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Remembering Richard Tinsley
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Richard Tinsley was a titan in the outdoor amusement business. Working his way up from the bottom, Tinsley eventually went on to run his own carnival: Tinsley's Amusements. He participated in the business he loved so much for over 70 years, working up until he passed away on October 25th. Ken Bender and Chris Walden reflect on Richard's legacy and the mentorship he provided each of them.

Ken Bender

Bender came to work for Richard back in 2005 and has continued to work with Richard ever since. “I used to work for Richard's first unit manager as a ride employee and now co-own three rides with Richard including two that go to the Minnesota State Fair,” says Bender. He recalls Richard slowly adding responsibility and trust into their relationship and, eventually, Richard taught Bender how to lay out a lot and fix rides. “It was Richard's way or the wrong way,” laughs Bender.

For Richard, it all started in the mid 1950s when he built a pony cart with his father and then moved on to work for different amusement companies before forming Tinsley Amusements. Describing him as stubborn and opinionated, Bender recalls the story of how Richard fully got into his own ride business. “I know he worked for Ted Snead who owned Hampton Amusement Company. For whatever reason he decided to quit, or got let go, and he threw his paint gun at whoever delivered that news and decided to get his own rides around the St. Louis region where he started playing Catholic Parish picnics,” says Bender. This year, at their last spot of the season at the St. Francis of Assisi picnic, the committee celebrated Richard's 70th year of participation in the event.

In addition to helping run the carnival, alongside Richard, for the past 17-18 years, Bender has traveled all over the country from Coney Island, NY to Rutherford, California from the Upper Peninsula to Del Rio, Texas with four different carousels owned by Tinsley Amusements. “Richard was huge on the carousel business and the company probably owns 7-8 of them now. We have two out currently for the holiday season in Alabama and Indiana respectively, says Bender.

Richard had a kindness and soft-heartedness known by those close to him. “He was an exceptional person and a lot of people didn't see that because he was all about business. He had no vices except for buying defunct equipment and trying to fix it,” joked Bender. During the holidays, Richard would spend Christmas morning with Bender's family and really open up to the kids. “We had a great relationship. Of course we had difference of opinions but he was a great man and he meant so much to me and my family,” says Bender.

Moving forward, Bender has taken over Tinsley Amusements and he is devoted to running the company in the way Richard would've liked. “He was molding me to take over but he would never quit. He has been there since day one and was going to die doing what he loves. I have big shoes to fill.”

Chris Walden

Chris Walden met Richard back in the ‘90s when he was trying to break into the outdoor amusement business. “I had just bought a small game and was playing little festivals,” says Walden. Richard had a fair about an hour away from Walden and allowed him to book two games at the spot. “I was about 16 years old when I first booked my games with Tinsley's Amusements but it wasn't Richard's unit, it was the second unit, so I didn't get to meet him at first,” Walden remembers. Richard's unit manager vouched for the quality of Walden's operation and Richard tested him by offering three locations on the second unit and one big location on the 1st unit as long as Walden continued to operate cleanly. “I was just a kid trying to get into the business and he gave me a chance,” says Walden.

It took some time for Walden to get on Richard's good side and as he brought more games on to the show, Richard began to ask how many rides he could move.  A few years later, Walden learned to lay out a lot and move equipment. “I remember I was in my early 20s and I had just got out of college and was available to go with the Ali Baba to the Minnesota State Fair. He told me, I have three things I need you to do son: 1. Make sure every rider is safe and has fun 2. Make sure our employees are working well and safely 3. Bring some money home for me,” says Walden. The priority list delivered by Tinsley spoke volumes to Walden; “he always cared about safety and happiness first and then about the money.”

Taking the utmost pride in his show's operation and look, Richard was meticulously when it came to cleanliness and lighting, according to Walden. “I've never seen anyone else focus or spend so much on lighting. He would replace an entire ride's worth of bulbs if we had to change out one section just so everything would look uniform,” says Walden. Clean up crews were ever-present on the Tinsley Amusements' midway and rides were completely washed down right after set up. “Those principles trickled down into my own business too,” says Walden.

“Because Richard gave me the opportunity to work at the Minnesota State Fair with him for three years, I eventually got an opportunity to work for the fair itself and I felt like I couldn't pass it up,” says Walden. Telling Richard he was moving on from the company was difficult for Walden and Richard, but Walden feels that, eventually, Richard was really proud of him. Despite parting ways, the two kept in touch consistently for the past 25 years. “My phone has certainly been a lot quieter now for the past few weeks,” says Walden. “I always looked forward to the Minnesota State Fair because I knew I would get to see him there and I'd always be so excited to see him come up on his scooter.”

Walden will remember Tinsley for his sense of humor, exciting nature, and big heart. “It was really telling to get phone calls from other people in the business who were offering their condolences at his passing and talking about how much they enjoyed being around Richard and learned from him,” says Walden. “He had a tough exterior but a big heart. I learned a ton from Richard and I owe him a lot.”

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