Random personal thoughts, as we all continue to slowly try to return to a better place during every day life, and, hopefully, some reminders of our former “normal” times.
Growing up in the 1950s and ’60s in Our Town and Our State, fewer events brought more joy and happiness than visits to area amusement parks. While the annual late summer Payne County Free Fair didn’t have a permanent midway on-site, whether it was located west of Couch Park in the ’50s, or later (and currently) in its Payne County Expo position east of town, it has always had a midway when it opens for its yearly run. As a youth, I was mesmerized by the so-called “carnival barkers” trying to get fair-goers (me) to part with our hard-earned money by playing their games-of-chance They wanted cash-money players to tempt Lady Luck by pitching coins into glass plates, trying to pop air balloons with darts, or knock down heavy milk bottles, all in a valiant effort to win a large teddy bear or some other stuffed object. Needless to say, most of the time, the game operator kept my money, and I walked away without a big prize!
Next, there were the midway rides. Locally, our fair didn’t have the really thrilling ones found at the larger city fairs or amusement parks, but we did have Tilt-A-Whirls, smaller metal roller coasters (i.e., Wild Mouse type), and, occasionally, some rides of surprise (“fun house” or “dark rides”), where objects would appear to spring up at you in dimly lit areas, as your ride car slowly moved through the building.
While our local fair’s midway provided lots of entertainment and joy, the REAL excitement was piling in your family car, or with friends, and going to the BIG city amusement sites. I will now shift my focus to Oklahoma City (Oklahoma State Fair, Springlake, Wedgewood Village, and Frontier City); Tulsa (Tulsa State Fair, Bell’s}, and Wichita, Kansas, (Joyland). I can already tell, dear readers in Our Town and far beyond, just by listing these previous attractions, I have planted the seeds of good memories in your heads!
The annual September adventure trip to the Oklahoma State Fair, was a trip that certainly took hours to visit, if not several days? Usually very crowded, and odors everywhere of any food treat that could be fried, was fried, and available for sale to the masses, always including me! I normally made a “sort of” visit to the fair exhibits – animals, 4-H, FFA projects, Made in Oklahoma Building, etc.- – but most of my time was spent on the incredible midway. What a location to study human beings! Big thrilling rides, those money-grabbing games of chance, and watching all sorts of interesting people, both carnival workers and fellow guests.
I vividly remember returning to Our Town, super tired from hours of overdrive stimulation by attending this yearly event. The three Oklahoma City area amusement parks had their special features, too. For starters, they were open for months, and since there were 3 options, I could take my time to pick and choose when/where to go. Springlake, open from 1924-81, was the granddaddy of them all. It was located in today’s present location of the Metro Technology Center, in the northeast part of the city.
The amusement park also provided swimming and picnicking activities. The Big Dipper roller coaster was it’s famous ride, and it was running for over 50 years. Many big name concerts, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Beach Boys, etc., were hosted by the park over the years. It also eventually advertised a one price entry fee to attract additional visitors. Wedgewood Village, located in northwest OkC, also hosted top notch entertainment to induce people to their park. I remember going to a Johnny Rivers concert there in 1966. Over the years, The Who, Dave Clark 5, and Herman’s Hermits performed there.
The park’s feature rides were the wooden Tornado Coaster, Safari Boat Ride, and bumper cars. Wedgewood Village Amusement Park operated from 1955-69. Frontier City opened in 1958, and is still operating. It’s management ownership became huge Six Flags parks in the late 1990’s; thereby also affiliating with White Water Bay water park off I-40 in west Oklahoma City. Frontier City has 30 amusement rides, including 5 roller coaster type and 3 water type rides. They, too, have hosted entertainment concerts over the many years they have been in operation.
As far as the Tulsa area is concerned, I occasionally attended the Tulsa State Fair, and separately enjoyed Bell’s Amusement Park over the years. Both venues were in the same general location. A great deal of the fair’s activities, except for the midway, are located inside the massive expo square structure. Bell’s was operational 1951-2006. In the mid-90’s, my bride, Lady Deborah, and I helped our youngest, Robbie, celebrate his birthday by traveling to Bell’s with a group of his buddies. The park’s feature rides were the wooden roller coaster, Zingo, and the metal coaster, Wildcat.
I never went to Joyland in Wichita, KS, but several of my childhood friends enjoyed the park, one even relating to me he rode the train there and back. The park had 25 attractions, with the featured ones being the Nightmare roller coaster and Whacky Shack dark ride. It was open from 1949-2006.
So, I sincerely hope via this brief stroll down memory lane in your minds’ eyes, you will have had some BIG smiles on your faces. Just, maybe, this remembering will cause you to dismiss the ever-present Covid-19 pandemic for a short time!