About Me

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Thank You Fellow Time Travelers

SPEAKER — Joseph Comm, an Oak Glen High School graduate, gave a presentation on his book, Images of America: Rock Springs Park, at the April 2011 Alpha Tau Chapter meeting.

This month I challenged myself to do a blog-a-day and today marks the final day of July and my 31st post for the month. Where did the time go?

It has been a lot of fun looking for interesting and varied stories about my favorite amusement park and, this month especially, I got a lot of help from readers.

Rather than do another history story or talk about my adventures on the road, I thought for this 31st blog post I would share some insider information about the post-publication process. (Try saying that five times fast.)

About a year and a half ago, I finally worked up the nerve to ask my editor about how royalties are paid for an Images of America book. I know it’s cliché, but for me it was truly never about the money, and that’s good, because she explained that I would see approximately $1 for every book sold. That was great news for my students who were worried that I would quit teaching and become a fulltime author. “No,” I explained, “We’re not talking Harry Potter money, here.”

It is the hope of the publisher that a proposed book will sell, at the very least, all the first print copies, which today is 1,200 books. Images of America: Rock Springs Park sold very quickly and within a few months I was told it was going to a second print.

When I order a set of books from the publisher the box of 10 - 20 books is protected on top with an unfolded leftover cover of a book which didn’t quite meet its quota; like a birdcage lined with your book. Ouch! I fear seeing my cover when I open a shipment one day. RIP Nashville Broadcasting

Besides semi-annual updates from Arcadia or hearing from fans of the park who tell me they picked up a copy, there is one other way I can determine how the book is doing. And it is found in Amazon's unblinking sales rank, the 24-hour barometer of book sales.

I went my whole life without knowing about the Amazon bestsellers ranking system, but alas, it’s on my radar now and something I feel compelled to periodically check. The Amazon Bestsellers calculation is based on Amazon.com sales and is updated hourly to reflect recent and historical sales of every item sold on Amazon.com.

Timothy Fish in “How Amazon.com Sales Rank is Calculated” explains it best:

Few people understand how the Amazon list works or its relative importance in the publishing industry. Amazon's method of ranking books remains something of a black box with the fancy word algorithm used to describe it. Amazon.com does not give specific details of how they do this, but the general idea is that they base rankings on the sales within a sliding twenty-four hour period. The rankings are published on an hourly basis, but the actual rankings are updated with each sale.

For me, all this data just adds to the fun of the post-publication experience. I’m still having a blast researching, meeting new people, and giving book talk slide show presentations, not to mention posting here about Rock Springs. It is an enjoyable hobby for me and not work at all.

As soon as I think I’ve seen every postcard or picture or read every article on the park, a new piece of the puzzle is discovered or a new mystery is presented. It is my hope that readers enjoy reading about them as much as I do finding and sharing them.

Scot Campbell of Toronto, OH, sent me this delightful photo of himself and his girlfriend, Sally Hughes Porter, on the Pretzel Spook House Ride in June 1962.

I love this quote from the Queens Tribune in New York about the Images Series: "Reading any one of the series of historical captioned photo books from Arcadia Publishing is like traveling through time."

So, thank you fellow time travelers for coming along on this adventure with me!

Coming Soon: If you’re from the Tri-State Region you are probably familiar with Kennywood Park’s yellow directional arrows, but did you know that Rocks Springs Park had arrows, too?

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Betty Reynolds

Betty "Granny" Reynolds

In the past year I have been in contact with several former employees of Rock Springs Park. Many of them were teenagers when they worked in the park and now have families and in some cases even grandchildren of their own. It has been great fun for me to share their photographs with them. One of my favorite moments was meeting Betsy Urie, an East Liverpool High School graduate and cheerleader who worked in the park in 1968. In my eyes, Betsy is a Rock Springs Park celebrity and beauty!

Betsy Urie in Rock Springs Park. (Courtesy of Rich Brookes.)

Sadly, though, I have also had the unfortunate occasion to discover that some of the older park employees have passed away. Whenever possible I try to contact the families and let them know I have images of their mom, dad, grandmother, or grandfather posing or working in the park.

Such was the case with Betty Reynolds. Known as “Granny” to her grand and great-grandchildren, Betty passed away on April 23, 2011. She worked at Rock Springs Park following graduation from high school, and later at Allison's Restaurant in Chester. She retired from Metsch Refractories in 1993, after 26 years of employment there.

I first saw Betty in the photograph above taken by Clarence Durbin of Chester. Betty poses on the stone fountain which was located in the lawn between the Carousel and Virginia Gardens. (Courtesy of Rich Brookes.)

Betty Reynolds is well remembered, as she is pictured above, working the Lunch Stand at Rock Springs Park. Betsy Urie noted, “She worked the Lunch Stand…Very nice lady…Always friendly and smiling.” (Courtesy of Rich Brookes.)

Betty, with a shy twinkle in her eye, smiles for Clarence Durbin’s camera on the brick path between the Souvenir Stand and the Cotton Candy Stand. (Courtesy of Rich Brookes.)

It is obvious from the recollections of family and friends that Betty Reynolds was a kind and gentle woman. Her colleagues refer to her with descriptors like “lovely” and “very sweet”, and, although she worked hard for many years on the job “first and foremost” her family points out “she was a mother who was caring, giving and loving to all.”

I only wish I had the chance to get to know Betty and to ask her all about her time at our beloved Rock Springs Park.

Special Thanks to Betty’s Grandson, Gordon Adams, and his mother, Juanita.

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Ugly Side of Amusement Park History

It is a sad reality that many amusement parks were segregated and only became integrated due to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Some parks in the nation were strictly segregated for their entire histories and closed rather than integrate. Kennywood Park in nearby Pittsburgh closed its large swimming pool for this reason. But, as far as I have been able to determine, Rock Springs Park was always integrated, which makes the story below from The Beaver Daily Times of July 23, 1907 all the more inconceivable.This unfortunate incident appears to be the fault of either the person who booked the trip or the steamship company. It is not clear that it has anything to do with any restrictive policy of Rock Springs Park.

Although Chester was not as diverse as other communities in the area, many African American families visited the park, especially when companies like Globe Brick held their annual picnics there.

(Images courtesy of Rich Brookes.)

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Leaving Your Mark

All of us, if given the opportunity, would like some version of immortality. Some people have many children, write books, create works of art, or pursue any number of other activities meant to leave behind a legacy that creates some sort of meaning in our lives.

This tree (left), photographed in Rock Springs Park in the late 1800s, is covered with carved initials of visitors past.(Courtesy of Richard Bowker)

Over the centuries, some folks were content with carving their names on cave walls, rocks, and trees. Marks like these were evident in Rock Springs Park before it became an amusement park and during its heyday. It was only when the park was completely erased in 1974 that these initials, names, and pictoglyphs were lost forever. Fortunately, one man saw their importance and recorded them for posterity.

Park photographer, Clarence O. Durbin, understood that Rock Springs Park was not "immortal". He either knew or sensed that the park was in its final years and began making a photographic record in 1968. His images include panoramic views taken from across the Ohio River, detailed images of rides and buildings, candid and posed pictures of workers and patrons, and colorful close-ups of what drew people to the ancient spring grove in the first place, its natural beauty.

George Gardner left his mark (Above) on a lichen-covered rock near the spring on July 14, 1878. (See Images of America: Rock Springs Park p. 99 for more details.)
By the way, I am not recommending that anyone carve his or her name on a public park tree or rock face today. In fact in most places it is a Class 2 Misdemeanor punishable by a hefty fine. Instead check out “Treemail”. It’s an app that lets you “carve” custom messages on a virtual tree and then send them to people via email, Twitter or Facebook.

"The Sweetheart Tree" performed by Natalie Wood.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Chester or East Liverpool?

Look through enough early postcards pictures of Rock Springs Park and you will begin to notice that while most credit the location of the park to Chester, WV, a few identify it as being in East Liverpool, OH.
Some have suggested that the mix up might be the fault of the printer, since many early postcards were produced in Germany.
It is also possible that since Chester was not incorporated until 1907 and was known simply as “The South Side” of East Liverpool for many years, its official address might have been Liverpool.

However, the confusion with Rock Springs’ location is most likely due to the first two owners' connections to the trolley, bridge, and electric company which were all located in East Liverpool.

This postcard accurately describes the location of the park as being in "Chester, W.Va. near East Liverpool, Ohio".The 1905-1906 Julius Cahn's Official Theatrical Guide wisely chose to identify the park as belonging to both shores of the Ohio River and to both states. Rock Springs Park gets credit in the guide under Ohio and West Virginia.

Nonetheless, people throughout the Tri-State Region of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia lay claim to the park and consider it their own, which is fitting as Rock Springs Park belongs to all - those who knew her and to those who know of her!

The Louisiana Kings

In July of 1936, the largest swing band in the United States, the Louisiana Kings, played a one-night performance at Rock Springs Park. The band was made up of Louisiana University students who worked for one dollar an hour. It was originally started by Huey P. Long for his political campaign for the U.S. Senate in 1931. Following his election, the band sought Long’s sponsorship for a New York tour in 1935, but were denied. I'm sure that did not sit well with bandleader, Manley Culpepper, but then again, Long had a history of creating a number of enemies in his political and professional dealings. In fact, Long was eventually assassinated on September 8, 1935. The Louisiana Kings found other backers and began their cross country tour at New York’s Manhattan Beach club in 1936. By the time they came to Rock Springs, later that same year, they were touted as the largest dance orchestra of all time, having grown from an eight piece to a thirty piece band.

Huey P. Long (left) and LSU President James Monroe Smith 1935.

The Beaver County Daily Times - July 8, 1936

One of the greatest dance orchestras of all times, the Louisiana Kings are scheduled for a one night appearance at Rock Springs Park, Chester, W.Va. this Thursday July 9th. This orchestra is composed of 30 members and is one of the largest dance bands to ever tour the United States. The Louisiana Kings were financially backed by the famous Huey P. Long, late United States Senator from Louisiana, who used the orchestra in his political campaigns, and is the official musical unit of the Louisiana State University.

Manley Culpepper, the leader of the orchestra is credited with having one of the most dynamic personalities in the world of modern music. It was Culpepper, who organized the orchestra five years ago at the Louisiana University, and saw it grow from an eight piece unit to one of the largest dance orchestras ever organized in the history of the nation. New York newspaper critics who heard the orchestra during their recent engagement at the exclusive Manhattan Beach ranked the 30 men from Louisiana in the same class with Paul Whiteman, Fred Waring and Horace Heidt.

This is the first cross country tour the Louisiana Kings have ever made, and during the latter part of August they will make a Warner Brothers musical talking picture. The Louisiana Kings are also scheduled for a return appearance at Manhattan Beach. This is the same New York spot where Paul Whiteman played all last summer.

At a time when Democrats and Republicans are so ideologically split on cutting support programs vs. increasing revenue to pay off the national debt, it is not difficult to see on which side Huey P. Long would have fallen. In this video clip, Long speaks passionately about his "Share Our Wealth" program, which proposed new wealth redistribution measures. Note: The video incorrectly identifies Long's plan as "Share the Wealth" and the date is incorrect as it would have been after his death on Sept 10, 1935.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Lake: Before and After

According to Billboard, June 7, 1952, manager Robert L. Hand ordered a full-scale operation to fill in the lake at Rock Springs Park “in order to provide additional picnic space.” The work was done prior to the 1952 summer season.

So, just how significantly was the lake drained? See for yourself in these before and after photographs. Notice the group of trees from Bower Island still clustered in the open field in the late 60s.

Rock Springs Park Lake circa 1927 (Courtesy of Richard L. Bowker).

Rock Springs Park Lake 1968 (Courtesy of Rich Brookes).

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Bubbles and Pop

I’ve heard of the story behind how Lawrence Welk came to use bubbles in his act because it happened in Pittsburgh, but I didn’t realize other big band leaders chose unique ways to start their shows. While Welk used bubbles and the pop of a champagne cork, a contemporary named Shep Field’s used bubbles of a different sort.

The term "Champagne Music" was derived from an engagement at the William Penn Hotel in Pittsburgh, when a dancer referred to Welk's sound as "light and bubbly as champagne." The hotel also lays claim to the original "bubble machine," a prop left over from a 1920s movie premiere. (Above Authentic Lawrence Welk bubble machine, early Altman model)

One night Shep Fields and his wife stopped for a soda during a one-night gig in Rockford, Illinois. While sipping, Fields' wife happened to blow into her straw. Fields heard that sound and knew it would make a great trademark to open his broadcasts.

Shep Fields' "Rippling Rhythm" is described as a "unique blend of styles and instruments, brought together to create an off-center sound that was immediately appealing and extremely danceable." You can click on the video below to have a listen. To me it sounds like the soundtrack to The Little Rascals or any number of early cartoons features from the 30s. In fact, Field’s does a great version of Disney’s “Whistle While You Work” with the original lyrics before changes were made for the 1937 movie Snow White.

Shep Fields did not play at Rock Springs Park, as far as I know, but Lee Barrett played in the Virginia Gardens Ballroom on Sunday, August 7, 1937. His band the “Rippling Rhythm Orchestra” is described as playing a “"Shep Fields' style" of dance rhythm, according to The Beaver County Daily Times. You might say Barrett's was an early Shep Fields cover band.

Beaver, PA - August 6, 1937


Lee Barrett and his Rippling Rhythm orchestra will play a return engagement in the ballroom at Rock Springs Park on Sunday night. This orchestra plays a "Shep Fields' style" of dance rhythm. Featured with the orchestra are Ray Williams and Charlie Como, cousin of the famous Perry Como. The management states Lee Barrett's band is regarded as the most popular band to appear in the park ballroom this season.

The Missing Thumbs

Perhaps a few of my loyal readers, and you know who you are, may have noticed that it is July 23rd and this is my 23rd blog post for the month. After 17 posts in June, I wondered if I could beat that number by blogging once a day in July and achieve a 31 for 31 count.

Of course, I didn’t want to blog simply for the sake of meeting my goal. I wanted to be sure the posts were varied in topic and still interesting to fans of our beloved Rock Springs Park. A new friend, Jeff Schneidmiller, has made my job a little easier. Recently Jeff has uploaded Rock Springs Park images to Facebook and shared information and questions about the park and his family’s rich connection to it. In fact, Jeff’s questions have led to discovering a few new mysteries about the park that together, he and I have been able to solve (See blog posts “The Mystery of the Red Sticks” and “Three Bears Born at Rock Springs Park”). If only Jeff’s name was Frank, we could be Frank and Joe of The Hardy Boys novels.

Jeff posed another interesting question about the park yesterday which, I think, we have answered. This one involves Jeff’s grandmother, who visited the park in the 50s and 60s. Jeff wrote, “My mother found some photos in her mother’s stuff of Rock Springs Park. She has a photo of Tom Thumb who was at the park when my grandmother was there. I will put the photo on (Facebook) when she gives it to me.”

Readers of the Guinness Book of World Records, may be familiar with General Tom Thumb “The World’s Smallest Man” who achieved great fame under P.T. Barnum. Unfortunately, P.T.’s famous Tom died in 1883. Unless, Jeff’s grandmother had a photograph of a mummified Thumb or a frozen one, which I would not put past Barnum to pull off, this General could not be our small man.

General Tom Thumb “Charles Sherwood Stratton” died suddenly of a stroke. He was 45 years old, 3 ft 4 in tall and weighed 32 71 lb. Over 10,000 people attended the funeral. P.T. Barnum purchased a life-sized statue of Tom Thumb and placed it as a grave stone at Mountain Grove Cemetery in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

Together, Jeff and I determined that there must have been another Tom Thumb who entertained folks in the 50s and 60s. Jeff reasoned, “I was looking up Tom Thumb and he died in the 1800s. It had to be a person that used the name Tom Thumb. I was thinking that the park might have just brought people in for showing off.”

A quick search found that there was a steam locomotive called "Tom Thumb" and a racehorse by that name during the period we were looking for but no person named Tom Thumb. Then I saw a newspaper blurb about studio wrestlers which read, “The matmen will range from the 97-pound Tom Thumb to the 600 pound Haystacks.” From my limited days as a studio wrestler viewer, meaning I had a friend whose dad watched it, I knew “Haystacks” was Haystacks Calhoun. I didn’t, however, remember a Tom Thumb, so I dug a little deeper and discovered the advertisement below from The Washington Reporter-Observer dated Monday, August 10, 1959, touting the appearance of Major Tom Thumb “The Hercules of the Midget Wrestlers.”

I won’t know for sure if Major Tom Thumb is our man until I see Jeff’s photograph, but I have a feeling he is, as the Washington Reporter-Observer is from Washington, PA, near Rock Springs. Our Mr. Thumb was definitely in the area during the time in question. I won’t say case closed, like the Hardy Boys, but simply will end with: "Tune in next time for the latest Rock Springs Park Mystery and find out if Jeff and Joe will finally solve, 'The Case of the Missing Thumbs”!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Rock Springs Park During WWII

Pictured (Left) is R.Z. Macdonald and his nephew, Richard K. Hand. (Courtesy of Tish Hand.)

Rock Springs Park was closed for three years during World War II. Owner Bob Hand was drafted and served several months in the U.S. Army until it was discovered that he was too old for the draft. (See Images of America: Rock Springs Park, pp. 72-73)

A reunion note found in The Washington Observer-Reporter, Washington, PA, on August 3, 1942 gives further insight into how the war affected the park.

The 15th annual reunion of the Croft clan, which was scheduled to be held on Sunday, August 9, has been postponed for the year due to the government's call to conserve rubber and gas.

All members learning of this are asked to notify other members. The reunion was to have been held at Rock Springs Park, Chester, W. Va.

The article tells us that Rock Springs was still operating by the end of the summer 1942, but illustrates that rationing and the lack of needed supplies for operating the park would soon take their toll.

According to Billboard magazine, January 12, 1946, a news brief under the headline, “While Strolling Through the Park,” in the “Parks-Resorts-Pools” section (p57), explained that Bob had just been released from the army, and planned to reopen the park for the first time since the start of WWII. At the time the article was written, the park was already operating Virginia Gardens as a skating rink.

By July 13th of that same year, the park was open daily, excluding Mondays. 30,000 customers visited Rock Springs on July 4, 1946 even though only four rides were in operation: the Cyclone, Aerial Planes, Merry-Go-Round and Octopus. Other attractions that summer were the Penny Arcade, bingo, lead gallery, Funhouse, boating, and dancing with Eddie McGraw’s band.

The concrete swimming pool was not in operation and unfortunately would never re-open due to the shortage of supplies needed for repairs after the war.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Rock Springs Park Hosts Seck Hawkins Picnic

As a male elementary teacher, I am often asked about how to get boys to read and write. While I’m still working that one out, I did discover that a chubby kid named Seckatary Hawkins knew how to do it for over twenty years starting back in 1920. Who’s Seck Hawkins you ask? Well he had a huge following, including girls, in his time. Author, Harper Lee, mentions two of his stories in her classic To Kill a Mockingbird, and ol’ Seck had thousands of fans, most notably child star Jackie Coogan and heartthrob William Holden.

Everything you ever wanted to know about Seck Hawkins can be found here: http://www.seckatary.com/.

Seckatary (Kid Spelling of “Secretary") Hawkins is the fictional lead character of a series of children's novels authored by Robert F. Schulkers. The eleven novels were first published between 1921 and 1932, although many appeared first in serialized form in The Cincinnati Enquirer and hundreds of other newspapers around the country. The series was further popularized through an NBC radio broadcast and an extensive number of Seckatary Hawkins clubs in larger metropolitan areas. The official club name was "The Fair and Square Club". The club slogan was "A quitter never wins and a winner never quits".

In October 1935, one club member wrote to Seck to thank him for a wonderful summer of club picnics and parties, including a fun-filled day at Rock Springs Park.

The Pittsburgh Press - October 6, 1935

Dear Seck - I am writing to thank you for the wonderful times I had during the summer. The first Seck Hawkins picnic I thought was very good. I enjoyed myself every minute. If not riding amusements, it was mushball games, races and your entertainment.

The swimming party at Avalon was my first time to ever go to that pool. It was very pretty, with all the trees around and swell slides, showers and the kiddies' pool.

At Rock Springs Park picnic I had a good time riding the Cyclone, Dragon Drag and boat riding. The Seck Hawkins second picnic also was very good. I liked best working on the committee. I thought it was very kind that the park manager let us ride all evening instead of just 8 o'clock. I think that is all for the time being.

-Mildred Seelhorst, 1512 Liverpool St.

The Fair and Square Club of Robert F. Schulkers began in 1920 and continues today. Based on the fictional riverbank boy's club, and dedicated to good clean fun, we promote a "can-do" spirit, harmonized with principles of God & family, friendship, fair-play, equality, and patriotism. You can join the Fair & Square Club too. Membership is free - for more info and to join the Seckatary Club just visit our website. http://www.seckatary.com/.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Healing Miracle in Rock Springs Park

When you click on something you like on Facebook, sometimes that product appears on your profile information page. For instance, if you “like” a certain rock group’s page their band’s profile picture appears under “Arts and Entertainment: Music” category on your info page. Needless to say, I was quite impressed when I checked out a new friend’s page and discovered her two favorite books are Images of America: Rock Springs Park and The Bible. I got a kick out of that and thought nothing more about it until I read the following article about a healing miracle that occurred in the park in 1927. Now, I’m starting to wonder. Maybe, she’s on to something.

The Southern Missourian - Cape Girardeau Southeast Missouri - Thursday, April 11, 1935


When the Russel Bros. Circus comes to Cape Girardeau Monday with its array of feature acts, there will be one man, the owner of the famous sensational aerial company, Bob Fisher's Five Fearless Flyers, who will be glad to personally verify the statements of this story. Bob Fisher was unexpectedly the instrument of a miracle.

Back in 1927, the night of July 17, Bob Fisher and his company of aerialists were performing in Rock Springs Park, near Chester, W. Va. Mrs. Mary Lyons, who lived near there had been afflicted for several years with a vocal affliction, so she could not talk; could scarcely make an audible sound. She was speechless in spite of spending a small fortune to find relief. It was finally agreed by several doctors who had been called that about her only chance for relief was to suffer a shock or fright of some kind.

On the evening of the date mentioned, this young mother accompanied by her small child went to the park and found a seat near the lofty rigging of the Fisher act as she was determined to see it because of comments heard, but little did she suspect as she sat there that she was to depart a cured woman.

In the routine of aerial tricks by the Fishers, is one where Bob puts a sack over his head, and thus blindfolded, makes a flying leap to his partner on the opposite flying trapeze, turning a somersault as he goes. This night, after he had put the sack over his head and rubbed rosin over his hands to keep from slipping when he grabbed his partner's hands, he made the leap as usual when his partner called "go". He turned the somersault and the trick seemed sure to be completed, but fate decreed otherwise. Instead of being able to clasp solidly the hands of his partner, their finger tips barely touched and Bob fell some 40 feet to the net, turning several somersaults as he fell. As usual under such circumstances many people in the crowd were scared and among them Mrs. Mary Lyons. She gasped and gave a loud shriek and for the first time in 4 years was able to use her voice.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Youngstown Hoopies at Rock Springs

It may come as a surprise to some that the term “Hoopie” is a derogatory one thought to be an insult worse than "hillbilly" given to residents of West Virginia.

According to history, East Liverpool OH, across the river from WV, began as an important maker of pottery, so much so that it was often referred to as “Potters' Field”.

West Virginia residents looking for work in the area were thought to be only skilled enough to bang together the metal strips that would make the hoops needed for barrel construction.

One legend claims that when Hoopies first saw the HLC on the large smokestack of Homer Laughlin China in Newell, WV, they were scared, thinking it stood for “Hoopies Last Chance.”

But, a news story found in Youngstown’s Sunday Vindicator tells us that Ohio had a fair share of Hoopies residing within its own borders. And one wonders, if West Virginia was so bad, why did they praise their neighbor state and plan a relief outing to Rock Springs Park in 1902.

The Sunday Vindicator - Youngstown, Ohio - May 4, 1902


Steel Hoop People Go to Rock Springs

The Relief Association of the American Steel Hoop company decided last evening to hold its annual outing at Rock Springs Park, at Chester, W. Va., across the Ohio River from East Liverpool, on June 28. The fare for the round trip will be $1. Rock Springs Park is one of the most attractive and delightful resorts in the country, and affords every pleasure for the excursionist. The large pavilion is on high ground and overlooks the Ohio River, and the view is one of beauty. The woodland and hills about the park and the coaster and other attractions make it an ideal place to spend a day.

The pottery industry at East Liverpool will be a treat to the ironworkers.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Park Electric Line Part of 1906 Merger

One of the things I miss about home is hearing the sound of a train sending out its lonesome whistle cry along the Ohio River. As a boy, I could lie still, listen, and know the world had not stopped. The mighty Ohio River flowed beyond our community garden like blood in a giant vein. Across the river, trains moved back and forth like impulses through nerves. It must be the sensation one feels falling asleep on a boat or a train. I was not moving, but the world outside was.

Every so often I can hear a train whistle at night in my current hometown of Greensburg, PA, while it reminds me of home, it doesn’t have the same rolling echo I remember. The Ohio River Valley has a unique effect on sounds, creating a reverberation that plays with train horns, thunder, and fireworks, like no other.

It was interesting, then, to read the article below and discover that the first trains traveling up and down the Ohio would have been silent. They were noiseless electric railway cars powered by overhead lines running 66 miles between Beaver and Steubenville and included the branch line to Rock Springs Park.

The Daily Tribune - June 8, 1906


The big traction merger which has recently been effected whereby Steubenville, O., will be one terminus and Beaver the other will afford excellent facilities for traction travel in this vicinity.

The companies which are interested in the deal control and will operate 66 miles of river front electric railway with easy curves and low grades, the maximum being not over 1 1/2 per cent[sic]. The lines will serve a population of about 225,000 people.

When completed $7,500,000 will have been invested in the property, and it will consist of a continuous, high-speed, double track electric railway between Steubenville and Beaver, with crushed limestone ballast, heavy ties and 85 pound rails in 60 foot lengths. Twenty-five large interurban cars will be used in the through service, in addition to the ones used on the lines for local traffic, within the limits of the different municipalities through which the lines run. The entire power problem has not been definitely settled for the extensions, but in the cities where the lines are at present in operation the direct current is in use.

The companies own their own coal mine on the Little Beaver creek, thus insuring fuel at minimum cost.

The capital interested has purchased the East Liverpool Traction & Light Company, owning the street railway lines in East Liverpool and Wellsville and Chester, with the bridge over the Ohio River and the summer resort of Rock Springs Park, the entire system being about 12 miles in length. Those lines will connect at the state lines of the Ohio River Passenger Railway, now being built, a distance of 11.17 miles passing through the new town site of Midland to Beaver, where connection will be made with the lines of the Beaver Valley Traction Company.

It is expected that all these connections and improvements will be completed by next year, when continuous trolley service will be inaugurated between Wheeling and Beaver.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Champion Fat Men Race

Though we may think we are politically correct today, the ongoing success of reality television reveals otherwise. Reality shows continue to exploit people’s differences in humiliating and sometimes painful to watch episodes. People seem to be judged mostly by their looks rather than their talents or character. Although, I’m not a big fan of these shows, I have to admit if I’m passing through the family room and hear a once-hopeful American Idol finalist in tears, I stop to see what will happen next.

In an interview in Entertainment Weekly, Larry Wilmore said of Reality TV, “It's like watching a car wreck.... You just can't take your eyes off of it. It's the drama of it...because there's so much cruelty and tearing people apart. I feel like I need to take a shower when I watch that.”

But don’t think this sort of entertainment is anything new. It is primitive and upsetting and fascinating and it’s been around since the first caveman hit his head on a stalactite and the rest of his fur-wearing clan cracked up and fell over backwards laughing around the campfire.

In 1908, Rock Springs Park advertised a unique sporting feature called “The Champion Fat Men Race”. Scheduled for a Knights Templar outing, of all things, this bizarre event from the dawn of the 20th Century could easily be a reality program today. Imagine “The World’s Biggest Loser” meets “The Great Race.”

Pittsburgh Press - August 28, 1908

Champion Fat Men Will Race for Trophies

Unique Feature Arranged for Sporting Program at Outing of Knights Templar

There is going to be plenty of sport at the annual outing of Pittsburg [sic] Commandery, No. 1, Knights Templar, which will be held on Saturday, September 5, at Rock Springs Park, and the feature of the program will be a 50-yard dash for fat men, which is expected to be participated in by the fastest "big" men in the country.

One of the entrants will be A.L. McKenzie, of 808 Farmers Bank building who is a member of Allegheny Lodge No. 223, F.&A.M. who is being backed by his friends to beat anything on legs weighing over 200 pounds. Mr. McKenzie weighs 260 pounds, and on Wednesday won the 50-yard dash at the Heptasophs' picnic at Rock Springs in the fast time of 8 1/4 seconds, winning a handsome bronze clock.

Mr. McKenzie was formerly a captain in the fire department at Cleveland, and participated in a number of fat men's races, never having been beaten. He was the winner of a race of this kind at the World's Fair in Chicago, winning the world's champion medal. He ran at that time in 10 1/4 seconds and weighed 225 pounds when he started. He was formerly a well-known all-around athlete, being particularly efficient in the shot-put.

Mr. McKenzie's friends are willing to back him to the limit, but there are others who declare that he has won enogh races and that he must be beaten. To this end they have secured a physical mountain of flesh to run against him. They are keeping this man's name a secret, but claim that he is the fastest in the world for his weight, and that he will make McKenzie bite the dust.

The Knights will have a fine prize for the winner of the fat men's race, and McKenzie is confident of cropping it. A man of his weight deserves a "heavy" trophy for such valiant effort.

There are some experts who dismiss the criticism of Reality TV as cruel or voyeuristic. To them, it is the competition that draws millions of viewers week after week. Upon rereading the article, I began to wonder if I had misjudged the Fat Men Race. It sounds as if these men are willing participants. Perhaps Steven Reiss of Psychologist Today was correct when he noted, “Reality TV allows Americans to fantasize about gaining status through automatic fame. Ordinary people can watch the shows, see people like themselves and imagine that they too could become celebrities too.”

Maybe it does not matter as much that the contestants often are shown in an unfavorable light; the fact that people are paying attention means that the contestants are important. Steven Reiss surmised, “The message of reality television is that ordinary people can become so important that millions will watch them. And the secret thrill of many of those viewers is the thought that perhaps next time; the new celebrities might be them.”

Okay, now I want to know who won the race. Don’t you? Tune in next time and I'll try and uncover the answer. Meantime, Check out Antique's Road Show's appraisal of a 1910 collection of Fat Men's Amusement Co. memorabilia, and guess what, professional appraiser Leila Dunbar can't help but make a couple of fat jokes in the process.

Antiques Roadshow Appraisal: 1910 Fat Men's Amusement Co. Memorabilia » Video » Iowa Public Television

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Bumpers or Dodgems?

Dodgem Car Pavilion in Rock Springs Park in 1970 (Courtesy of Richard Bowker)

Several years after Rock Springs Park closed, Chester’s annual school picnic was held at the City Park. The football field became a midway of portable games, rides, and even a side show with two-headed creatures in big glass jars. Two events stand out from the summer of 1975 and Chester’s makeshift amusement park.

First, I discovered I have motion sickness after riding the Round Up and second, I remember a kid who was trying to drive his bumper car in a wide circle around the track as if he was training to be a future defensive driver. He was shouting at people to get out of the way and angered when someone intentionally bumped into him. This made him a prime target for the rest of us. Who gets on a bumper car and spends the whole time dodging and weaving to avoid getting bumped? I thought of this artful dodger when I learned that Bumper Cars were originally called Dodgem Cars. Maybe that kid had it right.

Still one of the most popular rides at amusement parks today, bumper cars date back to 1920. The first bumper car ride was invented by Max and Harold Stoehrer of Methuen, Massachusetts. Their invention was called the Dodgem. These rides allowed people to bump into each other and were so popular that others decided to get in on the action. Two cousins, Joseph and Robert Lusse of Philadelphia owned a machine shop that supplied roller coaster parts to Philadelphia Toboggan Company (PTC). In 1922 the Lusses filed their first patent for a bumper car. Over the years, they filed a total of nine patents for their “Lusse Skooters.”

The bumper cars in Rock Springs Park were made by Lusse Brothers in 1941.(Courtesy of Rich Brookes)

At the eleventh hour, I changed one photograph in my book from an image of my mother’s park bench to one of a restored Rock Springs Park 1941 Lusse Skooter. It had been restored by Weirton resident David Rhodes and appeared on Ebay in December 2009. Rhodes, who has been doing this type of restoration work since he was a kid, gave me permission to use his images and shared his experience working on the car and visiting Rock Springs Park.

(Courtesy of David Rhoades.)

"Joe, I don't remember riding the cars. I went to the park in the late 50s and early 60s. As for the car I have, I did the restoration all except the upholstery. I have done this type work since I was fifteen. I am sending you some pictures of my car, you can use them how you wish. I bought this car three years ago from Gary Wasmer who bought 12 of them from Earl Cuppy about fifteen years ago. I bought the last two Gary had left. I have been told Earl Cuppy bought a lot of the rides from the park not just the bumper cars. I went to the park when I was a kid and just wanted to have a piece of history."

(Courtesy of David Rhoades.)