Free cigarettes at the State Fair of Texas

Our friend Bob Sonnamaker, a true genius in the entertainment industry, wasn’t working when the 1982 State Fair of Texas rolled around. He loved the Fair and somehow was offered a job giving out free cigarettes at a booth inside the park on Grand Avenue. My Bob and I worked with him many times on park deals and he was a good friend. Sonnamaker (few knew him as Bob) called and said, “Lottie join me and my sister Linda giving out cigarettes at the Fair.” In 1982 everyone smoked but me, but it sounded like too much fun with Linda and Sonnamaker. Back then amusement parks closed after Labor Day so I was free, let’s go to the Fair.

First item, first day at the Fair – food. We sent Linda out for our first snack. Bob Halford, head of PR for the Fair, walked by our booth and stopped to visit. He said, “Whatever you’re making handing out cigarettes, I’ll double it if you two will run my information booth, the only one at the Fair”. I was stunned when Sonnamaker made up some ridiculous figure and Bob said OK to double that amount, told us to get our stuff and follow him. Sonnamaker grabbed as many cigarettes as he could and then started stuffing more down my shirt, pants, in my socks, etc. Little sample packages of cigarettes trailed me as we walked to Big Tex Circle.

Our information booth was big, four sided and stocked with a small bottle coke machine, cups and a phone. Score! And I didn’t have to steal cigarettes for Sonnamaker anymore. Halford showed us the boxes of maps. He said, “Sonnamaker, if you guys don’t know the answer to a guest question, don’t call me. Lottie, just start talking and they will forget the question and wander off.” My dream job! And I quickly fell for the big cowboy and his wonderful voice,

I watched the time because my plan was to be on my way home when Linda’s shift was over and gunning for us. Didn’t work. I blamed Sonnamaker, Sonnamaker blamed me. No score there.

Though happily married, I found My Favorite Boyfriend and he is to this day. I’m on my way to Dallas tomorrow because my birthday is during the Fair and I have not and will not miss a “Happy Birthday Lottie!” booming all over the park from My Favorite Boyfriend.

After posting earlier I found pictures of the cigarette and information booth. Plus, the last picture is of Bob Sonnamaker and Bob Minick. And yes, it was party time.

Thank you Randall Minick for encouraging me to write these stories.

Pontchartrain Beach and Hitler

Ponchartrain Beach was my favorite amusement park as a child. Also the closest amusement park to my home in New Iberia, Louisiana. Who knew I’d marry an Amusement Park Guru who practically grew up in Disneyland. Though he loved most parks Disneyland had his heart. Along with his Aunt Dollie and Uncle Owen who were the original Managers of the Circle D Ranch at Disneyland, Bob was one of only 3 residents living inside Disneyland to this day.

During World War II amusement parks’ shooting galleries closed or in the case of Lake Ponchartrain reimagined their gallery because all shot went to the war effort. The park built a Walking Charlie, incorporating the 5 Axis powers. Each wore a hat and the park guests received several baseballs per game trying to knock the hats off to win as the heads moved across the game on a rail. Leave it to showbiz folks to come up with a great idea.

In 2007 during the dismantling of Ponchartrain Beach a friend who was overseeing the carousel takedown found the 5 stick heads under the carousel. He called Bob and said, “No one would appreciate one of these heads as much as you. Take your pick.” Of course Bob picked Hitler.

We went to Uncommon Market in Dallas and asked the brothers who owned the store to make a stand. They found this WWII shell and attached it to a base. Again, Bob was thrilled and Hitler lived front and center on our living room fireplace always a topic of conversation.

After Bob’s death our son and I “loaned” a lot of his memorabilia to the National Roller Coaster Museum in Amarillo, Texas. Couldn’t give up Hitler because I always see Bob smiling when I look at him. And who knows? I may have the chance to watch the building of another Walking Charlie gallery someday. Bigger wishes have been granted. PS. Thanks to Robin Walker from Walt Disney World for the Minnie Mouse ears/tiara. The perfect hat to knock off Hitler.

Six Flags many years ago

The – To Juarez – is to J.R. Minick Sr., Bob’s Dad the sign shop guru at Six Flags from opening to ???. The – From John Gavia – is Bob Senior’s beloved Number One at the paint shop. As time went by it was hard to tell Bob and John’s signs apart. This was the period of The Paint Shop Art. Two very special men and artists.

Our favorite fan

The pretty redhead in these photos is a dear friend of many years who survived years and years and years (well you get the idea) of International Association of Amusement Park trade shows with us.  We did our very best to get booths side by side.  Michelle Osborne did this for my Bob.

Being an exhibitor at this show and probably all trade shows costs a bloody fortune.  You’re lucky if you sell one job to pay for all this.  Then there are Suitcase Salesmen.  People with their fat brochures in their briefcases.  They stop in your booth, ask about your services and listen attentively.  Then say, “I have a (fill in the blank) company and would like you to use my company when you’re designing a park.”  Five days of this.  By the last day I would just go for their throats asking them if they really wanted me to carry their brochures back to our office when they are so cheap to not have a booth, but take advantage of our time to sell to us.  And especially too cheap to mail their brochure to our office?????   And like magic, Michelle would grab me just as my hands were going for their throat.  Paul Osborne, Michelle’s husband and Bob grab Rich and head for the coffee booth.  We had this down!  Thank you for staying and saving me, Michelle.

Hardy Haberman, you were there practicing your Invisible Man Act.  You need to thank Rich again and again for keeping you safe from people knocking down Your Invisible Man Self.  A trade show floor is nowhere to practice becoming invisible, even for incredible magicians like you.  Thank goodness you had Rich Poling!

PS.  I don’t appreciate you teaching Rich that trick, he still uses it.   Rich is here, invisible in the following pictures.

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