Clear Spring carnival is still a family affair

August 01, 2000

Clear Spring carnival is still a family affair


photo: JOE CROCETTA / staff photographer

Clear Spring CarnivalCLEAR SPRING - Jake Troupe remembers selling Cokes for a nickel and homemade french fries for a dime. He remembers when jousting drew big crowds.

Troupe marveled at Patsy Cline's on-stage talent before the Winchester, Va., native soared to country music stardom.


The 80-year-old Clear Spring resident has played a role in every Clear Spring Fire Co. carnival since the event was first held more than 60 years ago. This year's carnival started Monday and runs through Saturday.

Troupe recently joined event coordinator Tom Altman to share some stories about the carnival's evolution from a three-ride spectacle at the edge of town to a week-long tradition that draws thousands of visitors to the carnival grounds.


Troupe said he never thought the carnival, which was first advertised from a bullhorn atop H. Alvin Kelley's car, would balloon into an event that draws visitors from as far away as Canada.

"It's a homecoming, really," he said.

"It's more of a family affair," added Altman, 60. "People move away, and they come back here every year to see their friends."

Running the carnival is also a family affair, six generations worth of family in Troupe's case.

He helped his father and his grandfather at that first carnival in 1939.

His daughter and grandson have labored at the carnival grounds over the years. Troupe's great-grandson, little J.T. Altman, continues the tradition this year.

It's a lot of work.

Tom Altman spends months booking entertainment. Advance tickets must be sold. Children's activities and adult games have to be lined up. Publicity must be arranged.

20,000 pounds of potatoes have to be peeled and sliced for french fries.

Area families and church and civic groups must be recruited to run food stands. The carnival's 28 major rides must be erected and staffed.

It takes 125 people to operate the carnival, Altman said.

"The Clear Spring Fire Co. members only couldn't get this thing through without the good graciousness of the people," he said.

It didn't used to be so complicated - but then it was a lot smaller.

Original Fire Chief Kelley came up with the idea for the carnival in 1938, just three years after the fire company was formed, Altman said.

The first carnival was held in 1939 at the north end of North Mill Street.

The fledgling event featured such entertainment as the Keedysville Band and boxing matches. Friday was amateur night, according to a Clear Spring District Historical Society book commemorating the fire company's first 50 years.

There were few rides, but games such as a shooting gallery and chuck wheel thrilled carnival-goers, according to the book.

In addition to entertainment, jousting was the carnival's big draw for more than 20 years, Troupe said.

A huge jousting hoop dominated the carnival grounds, Altman added.

The 1939 carnival drew a "record crowd" of about 500 people and grossed about $700, Troupe said. The popcorn stand grossed $2 in sales and the food stand made about $75.

The carnival, which grew a little every year, was canceled in 1943 for the only time in its history because of World War II gasoline rationing, Altman said.

In 1947, Troupe's wife, Inez, bought a doughnut fryer from Pound's Bakery in Clear Spring and introduced the food item that would become the carnival's hottest seller - homemade french fries.

"I had to kiss her goodnight before she came out to the carnival because she got so greasy I couldn't hold onto her," Troupe laughed.

The event was again in jeopardy in 1948 after the fire company "literally went broke" by purchasing a new fire truck and the current carnival grounds and moving to a new fire hall in need of extensive renovations, Altman said.

"I was in charge of the carnival that year and didn't have any money to operate it with," Troupe said.

Archie Cohen, a Hagerstown doctor whom Troupe called a "great supporter of the fire company," pulled the carnival from the brink of extinction with a $700 loan, he said.

The carnival continued to grow.

Tip jars have replaced the original gambling games in popularity, and it takes several thousand pounds of beef to fill visitors' bellies. French fries now cost $1.

The jousting ended in the mid-1950s, when the sport's popularity was waning and most area farmers began replacing their horses with tractors, Troupe said.

"The last year we did jousting it didn't draw anything but flies," he said.

With the exception of bingo, the carnival is the Clear Spring Fire Company's most profitable fund-raiser, said Altman, who focused on booking bigger entertainers after he joined the fire company in 1956.

Cline, Bud Messner and the Skyline Boys, Jimmy Mayhugh, David Houston and Crazy Joe Maphis, who is credited with discovering Barbara Mandrell, are among those who have performed at the carnival, he said.

The event continues to draw well-known entertainers.

Michael Twitty with take the stage tonight with his Legends of Conway Show. Grand Ole Opry star Jeannie Seely and a special guest will perform Thursday, and country singer Billy "Crash" Craddock will perform Friday.

Musician Gene Watson, who filled the Clear Spring carnival grounds with music more than 20 years ago, will return to the venue Saturday night.

And Jake Troupe will be staffing the Coke trailer.

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