By Norris Chambers

very summer there was a picnic and carnival on Onion Creek, just outside of town. Everyone looked forward to three days of fun. There were boxing matches, music contests, beauty contests, a rodeo and a lot of other fun things to see and do. Clifton and I got our first taste of cotton candy at one of these festivals. This is where we first learned about small time gambling. There were wheels that you turned for prizes, floating fish you dipped out of a trough of running water, balls to throw and guns to shoot for prizes and even nails to drive and your weight to be guessed. There were many very good looking and valuable prizes offered, but usually the customer got one of the “penny prizes” as we called them. These puny prizes were all day suckers, pencils, tiny lead toys, etc. The better prizes were pistols, knives, cameras, pretty dolls and expensive looking watches.
            On this Saturday afternoon Clifton, Elbert Hall and I were strolling around with our two or three dollars trying to burn holes in our pockets. The money hadn’t been acquired easily and we were anxious to put it to the best use. The opportunity began to come to light when one of the wheel operators motioned us to come over to his establishment. We strolled over to see what he had to offer.
            “Boys,” he said, “this is a game that you can’t lose. All you have to do is play it.”
            He had a long, straight spinner in the center of the device and a row of fancy metal posts along the outside. The posts were about an inch and a half apart and between each pair there was a painted arrow leading to a prize. Some of the items were really desirable and some were of the throw away type that we normally won.
            “This wheel is different,” he told us. “You can win on this one. Come on, I will let you try it for free!” He was talking to Clifton. Then the operator gave it a whirl and it came to rest on a nice looking camera. “See how easy it is.” Then he placed the pointer adjacent to a winning space and gave the stick a slight tap. It slid into the winning slot. “Why don’t you try it, just for fun? Clifton was definitely interested.
            “O.K.” Clifton agreed. He placed it one post away from a nice nickel-plated pistol and gave the stick a slight push. It stopped silently in the slot! The operator invited him to try it again. This time he overshot it but he was offered a third try. This time he won again. “Not bad,” the operator exclaimed, “Two out of three, not bad at all. You might win a cheap gun that way. Only twenty five cents a flip!” Clifton pulled out a quarter and positioned the pointer. He overshot the big win. He tried three more times and lost all three.
            “You’re just nervous. Try another free one for practice.” The disappointed Clifton positioned his pointer. Again the free flip won! “O. K.” Clifton said. “I’ll pay for this one.” He pulled out another quarter and carefully positioned the pointer. While he was getting it in position I saw the plastic tip on the front of the arm rotate to the left. I instantly figured out what the trick was. The posts around the circle were made of twisted metal about one fourth of an inch in diameter. When the pointer was in one position it hit against the edge of a twist and stopped. If it were in the other position it would pass through a twist and hit the twist edge on the next post. He had some method of controlling the position of the plastic pointer. Then I noticed that the good prizes and the booby prizes were alternated from one slot to the other. In a regular spin you got a good prize if the pointer were in one position and a poor one if it were in the other.
            “Just a minute,” I exclaimed excitedly. “I saw that pointer twist. You’re cheating us!”
            “Oh, no,” he said. “There’s no way I could do that – see, this is just an arm with a bearing in the bottom of the shaft.” He lifted the arm out of the wheel and held it up. There was a shaft about three eights of an inch in diameter with a ball bearing on the bottom. I reached for it but he pulled it back. I grabbed one side and started pushing up on the bearing at the bottom. Every time I pushed the bearing up the pointer on the end turned sharply to the left.
            A crowd was beginning to gather. Clifton immediately demanded his money back. The operator told us to move on or he would have us moved. Elbert had a quick question.
            “You and what army? Give the money back, you cheat!” I had to agree with them and gave him a little bit of my good advice.  Two or three onlookers agreed with us.
           “O. K.” he agreed as he slipped the arm back into the machine. “If you want to be a poor sport about it.” He handed Clifton a quarter. Clifton let him know immediately that he owned him a dollar. After a little more babbling he handed him the rest of the investment. 
            The operator didn’t thank Clifton for playing and Clifton didn’t thank him for returning his money. The crowd dispersed and another valuable lesson was apparent: never bet on another man’s tricks!
            Did we have fun that day? We always had fun. If you can’t have fun doing it perhaps you should avoid it.