Jim Reeves, the perfect gentleman, was one of our biggest stars at Verona Lake Ranch. We became friends, and I was honored in 1972 to receive “The Jim Reeves International Award” from the Academy of Country Music, presented to me by Ms. Frances Preston, BMI Executive, at the John Wayne Theatre in Knott’s Berry Farm, Buena Park, California.
Frances Preston and Thurston Moore.
We had ice-skating parties in the winter at the park, and for a while we had Bingo at noon on Sundays. We sponsored teenage dances on the stage on Friday nights. This outgrew the stage, so we made a deal with the Walton Skating Rink, five miles away. The dancing started there at 7 p.m. and was a big success. They played records, as they did for skating, and artists like Elvis, Chubby Checker, Buddy Holly, Little Richard, Fats Domino and Jerry Lee Lewis were favorites with the kids.
There were three fishing lakes, and fishing during the week cost $1 a day. On Sundays, it was $1.50. We started publishing a newspaper, Verona Lake Ranch News, in 1957, and it was mailed to thousands of folks in the tri-state area. It covered country news of the area, goings-on at the park, and a schedule of shows. In one issue there was this article: “3½ Pound Bass Caught April 22. That’s a big bass to any fisherman and it was caught by the retired mail carrier in Verona. And of all things, he caught it with a cane pole and a fishing worm!”
The pony rides were run by my daughter, Tracy, who was an excellent rider. We also had several games-of-chance, such as “Break the Records” and “Knock Over the Bottles.” The Police Chief of Walton brought in a little kiddie Merry-Go-Round, which he operated on Sundays. He loved being with the children. We became good friends, and he had an actual ball-and-chain from the Georgia chain gang. I can’t recall the story of how he got it, but he presented it to me as a gift. I put it to great use in a film I made in later years, and now our son, Marc, has it in his home in Colorado.
Each year we had “County Day” shows, like “Kenton County Day,” and advertised for contestants to enter the “Beauty Contest.” Young ladies, 18 and over and residents of the county were eligible. The winners received a trophy and a bouquet of roses.
An impressive fireworks display was a highlight on Memorial Day, the official opening each year, and also on the Fourth of July and Labor Day. These were set off on the far side of the lake from the park grounds, and they made a beautiful reflection in the lake. Many people came to the park after the shows and paid the entrance fee just to see the fireworks. My best friend, Earl Hensley, helped me set off the fireworks.
A historical event on August 17-18, 1957, was the state of Kentucky’s first annual “Kentucky Pioneers Engineers Club.” We had participants from several states who brought antique steam engines and threshers, all in running condition, parading the grounds. There was also an ox team and covered wagon, antique autos, Indian relics, antique guns and other contraptions from bygone days. On Saturday night and Sunday there was a square dance with a big show.
On July 4, 1958, we had a special attraction: “Fearless Ted and His Wrestling Bear.” That bear didn’t fool around when he started hugging his wrestling partner. As part of the show, the bear ate honey off Fearless Ted’s throat while he laid on his back. Ugh!
One of the biggest shows we had was sponsored by The Royal Furniture Company in Cincinnati. We booked major stars, who were paid by The Royal Furniture Company, and admission to the park was free that day. I’m not sure how many folks came out, but some newspaper accounts said it was 10,000! Another big show was the day we advertised park entrance at $1 per vehicle, with no limit on the number of passengers. Well, you can imagine the cars coming in with legs sticking out, and we stopped counting the people that piled out of a big truck – they brought half the county! That was a fun day and we had about 4,000 people. On days like that, we made big money at the concession stands.
A big flop we had at the park was the BEAN DINNER, and I am happy to say it wasn’t my idea. A music promoter came to the park one day and told me how he could draw more people with some wild ideas. He had no money, and we felt sorry for him and said he could bring his old trailer to the park. Then we found out he had a wife and a child.
The first thing he wanted to do was to go to Alabama, where he knew he could get a carnival ride very cheap. I gave him money, and that was my first mistake. That ride was similar to a huge Ferris Wheel, but the enclosures people got into not only went around but upside down! Consequently, things were falling out of their pockets. It was like the song “Pennies from Heaven.” We sent that back to Alabama!
Then his next idea – and thankfully the last – was to have a BEAN DINNER. He said he knew of parks and events that did this, and hundreds of people came to eat beans. That was hard to believe, but we went along with the idea since it cost very little. We had a big advertising campaign for the BEAN DINNER, which was held at noon on a Saturday: “All you can eat for 50 cents.” My good friend Earl was my “assistant chef,” and we cooked beans all night over open fires in huge iron kettles we had borrowed − we had enough beans to feed an army! The bottom line is it was a major flop – only a handful of people came to eat our beans. We dug holes in the picnic area and buried the beans; they are probably still growing!
A more successful and fun event while we were living in Verona was VERONA VARIETIES, a stage show I produced and directed in 1958 at the Walton High School, presented by the Verona Community Club. The Walton Advertiser carried a full page listing the program, surrounded by more than 50 advertisers who supported the show.
Scene 1 - Walton-Verona Court of Nonsense
“Buddy” Rouse played the judge.
Scene 2 - It’s In the Book by Arthur Doggett
Scene 3 - The Great American Drama
Featured actors included Edna Beach, Georgianna Moore, Marc Moore (our son), Evelyn Ross, fiddler Joe Louderback, and the voice of Jack Conner.
Scene 4 - Albert and the Lion by Ian Atherton
Ian and his family had come to American from England a few years before, and they came to the part for several years, picnicked and enjoyed the shows. One year we missed them, and soon learned that Ian had been killed in an auto crash.
Scene 5 - Dance-O-RamaFeatured Georgianna and our daughter Tracy, and seven other dancers.
Scene 6 - A Pantomime by Rev. George Fiske
Piano by Mrs. Fiske
Plantation MelodiesSongs by Stephen Collins Foster
Featured Georgianna Moore, Guy Carlisle, Arthur Doggett and an all-star cast.
Don’t miss the next chapter: To Tell the Truth