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Creativity takes center stage in this man's tent

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Penny Fletcher Photos
Harold Mudry of Gibsonton has painted and put together replicas of battle scenes using more than 30,000 military figures from every war he could find record of, from Roman armies to the present day.

By PENNY FLETCHER

GIBSONTON — When I first got the call about Harold Mudry’s unusual calling, I was told he was the set up king for such area events as Guavaween in Ybor City, the annual Showman’s Circus in Gibsonton, and the Blues Fest at St. Petersburg’s Vinoy Renaissance Resort Hotel.

I met him the day after he and his three-man crew had taken down the big tent at the yearly festival at St. Anne Catholic Church in Ruskin.

But when I got to Harold’s place, I found a lot more than tents and food concessions because when Harold does a “set-up” it can mean anything from bringing one of his many styles of fencing to hundreds of tables and chairs.

If it’s indoors, he also could have to supply carpet, draperies, table settings and may even have to set up a stage.

Harold, now 69, who moved to the area in 1955 from Connecticut, seems to be a jack-of-all trades. Somehow he keeps track of thousands of feet of tent poles and pipes and drapes, a warehouse filled with deep fryers and ice cream machines, a semi-truck filled with various props, portable wet bars, 3,500 feet of different styles of fencing, and 24 trailers filled with ready-to-go tables, chairs and other widely-used items.

another-choice-harold3He keeps a golf cart for making his way through crowds at the events he works, tents from 4-foot by-4-foot to 4,000-square feet and can supply dance floors and stages.     

But Harold is also an inventor. When I arrived at the large spot where he keeps his equipment, he showed me a machine he is working on now that when finished will pressure wash hundreds of tables with the push of a button.

“I work mostly by word of mouth,” Harold told me. “For a long time I had an unlisted phone number. But when I wanted a line of credit the bank didn’t understand how a business could operate that way so I ended up listing in the telephone book.”

Once he explained his “barter and trade” arrangements and other unique traits though, it wasn’t hard to understand.

“Sometimes I don’t pay- like at the Levy County Fair – and then they get a percentage off the food I sell. Most of the time bartering like that is a win-win for everybody, unless, of course, the turn-out’s bad and we don’t sell much.”

Most set-up companies just put up tents and stages and then come back and pick them up after the event, he explained. His service is different because someone might get there at 4 a.m. one day and not leave until after 4 p.m. the following day. “Not many people still work that way,” he said.

Harold has even let people make up their own invoice.

“If they aren’t sure what they want to pay, I’ve told them just to give me what they think it was worth after the event is over,” he said. “So far, I’ve done just fine on my word, and on word-of-mouth.”

Naturally, he gets a lot of repeat events. Right now, he has three employees but often hires more than 20 temporary workers for an event.

harold2His biggest loss doesn’t come from letting people make up their own price, or from bartering and hoping for good turnouts.

“Lately it’s because my regular customers, like Bennigans and Albertsons (grocery) are going out of business,” he said.

Still, he has more irons in the fire than his huge stock of events. On the property is a unique workshop and storage area devoted to more than 30,000 military figures and associated battlefield props.

Having been in the Army at the highest security level during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1960, assigned to the Defense Intelligence Agency, he has been interested in battles and armies ever since.

“I don’t use the computer,” he explained. “I use these books.”

Books on armies and their gear and battles from pre-Roman empire times through the current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq fill shelves in the workshop where he paints miniature military figures to match the pages in the books. He also makes castles and  houses and barracks and other props from wood and plasterboard to create entire scenes.

Many of these can be seen in the Midway at the at the annual Showman’s Circus at the International Independent Showman’s Association held in January.

“I picked this up as a hobby during the Cuban Crisis,” he told me. And he’s been at it ever since.

As we walked out through the rows of deep freezes and fryers, rows of folded tents and frames and poles, I saw a large erasable calendar filled with upcoming events.

“I do everything from revivals to beach parties and weddings,” he said.

Now that he has a listed telephone number, people may reach him at (813) 677-4105.  

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