Silver Dollar City

Silver Dollar City Maps

When I was fresh out of college, the very first professional work I did was for SILVER DOLLAR CITY, an amusement park located in the Missouri Ozarks. I did several park maps and miscellaneous activity and coloring books for them. I just received an email and a picture from some folks in Oregon that said…

Mr. Jones: Just a note to say how much I enjoyed your Silver Dollar City artwork back in the day.  As a youth, I loved pouring over the Street Maps waiting till the next summer when my family would go down to the Ozarks. This season, my own children helped make a mural in our house in anticipation of our next trip.  It might look familiar. Thanks for the memories!

These folks created a mural in their house from one of my old SILVER DOLLAR CITY maps. How awesome is that!!

Silver Dollar City Coloring Books

My very first professional jobs were for Silver Dollar City, a theme park in the Missouri Ozarks. I did three different park maps, coloring books, activity books and miscellaneous other illustrations for various products. For some reason, this weekend I was thinking about those old SDC coloring books. It would be really fun to have another crack at those things. I’m not a big fan of hard line coloring book art, but what if a coloring book could be created with tonal art? I had some spare time, so I whipped up a sample to see what that might look like. You can see what I came up with below, right next to my old original coloring book page…

…HEY… I was straight outa college when I did that! QUIT LAUGHING AT ME!


My Humble Beginning As A “Professional” Artist


A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…

…I had completed my freshman year of college and needed a summer job. My brother-in-law, Larry, (a plumber in Kansas City) said I could come dig ditches for him. I had seen construction workers using ditch digging machinery called Ditch Witches and thought it would be fun to run a heavy piece of equipment like that. When I showed up for work, I asked Larry if he had a Ditch Witch. He laughed and said “I do now!” He handed me a shovel and I proceeded to dig ditches for him by hand.

After a week or so, my brother Doug called from Nashville and said, “Hey, you can get a job drawing caricatures at Opryland Amusement Park”. I told him I didn’t know how to draw caricatures, and he said “Don’t worry about it, they’ll hire anybody”… so I packed all my worldly possessions into my yellow Opel Kadett and headed for Music City.

The fellow who interviewed me was named Crockett Bernall (Doug later named a comic strip after him). Crockett looked at my calloused, blistered hands and said, “I can tell by your hands that you are a gymnast, you obviously do the rings.” I said, “No man, I’ve been diggin’ ditches.” Crockett laughed, gave me a caricature artist job and we became the best of friends that summer.

The Opryland caricature job was a straight commission gig. A caricature cost $3.50 and I got to keep twenty percent. If I did thirty caricatures, I made about twenty bucks, fifty caricatures, about thirty five dollars. Not bad money back in the day and a WHOLE lot easier than digging ditches. After a really fun summer in Nashville, I headed back to Missouri for my sophomore year of college.

I am from a large family, and the weekend before school was to start, the family decided to go to Silver Dollar City (another amusement park) and spend one last weekend together. While wandering around the park I noticed they had no caricature artists. Knowing how the management structure of an amusement park worked, I found the administrative building, marched in and asked to see the head of merchandising. The secretary’s eyes got wide, she called her boss, he walked out of his office, his eyes got wide, and off I marched into his office. I was thinking these people were apprehensive about me because I had long hair, was wearing a skin tight yellow Adidas t-shirt, a pair of really short, blue jean cut-off shorts, striped tube socks and red suede tennis shoes… but what they actually feared was that I was an irate park customer, which is why they had agreed to meet with me.

The executive sat down behind his large desk and asked how he could help me. I said, “I noticed you don’t have any caricature artists. I would like to draw caricatures in your park.” He sat and looked at me for a long time, then pushed a yellow legal pad across the desk and said, “draw me.” I took the legal pad, drew him and pushed it back across the desk. He looked at it for awhile and said, “how much would we get?” I hadn’t thought that far in advance, so I quickly flipped the numbers around that I had been working with all summer and said, “I’ll give you twenty percent of my take.” He laughed and said “Let’s give it a try next weekend.”

I drew over 100 caricatures my first afternoon on the job. Silver Dollar City was thrilled. I was a popular new attraction, they had absolutely nothing invested in me and I was generating a new revenue stream for them. Now instead of driving home at night with twenty dollars in my pocket (as I had done all summer at Opryland), I was keeping eighty percent of my earnings and driving home every night with a couple of hundred dollars in my pocket. I drew caricatures every summer for the rest of my college years…

…and that was my start into the “professional” world of commercial art.

And as the old song goes, …lately it occurs to me, what a long, strange trip it’s been.

Maple Leaf Rag

Here is another member of the bug jazz band I’m working on. He is pretty much modeled after my little brother Don, who in his younger days was a ragtime piano player at Silver Dollar City named Ben Dover (you might have to think about that one a bit). He wore a bowler hat, big glasses and beat the tar out of old upright pianos. The cup is on the piano for tips of course. Don and I learned about tips early in life…

…one summer during college I was drawing caricatures at Silver Dollar City, (which is an 1880’s styled theme park) and everyone that worked there had to dress in a period costume. The park was very picky about adhering to their 1800’s theme, so no employee could be seen drinking out of any sort of paper or styrofoam cup. All employees had to drink out of pottery mugs.

In addition to being an excellent piano player, my little brother Don was also a very good caricature artist. One weekend I had him sit next to me and we both drew caricatures on a very busy Saturday. We sat our drinking mugs on the ground next to our chairs and grabbed drinks between pictures. It was a busy afternoon, it was hot, we were thirsty and we drank everything that was in our mugs leaving them bone dry.

At the end of the day we picked up our mugs and discovered dollar bills stuffed in them. People thought they were tip jars. That thought had never crossed our minds… but from that point on you never saw us drawing caricatures without an empty cup sitting somewhere close.