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Old July 13th, 2010, 08:29 PM
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Default Memories Of A Gunfighter

Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Sunday, August 4, 1996

ARLINGTON - The nickname was Peaches, given by the other gunfighters to 17-year-old Jim Cagle. They had mustaches and sideburns, but peach fuzz was the best Cagle could muster.

Cagle got lucky that year, 1961, and was hired by the brand new Six Flags Over Texas entertainment park. He made $100 a week - good money then - to play a cowboy outlaw. It was a great job, he said, but after three years he realized he would have to grow up and get a real job.

So he took what he considered the next best thing to being a gunfighter: He became a police officer. The things he enjoyed most at Six Flags, being outside and meeting people, he could still do as an Arlington officer. That lasted for 27 years, until he retired in 1993. Now he works for a friend in a local business and has a luxurious graying mustache.

Cagle is among local residents who are marking the 35th anniversary of the regional theme park, which opened 35 years ago Tuesday. Along with memories, the park has generated considerable tourism business for the city and has had a significant effect on the local economy not only as an entertainment attraction but as an employer.

Six Flags opened with only five rides but has since grown to more than 100 rides, shows and attractions, said Nancy St. Pierre, director of public relations for Six Flags.

"I couldn't believe it was 35 years - I couldn't be that old," said Cagle, now 53. Cagle is back, only now he's the good guy. "It's called a `high-profile character,' " he said of his role as sheriff in the Texas section, which is fitting for someone who helped uphold the law for so long in Arlington. Cagle works weekends, putting in at least 16 hours, at the park.

Cagle's wife, Sara, said he walks the area near the courthouse, meets and greets people and generally upholds law and order. He also swears in children as deputies at the Crazy Horse Saloon.

"He's collected so many old reproduction 1880s clothes and guns that he wanted to put them to use," she said. Cagle wears his own costumes.

Cagle credits stunt man Woody Jones with teaching him how to take the falls years ago, and Joe Crenshaw, a character actor who worked on the movie Bonnie and Clyde, with teaching him how to say his lines. Jones was Richard Boone's stunt double on the old TV western Have Gun, Will Travel. During a three-month hiatus from the show, he worked with the "lawmen" and "outlaws" at Six Flags.

"Every time I went down those stairs, I'd leave some hide somewhere, and I got knocked out twice," Cagle said. "We never wore padding back then."

The original gunfighters included local balladeer Don Edwards and Joe Poovey, a country and western disc jockey known as "Johnny Dallas" or "Groovy Joe Poovey." The men tried not to hit each other while discharging blanks, which could do some real damage at close range.

Another Six Flags alumnus with fond memories is a local lawyer, Kelly Jones.

"I went to work at Six Flags as soon as I could, on July 21, 1969, my 16th birthday," Kelly Jones said. "I ran a barbecue restaurant in the Confederate Section known as the Colonel's Cafe. The restaurant ran three-quarters of a million dollars in sales, so it was an experience that I've drawn on my entire life - and I earned a scholarship for college."

Six Flags was the place to work in those days and the place to meet girls from other high schools, Kelly Jones said.

"It was a bigger pond," he said. "In fact, I met my wife at Six Flags."

On the topic of marriage, St. Pierre mentioned that Arlington Mayor Richard Greene and his wife, Sylvia, honeymooned at the park. Several other success stories have come from performers there as well.

"We've employed about 100,000 people in the last 35 years and have been the largest employer of young people in the area," St. Pierre said. "John Denver and Betty Buckley are among the kids who worked here and performed here.

"We were the birth of the thrill park and the regional theme park - No. 2, right after Disney. We were affordable and regional, so the family that couldn't afford to go to Disneyland could come to Six Flags instead."

Six Flags has also had an effect on the quality of life in Arlington, said Scott Welmaker, director of research and marketing for the Arlington Chamber of Commerce.

"It sure offsets a lot of taxes for the residents and businesses," Welmaker said. "And when we get inquiries from businesses, they always want to know what's going on here, what kind of entertainment we have in the area."

Property taxes for the company amounted to about $1.7 million last year, Welmaker said.

Although the park doesn't release attendance figures, Burke Pease president of the Arlington Convention & Visitors Bureau, estimated that about 3 million people a year visit Six Flags from among the 7 million who visit Arlington. He said a 1994 study indicates that the average visitor spends $45.40.

"That amounts to a lot of revenue," Pease said. "The park's been a fantastic marketing partner for us. The hospitality industry as a whole has been where our youths get their first job. All that accrues to the benefit of Arlington."

Mayor Greene estimated that the economic benefit to Arlington has amounted to more than $300 million in the 35 years of association with the park.

"It would be accurate to describe it as the cornerstone of our entertainment industry," Greene said. "Because without Six Flags, we probably wouldn't have the rest of it."
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