This Saturday, unicyclist Jon Carroll will be making his final ride through Creston one of the Creston Elks Clowns, which have been one of the main attractions of area parades for more than four decades.
For the past 42 years, Carroll has entertained crowds at parades and events across southwest Iowa – Creston, Shenandoah, Clarinda, Mount Ayr and Diagonal – as a Creston Elks Clown from atop a 6-foot Schwinn unicycle, which he debuted in 1977 at the age of 18.
“He was a hit from the very beginning,” said Bill Fastenow, an original Clowns member told the CNA in 2014. “Jon would ride that thing and kids would follow him clear down the street. We’ve had a lot of Clowns over the years, but Jon might be the only one with any real talent.”
A number of reasons contributed to Carroll’s decision to “retire.”
“Our great city streets of Creston have made it a little more dififcult and I’m not getting any younger, either,” he said.
The Creston Elks clowns – which peaked in the late 1970s to 1980s with approximately 20 active members – has experienced a decline in participation over the past decade.
“Everyone just seems to be too busy and the other ones just don’t seem to have the time to get started,” said Carroll.
Carroll’s love of, and the crowds’ reaction to the unicycle has been mutual.
“We had more fun than you could shake a stick at,” said Chuck Lang of Creston, another original Elks Clowns member. “The kids went crazy for Jon, especially when we went out of town because they’d never seen him before.”
Learning to ride
Carroll learned to ride the unicycle in the halls of his childhood home on South Pine Street. His father had purchased it at Montgomery Ward and challenged Carroll and his nine siblings to learn to ride it.
“[He] told us the first one to ride this gets $5,” Carroll recalls.
Determined, Carroll and his sibilings started practicing in a 20-foot, upstairs hallway, which he said was narrow enough he could extend his arms out to prevent a crash.
They then “graduated” outside riding the unicycle in the street using parked vehicles for balance and to brace their falls. Jon — at 12 years old — was the first child to successfully ride the unicycle, yet remains unpaid.
Carroll’s brother Mike and sisters Tina and Lisa also learned to ride “a block or two” on the unicycle, which had a 24-inch wheel and sat about 3-foot high off the ground. But, it was Jon who continued to master the unicycle over the years, even riding it to school occasionally through the ninth grade.
On Christmas in 1977, Carroll received a brand new 6-foot Schwinn giraffe unicycle he still rides in parades today. It was a gift from his girlfriend Roxanne Chubick.
“It cost me about $150,” said Roxanne, Carroll’s wife of 39 years. “I remember my parents were not very happy with me spending that kind of money on a boyfriend. I was only a 10th grader then. But, he’s put a lot of miles on that thing over the years. I think we got our money out of it.”
Jon has had several other unicycles over the years including a 10-foot custom unicycle constructed by Lang. Carroll used the 10-foot unicycle for a couple years in the mid-1980s.
“He could change streetlights with that thing,” Fastenow said.
In April 2014, Carroll, then 54, purchased a new 4-foot unicycle with a 28-inch wheel, which he rode from Forest City to Mason City – about 40 miles – during the fourth day of Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa that same year.
Carroll said he trained on his unicycle for 5 months prior to the ride, which took him from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.
“I traveled anywhere from 8 to 12 miles per hour (on the unicycle),” Carroll said, “and took breaks every 20 to 30 minutes. My legs really aren’t too bad, but I do have some tender areas.”
Carroll said the support he received from other riders on the RAGBRAI route was overwhelming.
“There weren’t too many unicyclists out there,” he said.
The 42nd Annual Southwest Iowa Balloon Days Parade will be held 10:30 a.m. Saturday.
The parade route begins on North Cherry Street near the Creston Livestock Auction Sale Barn and heads west on Mills Street and turns south on North Pine Street, east on West Adams Street, then north on North Walnut Street to the start.
For more information on the 42nd Annual Southwest Iowa Balloon Days, visit www.crestoniowachamber.com or follow the Creston Chamber of Commerce on Facebook.