HOT POTATO: Clyde Horrex and his family have operated Shannons Hot Potato Chips for roughly 70 years.
HOT POTATO: Clyde Horrex and his family have operated Shannons Hot Potato Chips for roughly 70 years. Matthew Purcell

A chip off the old spud

THE arrival of the iconic Shannons van in town is always a good indicator it's show time in Stanthorpe.

For more than 60 years the Shannons Hot Potato Chips vehicle has been a staple of the Stanthorpe Show - even longer on the Queensland show circuit.

What started with a few pots and pans and an attempt to feed starving showies has grown to become a much-loved business with a plethora of family tradition passed through the generations.

"We really don't know the first year we came to Stanthorpe. We have a fair idea it was prior to 1952,” Clyde Horrex said.

Clyde's uncle, Cecil Shannon, was the instigator.

"It was by accident really. His parents, my grandparents, used to show dairy cattle and ponies at the local shows around Toowoomba.”

Clyde, like his grandparents and Cec himself, originated from the Crows Nest area.

"In 1948, just after the Second World War, a lot of the shows had just started to get traction again.

"They got to one of the shows and they arrived, and other people with cattle and ponies, and anyway, there was nothing there for them to eat.

"Normally there would have been the church ladies, CWA or whatever, always somebody there with a sandwich or cup of tea. They were there thinking 'what are we going to have for tea tonight?'

"So the Shannon crew said 'well, we're going to have chips'. They'd grabbed a bag of spuds from home and started to cook them. Others began to gravitate and said 'if you cut and cook them we'll buy them off you'.

"My mum, she was only a teenage girl at the time, she remembers only having these tiny little pots and pans... but that's how it started,” Clyde said.

The business soon took off and supplying chips to the masses became the family's sole endeavour.

"In the early 50s Cec was travelling as far north as Cairns, in the old days when the showman would go up that way on a train.

"He went to Sydney in the early 70s. But it was mainly Glen Innes, Armidale or Inverell and then Queensland as far as Charleville, Cairns and Charters Towers.”

In his youth, Clyde jumped on the family wagon.

"I left school, just as a farm boy. I wanted to buy a new car, so Dad went guarantor but I had to start work doing the chips with Cec on the weekends. I can remember being here (in Stanthorpe) in 1972.

"My brother (Malcolm) helped out through the 80s. Cec became very ill so we bought the business in 1990.”

Soon Clyde was on his own and he's been doing it ever since. His wife Pam and son Steve help man the deck these days.

They have garnered a strong reputation and Clyde puts that down to a couple of key factors.

"We try to be consistent. We try to keep a good quality product - fresh potatoes. Quality is number one. When it comes to serving you, the customer, sometimes you might have to wait, in order for us to give you quality. We virtually cook on demand.”

Clyde said that over a Stanthorpe Show weekend they would go through anywhere from two to two-and-a-half ton of potatoes.

Clyde and his family were presented with a certificate of thanks from the Stanthorpe Agricultural Show Society at the official opening on Friday.

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