Do you remember traveling tent shows?

Published 4:28 pm Tuesday, January 27, 2015

With the passing of Little Jimmy Dickens a couple of weeks ago, I am reminded of those traveling Grand Ole Opry tent shows of the forties and early 50s.

I remember attending one of these shows at Perdido. At the entrance of the big tent were two very large signs. One sign read Martha White Flour and the other sign depicted Prince Albert Tobacco. These two firms were sponsors of the WSM radio Grand Ole Opry Saturday night shows.

I cannot remember all the performers, but I do remember the husband-and-wife duo, Lula Bells and Scotty. Rod Brassfield, a popular comedian, also performed that night. I think Lonzo and Oscar performed as well as Robert Lund, the “talking blues boy.” They passed out Goo Goo candy bars during the performance. The firm that made this candy was also a radio sponsor. At that time I thought it was the best candy I had ever eaten.

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But there were many other Opry performers back then who frequently traveled in these tent shows. They include Minnie Pearl, Red Foley, Eddie Arnold, Grandpa Jones, Dave Akeman (String bean), The Duke of Paducah, Lew Childree, Billy Walker, Hank Williams Sr., Walley Fowler and the Georgia Clodhoppers, and many more.

Childree, Walker and Williams churn memories of Alabama. Billy Walker, a Texas native lost his life on Interstate 65 at Fort Deposit a few years ago, following a south Baldwin concert when he was returning to his Nashville home. Childree, a native of Opp, left home with a tent show in the 30s and later achieved success at TGOO. And, we all know the story of Williams who grew up just south of Georgiana.

Several years ago, a Grand Ole Opry star and a Brewton businessman contemplated a type of Opryland small theme park near Nokomis, but the plan never materialized. Ernis Ashworth was the Opry performer and Jim Tungate was the Brewton businessman.
All those old performers are gone now.

An Associated Press story out of Phenix City a few months ago stated that the city council was considering clamping down on yard sales. Because of so many weekend yard sales, the mayor of that city said “it’s like living beside a thrift store.” The new law would make it a misdemeanor to hold more than two yard sales a year. “Violators would face fines from $50 to $500,” the AP report noted.

It seems odd for yard sales be denied. I know several from our area who conduct these sales on a regular basis. And, some are very skillful. They find bargains throughout a three-county area and resell these goods for a profit. I am told these people make good money. Some from here often travel up to north Alabama for the annual “longest yard sale in America.” Having its beginning in north Alabama, the sale soars through several northern states for several hundred miles with wares of all descriptions along the way.

It would be a shame for these folks to be denied their yard sales. I don’t believe they really need to worry about that here. Everyone should have the right to earn money.

Another news story of interest is the loss of sports at four junior colleges. Jefferson State, Gadsden State, Bevill State and Northwest-Shoals Community College have dropped practically all of their athletic programs because of the current cutback in state funds.

Now, this is totally devastating. What if Jeff Davis in Brewton and Faulkner State in Bay Minette were forced to do away with their sports departments? Do you realize that many, many of our young athletes begin their careers at these schools? For years, these have been traditional training grounds for baseball, softball and basketball players. And, quite a few of these players have gone on to four-year college athletic programs.

Financial trimming has hurt everyone in our state. Let’s hope funds from other sources can be found to help keep these two programs alive.

Jimmy Rane, who was recently voted back on the Auburn board, has been involved in countless good deeds, not only for Auburn University, but for his home town of Abbeville and the entire state.

I am sure you know him as “Yella Man” on the Great Southern Woods TV commercials. Decked out in his yellow garb, he rides off into the sunset on his stately stallion. Now trimmed down in his weight, he resembles some of our Saturday matinee cowboys. His TV commercials have been voted some of the most entertaining ones on the air. Even more fitting is the “Riders In The Sky” quartet singing in the background.

This man is a great ambassador for Auburn. I do not know who writes his commercials. Some say he writes them. But I do know they grab your attention each time they are shown on TV.

We will have more next week from people, places and events from our yesteryears.

You can email Lowell McGill at