger Van
Not strictly a burger van, this is more of a promotional item to advertise the Flea market Bar and Grill. But we included it just because of the sheer quirkiness, and the work that has gone into it.
If you happen to be skiing in the Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, in Sierra Navada, and you are hungry. Then you are in luck, as they have a burrita stall built into an actual snowcat. Well, they actually have two, one serving burritos and the other Calzones. They are also planning to add churros with strawberries and cream.
Keep checking back as we will add more examples as we come across them.
Over the years I have owned some crap cars. I remember a little Nissan Cherry, it wasn’t actually mine, my dad bought it as a second car, but it was that clapped out that my mam wouldn’t travel in it, so I sort of got left to use it at will. It ended up being in a 6 car pile up near the Metro Centre in the North East, so that was that.
Gradually over time, as business got better I ended up with a Jaguar X-type estate. I loved that car, but Ian, one of our event managers blew the engine up when I lent him it to go to London to see his girlfriend. Funnily enough he also blew the engine up in our mini camper van, and one of the London taxi cabs.
Over the years I always had a hankering for a Maserati Quattroporte. I think it is one of the most beautiful saloon cars ever made. The fact that it is a true four door 5 seater makes it an ideal family car, and the 440HP engine, limited slip diff and active suspension means it can hold its head up with many a performance car.
Eventually my wife got sick of me nagging about wanting one, and I convinced her we could also hire it out as a wedding car, so eventually she gave in and we acquired a gun metal grey version with black and cream leather interior. It was the executive version, with massaging, heated, cooled rear seats that also reclined. A nice touch, but to be honest one I never took advantage of as I always drove.
I owned that car for three years and loved it as much at the end of them as I did at the beginning.
Now, my wife isn’t one to swap a car in that is running OK, so imagine my surprise when she announced one day, “I think you should go and look for a new Maserati”. I was worried she had suffered an unnoticed anurism or was having a breakdown but she seemed fine. Looking back I had just received my pilots licence, so I think now, it was me mentioning I fancied a share in a small Cessna aeroplane, that got her thinking once I swapped my car in, it was an excuse to put me off an aeroplane for a few years.
I ended up speccing the new model Quattroporte in Nero black with full black leather interior. It seemed a good idea at the time. The colour is absolutely fabulous, deep black, with large flecks of colour. When the sun hits it, it looks sublime. Unfortunately you would need to be cleaning it 24/7 to keep it looking that way. I have spent hours washing and polishing it to a gleam. Withing 30 seconds of hitting the road it looks like its been neglected for months.
For anyone thinking of buying their dream car all I can say is do it. Mine is totally impractical. I have had it as low as 3 m.p.g. on twisty roads with my foot down, heck it will pass anything on the road except a fuel station. Things like tyres and consumables are an arm and a leg and last about half as long as any other car I have owned. It is so big it doesn’t fit in parking bays. My wife hates it. But I don’t care, once I get in, fire it up and push the sports mode button, the engine roars, sounding like a symphony of angels, floor the accelerator and it pushes you back in your seat, and all is right with the world.
Over time we have managed to acquire 5 highly detailed prints of some of our family transport on the fairground, they show some of the classic British trucks that were once so prevalent, not only on the fairground scene, but worldwide.
Roland Tucker’s Scammell Pioneer
Owned by Roland Tucker, a well known Yorkshire showman, this was a fabulous example of its type. Scammell was a late Victorian era wheelwright and coach building business that provided maintenance services to owners of Foden steam wagons. Eventually they were asked by a customer to build a high power haulage unit. World War I put a stop to the project, but equally proved the concept of mechanical haulage over horse drawn carts. By 1920 Scammell had presented a concept for a new model at the Commercial Motor show, taking 50 orders during the event and launching one the worlds most famous heavy haulage marques.
Designed as a 6 x 4 off road vehicle for use in Britain’s colonies where the roads were less than pristine. A bit like the A road network in the UK today. THe combination of incredible suspension travel, with excellent traction and a low revving high torque engine gave it impressive performance. Eventually being chosen as the basis for a heavy artillery tractor during WWII. The type was also developed into a heavy recovery vehicle and a tank transporter. The units were equipped with a Gardner 6 cylinder engine developing a mighty 102 BHP, driving the four rear wheels through a constant mesh gearbox with a top speed of 24mph and powering a Scammell winch.
Our family model was named Invader and used to tow
Dunny Tucker’s S36 Foden
Foden, one of the most popular makes on the fairground scene along with E.R.F, which stood for Edwin Richard Foden, a member of the Foden family who resigned and started a new firm specifically to build diesel powered trucks, rather than the steam wagons that Foden insisted on continuing with.
The company was originally founded towards the end of the 19th Century, and came to prominence when it won MOD trials to supply a series of 3-ton wagons for the military. The family split over diesel power led to the creation of ERF, but Foden was quick to switch its own production to diesel power. Sadly the last Foden rolled of the production lines in 2006 when the American owners Paccar mothballed the brand.
Dunny’s S36 tractor unit, was in the classic funfair style of carrying a couple of generators to power the rides, and towing a couple of trailers, in this case a waltzer ride.
Robert Moody’s E.R.F. ‘Sabrina’
The family split that led to E.R.F.’s creation, saw a range of well regarded vehicles produced. They were built in much the same style as Foden’s offerings, with glass fibre cabs, Gardner engines (though over the years Cummins, Caterpillar, Rolls Royce and Detroit diesel engines were also offered) and Eaton/Fuller gearboxes.
The model above was the KV or Kleer Vue cab. Most of them were typical flat fronted cabs, what the Americans call cabovers. But a number of bonneted versions were produced and proved popular with brewery operators. The rather large appendage on the front led to them being christened ‘Sabrina’ in homage to a busty television personality of the era (her real name was Norma Ann Sykes) a glamour model famous for her tiny 18 inch waist and erm, rather large 41 inch upper works.
This vehicle was used to carry a children’s ride in the North East, and eventually ended up at the end of its life with the engine being removed to build a generator with.
A.R. Moody’s Foden 4000 Series
Another entry from the Foden stable, this one was unusual in that it started life as a 4000 Series model, which is actually more modern than the picture shows. The reason was the company that owned it had all day cabbed vehicles (the type that didn’t have a bed built in), and their changing work pattern meant that they needed a sleeper cab. Rather than purchase a new vehicle, they swapped the cab for an older type cab they had in a corner of the yard. The lorry had a 14 litre Cummins engine, a type revered for its high power and torque, though less well liked for its high fuel consumption.
This carried a pair of silenced generating units, along with supplies for a catering unit, and was used to tow the owners 40ft living caravan, along with occasional trips with a children’s ride attached.
A.R. Moody’s Atkinson MkII
The last entry is from Atkinson Lorries, another old British brand. The original firm, like many others manfactured steam wagons. However it didn’t make the transition to diesel and eventually was fading away, before being bought and re established to manufacture diesels. Again using the well trodden path of those days, ie, a Gardner engine, David Brown gearbox and Kirkstall drive axle. Eventually graduating to Rolls Royce, Perkins and Cummins engines as Gardner’s began to lag behind in power outputs.
This one carried two children’s rides from the famous British ride manufacturer of Coulson’s of Ripon. It had a Gardner 5LW engine producing 94 BHP and a two speed eaton back axle that doubled the number of gear ratios. I remember it well as I spent hours painting and polishing it as a kid. Then as others got more up to date transport, hours begging my dad to swap it in. This he refused to do, until one day travelling through the Tyne Tunnel, we passed a broken down vehicle, a short time later the recovery vehicle saw us travelling that slowly they tried to recover us, due to the low engine power and the large caravan on the back meaning we were at about cycle speed on inclines.
He swapped it in shortly after for a Seddon Atkinson 400 series, which at the time was a quantum leap forward in British lorry engineering, and had the ‘high’ powered Gardner 6LXB engine with the startling output of 180 BHP.
The carousel was long a mainstay of funfairs and amusements parks throughout the world. As one of the first, big amusement rides, it transcended the generations and is still operating regularly today.
It was estimated that in the USA, at one point there were around 5000 carousels. Sadly when the great depression hit the number dwindled and gradually as the 70’s rolled around they kind of fell out of favour with maintenance costs making them unviable in the financial climate of the times. Numbers fell to to around 150.
Many of the carousels from the great historic manufacturers such as Dentzel and Charles Looff suddenly became more valuable for their parts than as actual rides. At auction horses from these master carvers were bringing in an average of $40,000. One example, a St Bernard went for a record $250,000.
As with many traditional skills and crafts, the art of manufacturing these works of art was in serious danger of disappearing. Fibreglass and metal carousels were still being produced for the market, and whilst still beautiful and ornate rides, weren’t the individual unique masterpieces of yesteryear.
Fortunately two friends decided that it was still possible to make a successful business with individual hand crafted rides.
Richie started carving in 1973. Leaving college on a Friday and opening his first business making plaques and other wooden goods the next day. One day a customer asked for a quote on carving a carousel horse, Ritchie told him around $1800 and laughed the guy couldn’t get his cheque book out quickly enough.
The other founder of the company was a construction worker who had carried out repair and maintenance work on a number of historic carousels. Together their skills made a perfect complement for the initial business of restoration.
In 1986 the duo formed Carousel Works. The aim was to work on existing vintage carousels, to repair and renovate them. Keeping part of the amusement industries rich history working. Their ultimate aim however was to design and build new carousels.
This dream was achieved in 1991 when their first carousel was delivered to Richland Carrousel Park in Mansfield Ohio. Becoming the first new wooden carousel to be delivered since the 1930’s. With 30 horses and 22 menagerie animals the ride was carved in the style of G.A. Dentzel,one of the all time greats in carousel history.
The lovely thing about wooden carousels carved in the traditional manner, is the variety and uniqueness of each animal. They are all individual one off carvings. Modern carousels with fibreglass horses will have used perhaps three or four different designs meaning large numbers of the horses are identical.
60 Carousels And Counting
Since then the company have delivered in excess of 60 rides around the world. They currently have 28 employees including painters and carvers. The animals are made the old fashioned way by gluing blocks of basswood together before being cut into a rough shape by machine, then hand carved into intricate works of art. Despite what people believe, the figures aren’t made from single blocks of wood, this wouldn’t be flexible enough and would crack. Instead they are anything upto 70 individual blocks glued together.
Looking at their list of clients they seemed to have cornered the market in carousels for Zoo’s!
Their designs all start the same way, with a blank sheet of paper. They are truly one of a kind, using traditional skills and craftmanship to keep alive a great tradition. Their offerings include over 160 different animals for the ride. They are happy to work with a client to create something totally new. Whether its an unusual animal for a zoo, or something specific to a corporate clients design. A couple that stand out were the chariot carved in the shape of a pile of dung being pushed by a dung beetle, and a dog food company had one cared as a bag of dog food with a puppy sticking its head out.
This customisation extends not only to the animals on the ride, but also to the decorative panels that adorn it, each ride is a work of art.
Not Everyone Is Happy
Evidently however there are some who are not happy. Their willingness to innovate and new style has drawn criticism from some of the carousel ‘purists’. Who feel that they cannot compare to the great designs from Looff, Dentzel et al. A similar reaction was encountered when car firm Bentley announced it was going to manufacture some new examples of its historic Bentley Blower model. Perhaps they feel it will devalue their investment in historic carousel horses if new ones are still being made.
The favourite quote on the subject we heard came from Bette Largent, president of the National Carousel Association. She exclaimed “We didn’t stop painting after Rembrandt died!”
With the nostalgia that’s now back in fashion, and the fact that historic carousels are fetching upwards of $1 million, the company is perfectly placed to thrive with a stunning hand crafted product at a great price.
The Carousel Works http://carouselworks.com/
I was using the wayback machine recently to look up an old website. In case you don’t know it is a site that has indexed and stored past examples of peoples web pages so you can go back and look them up years later.
Looking around at some of our original blog posts that disappeared when our original blog software stopped working. In the old days we didn’t have Word Press and Blogger. Blogs were either hand built, or created using desktop software. We used a program called Tangelo, quite happily for a number of years. Anyway, I am going to reprint a few of the more humorous posts. Sadly on many of them the original images have not been stored, so they might be text only.
Bimbo’s Last Stand 2008
History is littered with tales of heroic last stands, usually against forces much bigger than the defenders, there was Rorkes drift, The Battle of Gandamak and The Battle of the Imjin River all fought by British troops, the Alamo and Battle of the Little Bighorn by our American cousins and the immortal Camarón which established the Foreign Legion as one of the world’s elite fighting forces.
Predating all of these was the Battle of Thermopylae in Greece when King Leonidas and his Spartan soldiers, accompanied by a force of allied Greek city states, held back a much larger Persian force under Xerxes for three days in one of the most memorable and eulogized last stands in classical antiquity. Well now we have another last stand on the island of Greece to rank up there with the battles of antiquity.
Bimbo Bishton, who we occasionally work with, has for a number of years provided Victorian carousels for the Christmas event in Athens. A venture which has proven both lucrative and enjoyable over the years. This year however there was the little problem of a major riot taking place after the shooting dead of a young Greek boy.
The rioters went berserk in the city square and flattened pretty much everything, setting fire to hotels, shops, cars and anything else that took their fancy. Slap bang in the middle of this stood alone the slightly portly figure of Bimbo armed only with 3 fire extinguishers, facing a crowd which Bimbo estimated at 100,000, but the BBC world service claimed to be around the 10,000 mark (I suppose when you are facing them alone it looks more like 100,000).
Petrol Bombs And Arsonists
I spoke to Bimbo about the events and he explained one particularly tense moment. It seems a young Greek man was holding a petrol bomb in one hand and trying unsuccessfully to strike his lighter in the other, all the time Bimbo was trying to convince him not to set fire to his ride, (Bimbo told me at this point he was debating whether or not to kick the said young man in the testicles), the potential arsonist appeared to be taking no notice of Bimbo when his lighter suddenly flared to life, he looked at Bimbo, shrugged his shoulders and promptly threw the bomb at the giant Christmas tree, so really it is Bimbo’s fault that the Athenians lost their famous tree. As the night wore on our intrepid hero was stoically holding his ground when a cloud of teargas drifted his way and proved to him why it was so named,
Bimbo said that at this point he was more interested in water for his eyes than in guarding the carousel, but luckily for him one of the rioters explained that water is no good for tear gas, you need lemon juice to neutralise the chemicals and obliged by providing some I can categorically state however that rumours Bimbo is thinking of setting up a Jif lemon stall at future events are untrue.
Thankfully both Bimbo and the Carousel survived the evening. Bimbo even remarked at how civilised the rioters were, as he put it, there were very few injuries and signs of violence against people, it all seemed to be directed at property, indeed one vendor in a street kiosk remained open throughout the riots and wasn’t molested in any way.
Arthur almost struck again last weekend. What happened was this, we were contracted to supply 4 games units to an event in the North East. One of these games was our striker (test your strength machine) which is 13ft high. On arrival we were shown the room which would accommodate these games, including the high roofed part of the building where the striker was to be positioned. Due to the fact that once erected the striker would block the door, we were told that we couldn’t erect it until after all of the guests had arrived. This isn’t a problem as it takes a matter of seconds to assemble the device.
We carried it into the room and left it on the floor near to where it had to go. Almost everyone had arrived when we were told to put the striker up. As we pushed it skyward we discovered to our horror that the room was about 6 inches to low! As we stood there wondering where to go, one of the guys who had hired us told us to push the plastic roof tile out of place and let the striker poke into the attic.
We did this, but try as we might the tile remained wobbling in position. Arthur decided to go to the pool room and bring back a long extension bar to dislodge the tile, which he promptly did just as the managing director’s wife walked through the door. If she had been two steps quicker, Arthur would have subjected her to a drastic reshaping of her nose, something along the lines of amputation without a general anaesthetic!
Luckily everyone present had a sense of humour.
Flash Bang 2009
Coming back to the yard last week I notice a large stretch of the adjoining field being dug up. After investigating I discovered that the electricity company are removing the overhead power lines (which run over the middle of our property) and re routing them underground. This is an extremely good idea, especially considering what happened a few years back.
To protect those involved, I won’t name any names John Henry, but I was sat eating breakfast early one morning, contemplating starting to load everything up ready for the move to northallerton. At the time it was absolutely throwing it down with rain, and I didn’t really fancy making a start. Anyway, whilst I was psyching myself up, I suddenly heard a yell, followed by a crash, more yelling and some Anglo Saxon language. Coming out to investigate, I came across the unnamed person (John Henry) who was hobbling about with smoke coming from one of his boots.
What had happened was that he had an aerial mounted on a long pole, fastened to the drawbar of his trailer (caravan). To remove this ready for hitting the road he had to lift it up a couple of foot higher , the power cables ran directly overhead, and with the amount of moisture in the air, a spark of electricity had jumped from the power lines, into the Aerial, down the pole into his knee where the pole was resting and out through his boot to earth!, luckily when he dropped the pole he missed my car which was parked next to him so it could have been much worse.
The Really Really Great Garage Sale
we recently supplied a mulled wine and hot dog cart to an event in London. This was organised by a bunch of celebrity mums including Yasmin Le Bon and Louise Redknapp. I started the day by nearly walking into Yasmin Le Bon, and ended it by her just stopping short of driving into me.
One of our new recruits, Ray, pictured below(in his apron and plastic antenna) spotted someone he recognised part way through the day, “Look Oliver Lance”, he exclaimed.
“Who the heck is he”, I said, thinking it was some rugby player or sports personality.
“She’s off one of them Australian soaps”, said Ray
I wondered why she had a blokes name and asked Ray, “she hasn’t”, was the reply, “She’s called Oliver Lance”
Turned out he was talking about Holly Valance! You can take the guy out of Barnsley, but you can’t take Barnsley out of the guy.
It turned out a quite enjoyable day with amongst others Melanie Blatt, Trinny Woodhall, Christina Estrada all making an appearance.
Newcastle Hoppings is the largest travelling funfair in Europe (though both Nottingham Goose fair and Hull Fair also claim the title). A major fixture in the funfair calendar. Held in the North East city of Newcastle Upon Tyne over 9 days in June.
With over 300,000 visitors a year, and featuring over 60 major adult rides, and a plethora of children’s rides, games and catering to match. The event is held in June to coincide with the Northumberland Plate. Part of the flat season races for horses of three years or older.
It is situated on the Town Moor, a large grazing land just outside the city centre (during the first world war it was held in Jesmond). The showmen commonly refer to the event as the Town moor, or even just ‘The Moor’, rather than the hoppings name used by the locals.
Temperance Festival Association
The driving force behind the establishment of the hoppings, was Alderman William Davies Stephens, chairman of the Temperance Festival Association. The association, typical of the Victorian era do gooders, felt that the horse race would attract drinking and gambling. They wanted to provide a temperance festival for the miners and other workers as an alternative, to save them from the fires of damnation.
I suppose in a way it was a better idea than the Americans had. Our abstinence gave us a major funfair, the American prohibition gave them Al Capone.
In the beginning, the event will have been typical of fairs of that era, stalls, games and sideshows would have formed the bulk of the event. Indeed in the North East, funfairs are often referred to as ‘The shows’ in allusion to the preponderance of that type of attraction.
These tended to be animal managaries, or the popular at the time human freak shows. Large steam powered rides were appearing on funfairs by then, and quite possibly would have attended the hoppings, but at that time they were still a supporting act.
Over the next 50 years the event began to resemble what we would recognise today. With some of the early thrill rides appearing, Octopus, dive bomber, waltzers, all designed to fly you higher, spin you faster and scare witless.
A well known ride, the Moonrocket of Shaws, built in 1939. This was typical of the early rides that would have appeared at the Town Moor.
The Modern Era
Nowadays, well not 2020, and possibly not 2021 due to the little matter of a global pandemic, most of the top rides from around the UK appear at the event. Immaculate examples of the old favourites such as dodgems and Waltzers still jostle with the thrill rides for customers. There are fabulous examples of all the current funfair games, children’s rides and food stalls.
A look at the fair from the air shows the sheer scale of the event. Hull and Nottingham might possibly have more rides in attendance, or be classed as bigger due to some other statistic. But for sheer acreage, there isn’t anything else in the UK that comes near.
2013 was notable for the fair being cancelled due to the severe weather leaving the ground in a poor state. Work has since been carried out to improve drainage and add a metalled road to prevent a recurrence.
The event was always noted for the free riding the showmen provided for a number of charities, the Variety club would bus as estimated 3000 children in to enjoy the showmen’s efforts, usually on the first evening of the event.
Indeed records indicate that the very first year of the festival saw a tea provided for 1000 of the cities poorest children.
The Name Hoppings
When we used to attend the event, I often wondered about just why it was called the Hoppings. I presumed it was one of those stories lost in time. However recently I came across the official website for the event, maintained by the Freeman of the City/Newcastle Council. They offered two possible explanations for the name. One is that hopping was a very old name for a dance.
The other explanation the offer, is that the showmen used to wear sacks as cloths. These would become infested with fleas and the showmen being bitten would ‘hop’ about. Hmm, the photo below is a typical old image of showmen. Actually one of our earliest corporate entertainment crew who provided a show for Queen Victoria. Take a look, although it is in a poor state, it sure looks to me like they were wearing regular type cloths. Nary a cloth sack in sight.
Discovering Heritage https://discoveringheritage.com/2019/06/27/the-first-newcastle-hoppings/
Hoppings Funfairs http://hoppingsfunfairs.com/
One of our most popular lines happens to be hot dogs. The standard hot dog, with mustard and ketchup has been a staple fast food, forever. When we decided to move it up a gear and offer hot dogs from around the world, with fillings such as sushi, nachos, even candy floss, we thought we were being a bit edgy.
Out of interest we started looking at what other countries actually offer in their dogs, boy were we surprised, what we thought was edgy was nothing compared to some of the crazy stuff you can eat in other parts of the world.
Here are a few of our favourites;
Tokkebi From South Korea, The Deep-fried Delight
Take one plain ole wiener, coat it in batter, deep fry it, then cover it in diced French fries. This is one crazy combo that could almost be a complete meal. Found mainly from street food vendors, the chips are sometimes replaced by ramen.
Choripan, Argentina’s Upgraded Dog
Argentina, famous for invading mall South Atlantic Islands, footballers who score goals with their hands, and Gabriela Sabatini. To be fair the footballer in question was also fabulous when he wasn’t cheating.
They also produce one heck of an hot dog. Not for them the usual mystery meat concoction of left over parts of various animals. No, they use a high quality Chorizo sausage, that is is seared to make it crispy, then slotted into a toasted bun. Add chimichurri sauce or tomato salsa and you have the final evolution of the hot dog.
Tunnbrödsrulle, The Crazy Swedes Entry Into The Hall Of Fame
This is what you get if you take a hot dog, stick mix it with onions, shrimp salad, lettuce, mashed taters, mayonnaise and stick it inside a tortilla. Oh and don’t forget to add the requisite mustard and ketchup.
It hard to tell if this is a hot dog or a sandwich wrap. Either way it ranks up their alongside Abba and Volvo in things to love from Sweden.
TBH it looks like the culinary version of a split personality, some sort of existential crisis wrapped in a flat bread.
Taiwanese Da Chang Bao Xiao Chang
The name of this fairly uneventful looking dog, translates as big sausage wrap small sausage. The bun you see in the picture isn’t. It is actually another sausage made from sticky rice. Add in sauces including black pepper and our favourite wasabi, and you have something unlike any other hot dog you will meet.
Chinese Pastry Hot Dog
If the Swedish entry is an existential crisis, this one is a full on split personality. Is it a dessert or is it a main. Take your bog standard frankfurter and wrap it in sweet pastry. Its so obvious, you wonder why no one else is doing it.
They also come coated with different topping such as cheese, icing frosting, egg dough. Its as if you have been talking in your sleep about your favourite foods, and an alien has decided to make them for you, having never actually seen them before.
Khanom Tokyo, Is It A Hot Dog Or A Breakfast Roll
Thailand takes the existential crises of the Taiwanese hot dog and takes it to the stage of certifiably insane. Of all the things you would naturally think to stick a hot dog in, a pancake would surely be the first thing that comes to mind.
Made from flat pancakes that have a mixture of savoury and sweet ingredients such as quail eggs, sugar ,cream, Someone in Thailand came up with the idea of sticking a sausage in. The dish is said to hail from around 1960 and was served at the opening of a Japanese department store (which could explain the craziness), its now a staple of Thai street food.
Czech Párek V Rohlíku Hot Dog
Compared to the oriental offerings this one is plain simple. A hot dog in a bun. Where it does differ slightly from what you are used to, is that this is pretty much like the roller dogs you sometimes see in service stations. A crusty bun that has had the middle cut out and the sausage inserted. Quite neat really, though you need to add your toppings before you had the dog.
Brazil’s Completo Hot Dog
This one is less of a fast food snack and more of a meal for 2, Take a hot dog sausage, stick it in a large flattened bun, add ground beef, peas, corn niblets, bell peppers, onions, potato sticks, parmesan cheese, carrots, diced ham or bacon, cilantro, and top it off with a hard boiled quail egg. It is a wonder the Brazilians aren’t all the size of the Americans.
Peru’s Salchipapas Hot Dogs
A weird one this, there is no bun and the hot dog is sliced. Placed on a bed of fries and garnished with the usual mustard and ketchup, then chilli sauce and mayo for added tang. You can also throw in salad, fried egg and cheese. A staple street food found in various South American countries this ain’t what springs to mind when you say hot dogs.
Puka Dog Hawaii
A mish mash of hot dog traditions this one. A Polish sausage, grilled then slipped into a sweet bun. Dress with relishes, garnishes and tropical mustards and voila, another entry into the hot dog hall of fame.
Norwegian Pølse Hot Dogs
You don’t get much simpler than this, well there are some single celled organisms I suppose, and that lad I once sat next to at school, but in the hot dog world this is bare bones. Sort of the Trabant of dogs. Simple, easy to make, no frills and it just works.
A tortilla, with a sausage in and a dollop of condiments. Enough said about Norwegian dogs.
Though it shares a name with it’s Norwegian neighbour, the Danish version is a whole different beast. The sausage spills out of the bun, both ends, its filled with Danish remoulade, sliced pickles and onions and tends to be served on special occasions. The one stand out feature is the sausage which is a vibrant red colour, reminiscent of the British saveloy. It originates from bygone times, when vendors would dip their poor quality sausages in red dye to ‘spruce’ them up.
New Zealand Hot Dog
Our cousins across the Ocean’s take on a hot dog is very similar to what our other cousins across a different ocean (the Yanks) would term a corn dog. Basically a battered sausage, deep fried and served on a stick, with ketchup.
However you look at it, the humble hot dog is as near to a universal food as you will find. Sure, some cultures take it in a weird (to us) direction, but at the heart of them is usually the hot dog sausage.