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But Little Irvy hasn't played the Arizona State Fair for a while--or very many other big venues, either. "That whale has been around forever," says Jim Simpson of the Michigan State Fair. "To get any longevity out of that kind of attraction, you can't bring it in year after year. How many times can you look at a dead whale? It just doesn't have the staying power that's going to draw people back time after time."
State-fair observers suggest an additional reason for Irvy's slide in popularity--changing times and tastes. Noting the disappearance of other midway staples like freak shows and illusion attractions ("See a woman turn into an ape before your very eyes!"), Montgomery points out that the public may simply have grown too sophisticated to get excited over a flaking whale corpse. "Twenty-five years ago, a lot of people may not have seen a whale up close," he says. "That's changed since then. We're living in a world of virtual reality."
"The business has changed," agrees Malone, who eventually branched out into diesel drag racing and traveling monster truck shows. "The whale just doesn't do as well as it once did."
Theorizing that Little Irvy might simply be overexposed, Malone even put his star into dry dock for six years, an expensive semiretirement that set him back $600 a month in refrigeration bills. "Everybody said, 'If I were you, I'd turn that damn thing off and save the money.' I said, 'Uh-uh--Irvy eats before I eat. Little Irvy put me where I am today.'"
Because of rising fuel costs and apathy, Little Irvy's comeback never really materialized. Today the onetime midway sensation is reduced to playing shopping centers in low-income neighborhoods, and, in order to carry his weight, now shares a bill with a trailer containing a trio of sad-looking frozen killer sharks. But don't look for Little Irvy to sleep with the fishes just yet. Every bit as optimistic as he was when he hatched his weird "fish out of water" operation back in 1967, Jerry "Tyrone" Malone enthusiastically outlines his latest plans for Little Irvy. If all goes according to plan, Irvy will join Malone's truck collection in Trucker Town U.S.A., a multimillion-dollar trucker hall of fame he hopes to build in Winslow, Arizona.
Why Winslow? "I don't want to be near a Disneyland or a Magic Mountain," he explains. "I want to be out there where a person has to drive an hour or two and there's nothing else to do. We'll have Little Irvy, my trucks, the Junior Trucker Hall of Fame, Camperland and an exhibit for the kids, showing why it's so dangerous to tailgate a semi.
"It's going to be great," he continues, explaining that he hopes to finance the $150 million venture by selling shares to truckers. "It'll be a first-rate operation, not one of these Jim and Tammy Faye deals."
A consummate huckster, Malone has already sold Winslow on his dream. "We're very excited about this," says chamber of commerce head Tommy T. Thompson, who comes from a carnival background not unlike Malone's. "Tyrone is by nature an Evel Knievel-type person. He's very full of himself, and that's good." Praising Malone's confidence, Thompson adds, "You know, this idea of his is just hokey enough to work. And short of Little Irvy thawing out, I think he just might get this done.