Well, after my post yesterday, I’ve been thinking about Idora Park in Youngstown, Ohio. My Dad was an engineer with Babcock & Wilcox (B&W) Steel and every year they had their annual company picnic at Idora Park. I was probably 12 or 13 years old when B&W stopped their picnics, because they closed in the early 1980’s.
As a kid, there was nothing better than waiting all summer to go to Idora Park! We would go as an entire family — my Mom, Dad, Bob, me, Debbie, my Grandma and Grandpap Knowlson, my Aunt Mary and my Grandma and Grandpap Miller. My little brother, Tommy went later after he was born in 1976, but he could only ride things in Kiddie Land. We would get there early — parking in the first row and then waiting in the car for the gates to open! This is where my sister, brothers and I fell in love with roller coasters and theme parks. And, this is why I love nostalgic things — it reminds of a simpler time when I was a kid.
My Dad would stay up late and make his special fried chicken — my parents actually took an entire picnic, and set up shop at the picnic pavilion with all of my Dad’s friends from the mill, like Bo and Marcia and Tony and Midge. Bob, myself and Aunt Mary could ride most of the rides, because we were tall enough, but Debbie couldn’t ride anything until later years. She would spend time with my Mom.
I liked to ride with Aunt Mary. She was so much fun — we would ride the Jack Rabbit over and over and over. One time, it was raining and we got to ride it three times in a row, because they couldn’t get the car stopped on the freshly oiled track. Can you imagine that today? Another time we were riding the boat ride, The Lost River and our boat got stuck on the hill before the waterfall. The clutch wouldn’t catch on the chain. They workers made us get out of the boat, stand on a narrow side ramp that was about 8″ wide, holding on to a rickety hand rail while they put our boat back on the chain. And then they made us get back in the boat! Thank goodness I was a kid and had no problem with any of that!
Oh, but thinking back, I can still remember the feel of the super smooth paint under my hands — all 25 layers of glossy red paint that coated the railings to the Jack Rabbit roller coaster. We waited in that line at least 100 times! Maybe 200 times! The line for the the Lost River went really slow — the smell of the water was hot and stinky — I can’t imagine my friends letting their kids on this ride today! The water was iron-colored brown! I don’t think they used Chlorine back then. I can still hear the drums and the screeching of the wild jungle animals and elephants as you waited in line. I loved that ride! I can also remember how my hands would slip on the steel wheel in the center of the Turtle cars from sweat as you were flung over the short, stumpy hills. I was so skinny back then, I got thrown around like a rag doll, but the smile never left my face. And then there was the smell of the burning rubber from the Bumper Cars ride. Idora Park was full of sounds and smells that I’ll remember forever!
I remember the Turtles, the Spider, the Bumper Cars, the Silver Bullet Rockets (later replaced by the Swings), the Caterpillar, Tilta-Whirl, the Shooting Gallery, the Funhouse with the wacky mirrors, the Scrambler, a glorious Carousel (I think I rode every single horse over the years) — and so many more. There was one roller coaster — the Wildcat that my Dad didn’t allow us to ride by ourselves, because it was such a rough ride and Mom worried we would get hurt. Dad was a big guy, and I couldn’t have moved in the seat even if I tried! Even Debbie got to ride the Wildcat before we stopped going there.
My Dad liked to play games — he would throw nickels that had to land perfectly in these round dots. He won my sister and me both these lacy, decorative dolls for our dressers. Mine was yellow and Debbie’s was hot pink. I have glasses that my Grandma Miller gave me before she died. She told me that my Dad won them for her at Idora Park, throwing dimes into the glasses until he got her an entire set — only five survived, and I don’t use them — they sit in my china cabinet. I had to keep them — just because they were vintage and cool, but most of all — won by my Dad at Idora Park! If any of the Miller clan ever had a glass of pop at Grandma Miller’s house, they would remember these very retro glasses.
Just thinking about days gone by. It seems like all the old parks are gone now. Sadly, most of Idora Park burned down in 1984. There were some rides that did not burn, including the Carousel that was purchased after the fire and fully restored. It now resides in New York City. For us kids, Idora Park represented a little piece of Heaven. I think back to those days and how much anticipation we had as kids for that summer picnic. I think if I was given the opportunity to go back in time, just for a day, I might just have to choose a day at Idora Park.