I visited the Showmen’s Museum in Gibsonton, Florida recently and it was awesome. It isn’t quite as good as the real thing, but with the lights blinking and the music playing it has that fair atmosphere that I miss. It even has a working Ferris wheel indoors. By the time I left, I was almost skipping down the stairs. In the days before television, movies, and video games, traveling fairs and circuses were prime entertainment. People would wait all year or longer for them. Like trains and bookstores, they hold a special place in our cultural history that will likely persist in some form forever. They kept employed many in society that would likely have had a rough time otherwise, such as midgets, giants, and those with extra limbs. They worked, lived, and travelled together. They really understood what made true entertainment in the old days. Before there were internet cat videos, people put monkeys in tiny cars and rolled them down tracks. Now that’s real entertainment!
I’ve always liked history. I don’t know why. The museum is full of it. They have a machine used to pull up the giant tent spikes when it sadly came time to leave one town for the next. It’s basically a large lever on wheels. The chains at the end were attached to the spikes and the lever pulled down. The museum also has a set of cameras from the original photo booths of the nineteenth century. There is an exhibit on a man who joined the circus in order to travel the country and spread the gospel. There is a reference library onsite and a history blog online. They cover all kinds of subjects, from food to the history of the carousel to the trucks used to transport the equipment across the country.
As chance would have it, I arrived the same time as a man who used to work in the industry back in the seventies. He had driven a long ways to check it out. He told me how he used to set up Ferris wheels without hydraulics and explained how many of the games of skill and chance worked. The place brought back many memories for him. I know how he feels. I can imagine I would feel the same way if someone were to open a fast food museum. When you learn every quirk of the equipment and how to work around the fry vat button that sticks or the freezer door that won’t close, it starts to mean something to you. This is the real good the place does, not just as a location to spend a fun afternoon, but a place that keeps alive the stories of those who worked hard to keep the show going, the dreams of every child visiting a fair for the first time, and the rich and interwoven history of an entire industry.
6938 Riverview Drive, Riverview, Florida
Written By Daniel Noe, InkDoodler.com
I visited the R&R Ranch in Lithia, Florida a few weeks ago and saw the small petting zoo. The animals were very soft and very docile. There were many rabbits, including a few “ruby” rabbits. These are albino rabbits with pink eyes. There were also guinea pigs. These were the only animals that showed any nervousness around me whatsoever, though not overly so. The rest seemed quite used to meeting strange humans (some stranger than others). Nearby was a goat, a pig, and several chickens with extremely soft feathers. I love all animals, but scorpions and sea urchins aren’t nearly as fun to pet – although caterpillars would be a nice addition (hint, hint).
The people there are as friendly as the animals (I didn’t try petting them) and they talked with me a while. The R&R Ranch was founded in 2002 by Barbara and her son Jeremy in order to introduce children to farm animals because it seemed that not many people do that anymore. Their goals for the ranch are to stay small, friendly, and personal. It is a valued place for camps, horse riding lessons, field trips, and birthday parties. In fact, there was a party going on when I got there. They also offer hay rides, horse feeding, pony painting, and have a small playground. The horses love children. More can be learned about them at the website. This is one place in Tampa Bay you should definitely visit.
9805 Bryant Road, Lithia, Florida
Written by Daniel Noe, InkDoodler.com
I visited Robinson Preserve in Bradenton recently and was rewarded with beautiful sights of a variety of plants. There are trails for bicycling or hiking across wide fields, marshes, and small wooded areas. There is a quite tall observation tower next to one of the lagoons, which is where I took the photos above from. If you have good eyes, you can see the Skyway in the distance.
The usual animals were around, including dragonflies, ospreys, ibises, fiddler crabs, and lizards. I also saw a rabbit. Something strange was going on that day with the bees. There were a lot of bees throughout the park everywhere that there were flowers. People say bees around the world are dying out, but I think they have just been hiding in Robinson Preserve. No matter where I went I could hear their distant roar. I did not know what I was hearing at first before I found them. I even saw a hive at the base of Tern Trail. I decided not to go that way. Another mysterious sound was an occasional bark I would hear throughout the park. It sounded like a cross between a honking goose, a very confused seal, and a human child screaming in mortal terror. I finally discovered that the ibises were making this noise. Every so often they would look up from poking in the mud and bark. I had never heard ibises make noise before. This is a strange place.
Along the northern edge of the park there are breaks in the vegetation separating the trail from the bay. These lead to small, secluded beaches. The water remains incredibly shallow far into the bay. I could see ibises and herons walking on the mirror-like surface of the sea as far as a hundred feet from shore. On the southern edge of the trail there is a narrow channel of water that connects the sea to the water bodies inside the park. This runs like a river when the tide comes in or goes out. I could see it branch as it cut through the trees into places where I wasn’t allowed to go. What goes on inside there?
Here are some more pictures from my adventure:
1704 99th Street West, Bradenton, Florida