David Contangelo worked 30 years for General Motors in Lockport before he became a tour guide and a school bus driver. In fact, the only thing Contangelo likes better than driving people around Niagara Falls is telling them about the rich history of the Cataract City. His tours range in length from four to five hours, but Contangelo is known to go longer with stories about some of the area’s lesser-known facts. And he prides himself on his encyclopedic knowledge of daredevils.
Contangelo is 66 and lives in the Town of Niagara with his wife, Sandy, and their children. He works at “Over the Falls” tours in Niagara Falls, a family-owned business headquartered in the Econo Lodge Niagara on Niagara Falls Boulevard.
People Talk: How do you mentally prepare for your job?
David Contangelo: I get here early, and look to see if I’m doing an All-American or a Canadian-American tour. There’s time between attractions that people go to like the Maid of the Mist and Cave of the Winds so I get a little break. Sometimes, they could be in a long line at the attractions, and I’m right with them, talking to them, keeping them entertained. I tell them about the history of the Falls, about the daredevils. It’s all up here mentally. I always have to be on.
PT: Which daredevil turns your head?
DC: I’ve got to think that couple who went over together in 1995 – Steve Trotter and Lori Martin. They actually got a couple of hot-water heaters, welded them together and wrapped them with inner tubes. They survived, but they received the biggest fine – $11,000. Now if you’re caught doing a stunt on the waters, they’ll fine you up to $10,000.
PT: What country tends to have the most impatient tourists?
DC: It’s got to be Pakistan. They’re very slow. They bring babies. They’re the ones who are very impatient, and they expect you to do everything for them. Not that I have a grudge against them but they are the ones who take the most time.
PT: Who is the ultimate polite tourist?
DC: Probably the Australian or the UK.
PT: What technological gadget would you like to see on your bus?
DC: Video players. It could show some of the daredevils going over the falls, like the guy in 1995, Robert Overacker, who went over the falls on a jet-ski. That was filmed. He didn’t make it. His parachute didn’t fully deploy. He didn’t have enough altitude.
The story with that is his wife was in charge of putting the parachute on his back. It’s possible. Who knows? I know all about the daredevils. Do you want me to go through the list?
PT: That’s OK. Why don’t you tell me something about Niagara Falls that few people know about.
DC: We can regulate how much water can go over the falls by control gates that were opened up in 1950 under the Niagara Falls Water Diversion Treaty. A lot of people are amazed by that fact.
PT: Does every busload have a backseat driver?
DC: No. I haven’t had one yet who’s going to tell me where to go because the people taking the tours have no idea where to go.
PT: What do you do while you wait for people experiencing an attraction?
DC: There are other tour guides who are doing the same thing. When we get together it’s just a big ball of laughing. I like to watch people’s faces when they come off Maid of the Mist or Cave of the Winds. You can actually put your hand out and touch the water coming down from Bridal Veil Falls. It’s really amazing.
PT: How much does it cost to fill your tank?
DC: On the bus itself? If we do just the All-American side, about $20. I have no idea how much to fill an empty tank because it’s never empty. We fill it after every tour. The boss doesn’t want anyone coming the next day and running out of gas.
PT: What do you do for fun?
DC: Work. Working for me is more about keeping busy at my age. I don’t have a lot of hobbies, and I get a lot of exercise doing these tours. It keeps me in good shape.
PT: How do you fight boredom?
DC: I do get bored. That’s pretty much my life – doing tours, coming back home, having something to eat and watching some TV.