|Trip Report: |
It took about a half-hour to get from Hillcrest up to Kiddieland. It's located just across North street from Maywood Park, an animal racetrack [Footnote 1]. It's right on a street corner, easy to find although the preponderance of divided streets makes it not the easiest place to actually get to. The park is made even easier to find by the large neon sign, with a pole on top holding a neon boy, a neon girl, and what appears to be a neon ear of corn. I suspect that the pole on this sign once rotated; shame it doesn't now. I parked right next to the Galleon ride, which features an auto-spiel that sounds like a pirate with a Canadian accent. "Arrrrrr, eh?"
I was slightly early, but soon joined the rest of the NAPHA contingent at the park gate. It's a fully-fenced P-O-P operation. Well, fully fenced, that is, except for the openings in the fence where the miniature train goes through. I think this is the only park I have visited where there are railroad crossings in the parking lot for a miniature train. At most auto/rail crossings the big danger is of the car being struck by a train; here such a collision might do more damage to the train!
Inside the front gate, things are very crowded. The gate sits in a tiny opening between the Philadelphia Toboggan carousel and an odd European combo kiddie carousel with a variety of conveyances on it. Behind these rides, the congestion didn't improve any. To the left is a collection of kiddie rides including but not limited to a Hampton dune buggy ride, an Eyerly Midge-O-Racer, and a Mangels Roto-Whip...all in mint condition. Further to the left is the station for the miniature train, and behind all of it is a sizeable building that appears to be a maintenance shop and storage for the train if not for the whole park. Across the midway from that building is a big concrete volcano wich serves as a kids climbing structure with the usual assortment of nets, bridges, and passages. Next to this is a Moser Spring Ride, and an Allan Herschell Helicopter ride with tubs that look like little flying saucers. I also noticed that the riders can trigger little whooping noises on this one.
The volcano, Spring Ride, and flying saucers are all packed in alongside the Little Dipper. Riding the Little Dipper brought on a sense of vuja' de again over all. That, of course, is the before this done you've feeling strange. For the Hillcrest Park Little Dipper is an almost exact mirror-image copy of the Kiddieland Little Dipper. Operationally it's a little different. The Kiddieland coaster has foot-pedal operated lap bars with a little kicker mechanism that opens them all as the train enters the station, while the Hillcrest ride uses electric bars. Also, at Hillcrest the train is stopped in the unloading station, then rolled down to the loading station. At Kiddieland the train stops in the middle of the platform and stays there for both unload and load. Oh, and Kiddieland has a cool orange neon sign on the station and a blue metal-flake paint job on the train. Kiddieland's Little Dipper also runs better than the one at Hillcrest, rolling smoothly with no hint of shuffle or bounce. And while like its twin at Hillcrest it isn't much of a coaster, for this park it fits in perfectly; in fact it is a better match for this park than for Hillcrest.
Surrounding the coaster boarding platform is a plaza for eating, and a few food joints. I was particularly impressed, of course, by the electronic pushbutton dispenser for ketchup and mustard. Kiddieland has also adopted the free Pepsi program, with dispensers conveniently located at a couple of locations around the park. Tucked away to the right of the coaster platform is a small arcade. I cut through, but didn't see anything particularly notable inside [Footnote 2].
The park forms an L-shape around the arcade building, and is far less crowded on the East side than on the South side. The park has an obligatory Tilt-A-Whirl, and a set of Jhle Bros. bumper cars in a building attractively marked, "Scooters" The cars are in great shape, they run fast, and they're a little bit heavy. Of course I wonder why Chicago needs bumper cars when they have IR-55, where I passed three fender-benders between Hillcrest and Kiddieland...perhaps it's just so the kiddies can get into practice. Odd thing about these bumper cars...the steering stops are positioned such that these cars won't go backward. Interesting; the Jhle cars at Cedar Point don't even have steering stops! This deficiency caused a few problems when people crashed into the disused cars parallel-parked along the short side of the building.
The bumper cars are interesting first of all because of their condition and apparent age. Second because of a familiar looking triangular medallion on the side of each car proclaiming:
HOT RODS INC.
220 W. 42ND AVE
NEW YORK, NY
Interesting. I'd never heard of "Hot Rods" before, but the medallion and the address are familiar as every other time I've seen that plate the second line has read, "MORGAN HUGHES, INC". As if to confirm, right next to the bumper cars is a Polyp ride, one with five sweeps and five non-spinning cars on each sweep. I don't know whose version of the Polyp this is, but on each car there is a little plate identifying Morgan Hughes as the importer. Oh, and the phone number is listed as "947-3370". This led to some discussion about how the installation dates might be divined by the abandonment of "name+5" phone numbers and the adoption of ringdown service in Manhattan. Unfortunately, none of us having the discussion thought of the obvious option of asking the park owner! The park's web site suggests that they were added in 1962.
On down past the (1967) Polyp, the park gets far less crowded, crossing its railroad track to a wide open space occupied by the Galleon, a Scrambler, an antique car ride, a log flume, and a wet-dry waterslide tower. "Less crowded" is, of course a relative term, as these attractions are still crammed into a park that fits into a city block with room to spare. Of all the parks I have visited, this is the one that seemed worst suited to a group picnic simply because there is no picnic grove or other meeting area. The park is congested and noisy, which is why it took two tries before the NAPHA group managed to gather at the gazebo next to the bumper cars. There, the park owner greeted us and introduced his key staff, told us a little about this 75-year-old gem of a park, and pointed out that not only is the park presently being operated by the fourth generation of the Fritz family, the fifth generation is involved in the day-to-day operation of the park and prepared to carry on the tradition. Or something like that; it was hard to hear, and people were trying to exit the Polyp ride.
Okay, so Kiddieland isn't a good place to bring a bunch of people to sit in a picnic shelter and tell stories or hold an auction or play Bingo or whatever. For that kind of a picnic, Hillcrest is perfect, Kiddieland is not. But that isn't a problem for Kiddieland. Kiddieland is where you take the family after work, have dinner, have fun, ride some rides...the place is absolutely gorgeous, everything looks brand-new. I had to laugh...the Roto-Whip was installed in 1939 and has a big sign on the center that says, "Just for Fun/Ride the New/Roto-Whip". It does look like new, but it's been "new" for 65 years.
Kiddieland is a wonderful park, a place where just about everybody who goes there can't help but have fun, exactly the kind of park that every city needs to have. It's obviously a hugely successful formula, as the park was really busy. It's worked for 74-1/2 seasons so far and shows no signs of slowing down. I only can't understand why it hasn't been copied across the country.
Next: Six Flags Great America
--Dave Althoff, Jr.
Footnote 1: I'm guessing horses, but I'm not certain.
Footnote 2: Like, for instance, a pinball machine or a Tempest game...I think they do have original versions of Pac Man and Donkey Kong, though...