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On the road again

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image Pete Wood, a circus performer since he was a child, now raises produce and sells it at farmer’s markets and at his farm in Riverview. Penny Fletcher Photo

Brit makes Florida farming his life

By PENNY FLETCHER

RIVERVIEW — Pete Wood has spent his whole life on the road.

Once known as Safari Pete, now he’s known as Farmer Pete but he’s still taking his show on the road.

Born in 1943, Pete grew up in Lancashire, England, where his parents performed circus acts. At 10, he was walking the high wire and training circus ponies for his dad’s acts.

Then, in 1966, he moved to Canada because he had cousins, uncles, aunts and a grandmother there.

“I got off the boat on a Monday and started work at a furniture store on Wednesday. Then I met a guy who worked with a circus and I was off.”

Gradually Pete built his own circus. First he purchased a Ferris wheel and some kiddie rides. Then he built a roller coaster and started traveling all of North America; Canada, Mexico and the United States.

He added fun houses and a cotton candy trailer and 17 games and traveled North America from top to bottom.

One day, he decided to sell out and take a job at Farm Fun Park in Ontario. But soon, he put in his own show again- this time, called Circus Fantasy where he clowned and worked with animals and had a petting zoo.

One winter he played in Sarasota and realized how many other show people lived on Florida’s Gulf Coast.

He loved it immediately but didn’t settle here just yet.

“I had a contract with Boblo Island in Ontario that lasted nine years.” He fulfilled it, but spent his winters in Florida. By that time, he had more than 1,000 animals in an act called Old MacDonald’s Zoo and it took three semi-trucks to transport them.

“Moving from place to place wasn’t easy,” Pete said.

Yet he would come to Florida when the northern roads got too cold to travel and work with his animals, costumes and acts. That’s when he began doing shows at the Florida State Fair in Tampa.

By then he also had a dog and monkey show and raced roosters and runner ducks.

But then there was a party. A biigggg…. Party.

The morning after that party, he was told he had bought three male lions and five tigers.

He didn’t remember it, but the previous owners showed him the check.

“I’d never worked with big cats, so I hired the Kramers to work them for me,” he said. They had been the owners until the deal was made.

At that point, Pete also found that the motor in his truck was blown up, and it would cost him $11,000 to replace.

“I had a date in Fargo, North Dakota. I called up George Cardin (who he’d booked with) and told him I’d never worked with cats but I’d try it anyway.”

He did, but not before he got his animals out of impound where they had been placed by animal welfare sometime during the period between the “party” and the incident with his truck.

It was a wild time but Pete and the Kramers made it into the ring on time and pulled off the show. In fact, they were so good, he booked all over Mexico and West Virginia with them.

“I worked with those cats for nine years,” Pete said, laughing as he recalled past events. “I got a telephone call from ‘Circus of the Stars’ so I went to Northridge, California and rehearsed for four months for that. David Hasselhoff was supposed to be in the show, but his wife wouldn’t let him do it. She said she didn’t want him to tear up his pretty face.”

George Segal ended up doing it instead. We went to Caesar’s Palace and filmed for ‘Circus of the Stars’ there.”

After that Pete traveled some with Roberts Brothers Circus, but was now spending more and more time in Florida.

By then he was involved with the International Independent Showman’s Association based in Riverview and at one time was its president.

After a show one night in Nebraska, two young boys knocked on his door and asked him if he would show them his elephants and tigers.

“Well, I was tired, but I did. They really seemed to want to see them,” Pete said. It was at this point his whole face lit up with a smile. “That’s how I met my wife, you know,” he explained.

And then he told the whole story.

The boys went home, and about an hour later a woman came to his door and asked if he was Safari Pete. He said he was and she said she was there to thank him for showing her boys his animals.

They talked awhile, and he took her to dinner.

“When I asked her what she wanted out of life, she said she just wanted to find a good man and be a housewife,” he said.

He never forgot her. After his current contract was over, he went back to Nebraska and knocked on her door.

“You still want to be a housewife for a good man?” he asked.

So Nina and her two boys left with him and moved to Florida.

That was 22 years ago, he said.

Now that he had a family, he said he didn’t want to travel on the road so he went back to something else he had learned from his family in England: raising fruits and vegetables.

He had been to school for fixing gas appliances and was also a good woodworker, but he said he remembered liking farming better.

So Safari Pete became Farmer Pete.

“In England my grandfather had three acres and we grew all kinds of things and sold them at a roadside stand,” he said.  Pete had even worked in retail awhile, at Woolworth’s, and at 19 had managed a deli.

He didn’t like working indoors though so he bought a Willis Jeep and sold his family’s vegetables door to door instead.

That’s how he got the idea for Farmer Pete’s Produce he operates today, using both a truck and a small pull-along trailer.

Now he sells door-to-door in neighborhoods where people can’t get out often, and also at farmer’s markets.

He sells in Ybor City’s Centennial Park every weekend and will be a regular at the South Shore Market in Ruskin as well.

Pete grows his produce on his farm at 10305 Tucker Jones Road (between Symmes and Rhodine) in Riverview and can be reached by telephone at 813-671-0207.

The only animals he and his wife Nina now keep on their land are their 20 beautiful peacocks but he says he’s happy just the way things are.

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