Don’t stop the carnival

A carnival had been town all week, but what was to have been its big last weekend was washed out—literally. It started raining on Saturday afternoon, sending carnival goers scurrying for shelter. The rain continued through the night and all day Sunday. Sunday afternoon, the carnival boss called Daddy. The carnival was trying to pull up stakes and move on to its next engagement, but they were mired in the mud. Their cars and trucks couldn’t budge the fleet of trailers carrying the dismantled rides, the concession stands, the animals, the trailer homes, and other gear that carnivals transported from city to city in those days. Somebody told him that the only person in Jellico who could help was Hudson Miller, my dad.

Daddy had a Caterpillar tractor he was using on another job—a D-7, I believe. After negotiating a price with the carnie owners, the Cat was loaded onto a truck and hauled to the carnival site in the bottomland in Crouches Creek where Jellico High School now sits.

I was about 16 at the time, and I went along, sitting perched on the toolbox on the left side of the big Cat. Daddy hired a long-time Kitchen Lumber Company employee, Luther Anthony, and my brother, Mac, to come along and help. They would hook the chains to the vehicles so Daddy could snake them out of the mud one by one. From time to time, I would jump off into the mud to help them out.

Mac recalled that things hit a snag early on as Daddy got frustrated with the various carnie workers yelling often conflicting instructions at him. He stopped the big Cat, called the carnie owner over and asked him to call his chief rigger over there. When the man got there, Daddy told them, “From now on, I’ll take instructions from your chief rigger, and nobody else. Tell all these other fellows to get the hell out of here or to keep their mouths shut.” He complied and after that the operation went smoothly.

We worked all night, Daddy, rain, sweat and mud running down his face, maneuvering the tractor through the gooey mire and pulling the trailers and vehicles to solid ground. By dawn, the lot was empty. Daddy had finished ahead of the deadline the carnival owner had set in order to get its caravan on the road to the next stop.

The cigar-chomping carnival operator, bald, short and fat, was in awe of Daddy as he counted out the cash to pay for the night’s work.

“I’ve never seen anybody operator a ‘dozer the way you handled that one tonight,” he said.

He was so impressed he added a $100 bonus to Daddy’s pay.

Daddy was pleased with the cash, but I am sure that his motivation that night had nothing to do with money. It was a challenge. He was the cowboy hero riding to the rescue, except instead of a white horse and six-shooters, he rode a big yellow Cat.

This story characterizes my father perhaps more than any other. He was in my eyes John Wayne, Randolph Scott (before it was revealed he was gay) and Gary Cooper all rolled up in one. He was tough, but caring. Not only did the rain not seem to bother him, I think he welcomed it as adding to the challenge that night. And above all, he wanted to help these unknown people out of a difficult situation.

Next: A man for all seasons

Previous: Family matters

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *