By Norris Chambers

             During the fabulous fifties school carnivals were very popular. It seemed like there was one to attend just about every night. Of course they were not that frequent and they were a lot of fun. There were all kinds of booths that allowed you to win big – the fishing tent, the cake walk, the ball toss and many more. They were all a lot of fun and raised a little money for several worthy causes.

            At one of these fun things I observed a big roulette wheel made from a piece of three quarter inch plywood. It was a nice round disc four feet in diameter with large numbers painted around the outer edge and various colorful decorations in the center section. It had a nice round piece of dowel protruding about three or four inches on one edge and this formed a very nice grip for the operator to give the wheel a nice, long spin. There was a long nail between each number and as the wheel turned a plastic pointer flipped over each nail. A long bench at the front of the booth had numbers painted along the top to match the numbers on the wheel. The game was simple. Just put your dime on a number and when the wheel was turned by the operator if it stopped with the pointer position matching the number on the bench where you had placed your dime, you won a beautiful home-baked pie.

            I stood and watched the operation for a few minutes. As beautiful as the wheel was I noticed that it was a little bit heavy on one side and that it usually stopped on one of about five numbers on the heavy side. The middle number got more pies than the two on each side.  Apparently no one had noticed the peculiarity and the game was doing a brisk business.

                        This was a good thing to know if you were going to try for a cheap pie. I felt like trying for a cheap pie so I crowded into the line and positioned myself in front of the five “lucky” numbers. For a little less than a dollar I won three pies. I didn’t want to attract too much attention and be pointed out as a pie pig so I moved out with the intention of storing my pies somewhere so I could explore some more of the big bargains. I had hardly cleared the line when I almost bumped into Mrs. Blum.

                        “My, my!” she exclaimed. “Did you win all those pies on the pie wheel?” I assured her that I did. She started complaining that she was not lucky and could never win one. I felt real generous and I told her I’d give her all three of mine for two dollars. She was as happy as a pig in the sunshine and made me feel like a great guy for being so generous. I handed her the pies and continued browsing the carnival for fun.

                        After a generous bowl of home made ice cream I ran across an interesting game. They had a piece of plywood about two feet square on a card table and had fenced the perimeters with pieces of glass. There was another fenced area in the center about four inches square. It was also fenced with pieces of glass. Believe it or not, there were about a dozen red ants in the enclosure. The object of the game was to pen five ants in the center pen with a soda straw without touching them. The ants could not climb the glass fence to escape and if they were penned they could not climb over the glass fence. Of course there was a one minute time limit. I had played with ants a lot as a kid and this game looked like a good deal. I handed the operator my coins and picked my herding straw.

            The man clicked his stop watch and I started herding ants. They weren’t cooperative at all. They tried to climb my straw. The rules wouldn’t allow me to push them. After a quick minute I had to admit failure. I tried again, but this time I had an idea. They hadn’t mentioned a rule about blowing in the straw so I bent over with the straw in my mouth and quickly blew them through the gate, one by one. I collected my meager winnings and continued my journey through fun-land. After a few more exciting revelations it was about time to go home. As we walked through the thinning crowd on the way out I noticed that the pie wheel booth still had pies on the shelf. Why not go by and take a pie or two home with us? We stopped and I put five dimes on the center spaces, expecting to get a least one pie. I didn’t even come close. Some fellow on the end of the bench won.

            I tried again with the same result. Something was seriously wrong – the wheel was not unbalanced now as it had been earlier. The operator looked at me and grinned as he took my dimes.

            “Good try!” he said. “But we got the wheel balanced.”  I grinned back at him.

            “What a dirty trick!” I told him. He laughed out loud. I chocked out a muffled laugh and we headed for home. But all wasn’t lost.  We did have fun!