I’m not going to write about the nationally famous Peggy’s today but promise to in a future column.
With the fair’s arrival a few new students attended class in the public schools for the week they were in Rome. Must have been a little difficult to go to a different school each week, depending on what town you happened to live in for those five days.
To get to the fairgrounds at that time by automobile from downtown Rome you would either go up North Broad Street, turning on Spider Web Drive to go through the narrow railroad bridge past the Holly Tree Inn, a nightclub owned by a man named Chatman, whom most called “Chat.” (I will write about the nightclubs of the 1960s in a future column also.) Continue on, driving past Main High School to the fairgrounds.
One could also go up North Broad Street, turn right at Troy’s onto Ga. 53 North, turn right on Chambers Street and go past the house where you could buy a little whiskey just past Peggy’s on the corner and into the fairgrounds.
Those streets got awful crowded back in the day, believe me.
I had a friend in the fifth grade at Central Primary, a little older than I was; his name was Dwight Locklear. Most people called him “Squeekie.” He was 5 foot 5 and probably weighed less than 100 pounds. Some years later I heard Dwight had signed up with the carnival as it rolled through Rome.
A couple of my friends and I decided to get jobs at the fair a few years later on the Sunday prior to its opening as roustabouts — people who put the fair together when it showed up in town. We had heard from some older boys that the pay was good but you had to work fairly hard and long hours. Hell, we were young and already been working in different jobs for years so we went for it.
We showed up at the carnival office on Sunday morning and signed up to work as roustabouts. The jobs were not assigned so you had to meet the trucks as they came onto the grounds in order to be hired on by each ride, show or game. We made our way to the back gate and waited for a truck to show up.
I yelled “Here comes one, I’ll get it!” meaning I would jump on the running board of the tractor and secure us some work. I jumped on board, looked up at the driver and couldn’t believe my luck. Right there driving the truck was none other than my old friend Dwight Locklear. And it was about to get even better.
I asked Dwight how many he needed and he said about four, which meant all of us could work with him, no problem. When he pulled in the gate he made a sharp right turn and circled around at the end of the midway. At this time I had no idea what type project we would be working on.
Dwight parked the truck, we caught up on what each other had been doing, and he said: “It’s your lucky day, Burgett. I’m driving the truck for the hoochie-coochie show.” That was the strip show and was the last tent on the midway. Actually there were two that year; they sat across from each other and sold their wares.
We spent the day pulling the big tent off the truck, with Dwight yelling instructions, and swinging 10-12-pound sledge hammers to drive the stakes into the ground so we could raise the tent. Then we set up the stage and benches.
After we finished the job late that afternoon Dwight said we were welcome on the front row for any shows we wanted to attend, on the house. We probably took him up on that offer a few times that week.
Telling Dwight thanks for the work, and saying we were off to get more jobs, he said to come with him. He took us to see the man who ran the generators that powered the whole midway. Electrical cables had to be run from the central generator location to every ride, game and show. The generator man put us to work pulling large cables all over the midway.
After a while two of us had to leave so I and the remaining friend worked until early Monday morning to finish pulling cables to all venues. That was all right; it meant a lot more hours for us. I think we turned in 18 hours that day and got paid $60 or $70. That was big money at that time.
I really appreciated “Squeekie” helping us out that year and would always look him up when I went to the fair over the years. When my kids were young I would see “Squeekie” usually working the games, as the “hooch” shows were long gone. We would catch up and my kids would marvel at “how many people daddy knows.”
In the mid-1980s I stopped going to the fair and lost touch with Dwight, but I always thought about him each year at fair time.
In the early 2000s I would frequent a bar on Maple Street called the Lantern owned by a friend of mine from Cedartown, the late Joe McElwee. I was in the bar talking to Donna Harris who worked with Joe and glanced over at the back counter and I noticed a picture I had not seen before. It was a picture of Joe and Dwight in the bar and it looked to not be very old.
I asked Donna “Is that Dwight Locklear with Joe?” She said “Yeah, that’s Squeekie, do you know him?” I replied, “I certainly do and where is he now?” Donna said he lived just up the street from the bar, but didn’t get out much as he was sick. I said I was going to see him soon, but he died before I got there.
Two observations in closing:
One: Don’t put things off; things may change and it may not be doable anymore.
Two: I wonder what kids today are missing with no work available to them.
I worked, as did most of my friends, from the time we were 15. I worked summers at the newspaper and during Christmas parking cars, but that will make a future column also.