Another Day at the Crank

I’ve been thinking lately about the Clyde Parke Miniature Circus in Memphis.

Even if you’re from Memphis, you probably don’t know what that is. If you’re not? Let me explain.

In the Great Depression, Clyde Parke, an accountant in Memphis, lost his job. He missed the circuses of his youth, so he spent up to 18 hours a day for nearly seven years hand-carving an incredibly ornate miniature circus: the parade, the animals, the performers, the big top, the whole thing. It’s utterly remarkable. I can only imagine what people thought of him while he was working on it.

And it moves! The parade parades, music plays, and the performers perform, all the way down to the scale of one guy who goes in circles and, whenever he gets to a certain point, stops and tips his hat.

Here’s a video of it:

The whole thing has been restored and has a place of honor at the Pink Palace Museum, and if you’re ever in Memphis, I suggest you go check it out.

Why have I been thinking about it? Because when Clarke first built it, the whole thing ran on a single one-horsepower motor. One motor went around and around and around, and from there went belts, which connected to more belts, which spread out over the 15-foot expanse of the circus, all the way down, yes, to the man tipping his hat. It was all wheels and belts and triggers and who knows what.

And that’s what it feels like running your own business sometimes.

I run an English soccer tourism business which, at least pre-pandemic, had customers all over the world and did sales well into the six figures. I write and publish a book, offer travel consulting, a blog, videos, tours, personal guiding, and now an employee who lives in Ecuador! I work with a publishing team, an accountant, a bookkeeper … it’s kind of a circus.

And what males it run? Literally, the core of the whole thing is that back in about 2014 I went to a game in London, decided I wanted to write about it, and started writing. I didn’t make a penny for three years, but twice a week, on average, I put something on that blog. Eventually people found it and reached out, an audience gathered, and when I published the book and got hooked up with ticket brokers, I found I had traveled what somebody once called “The long, long road to overnight success.”

Where Clyde Parke’s Miniature Circus had (pre-restoration anyway) one small motor going around and around, Groundhopper Soccer Guides has, basically, me sitting at a desk, cranking out words. I crank and crank and crank, occasionally looking up to carve something new (group tours, everybody!), checking to see how the whole thing is working, and then I go back to cranking.

I’ve always been fascinated by this concept, since long before I knew or cared about running a business: that a simple act, with enough commitment, passion, creativity and the right connections, can pretty much launch a circus. And I didn’t even know that’s what I was going to do!

And on days like today and yesterday, when I have neither gotten fully dressed nor made it outside beyond the table in the backyard where I ate lunch, when I have reviewed a 600-page manuscript for publication and written thousands of words of copy for the blog, when I have not earned a single penny, when life is about as glamorous and fun as, well, sitting alone carving miniature circus performers, I can at least know that one day, the circus will come back to life.

Somebody a long way and a long time from now, but connected to me now by the belts and wheels and triggers, will find these blog posts, and the book, and they’ll hear the music and see the performance, and something will strike a chord in them, and they’ll reach out and say, “Hey, I want to a ticket to the circus!”

It’s happened before, because I cranked along, and alone, for years. And it will happen again. It’s how I get through the lonely, quiet days.

Yes. So now, back to the crank!