Joyland Amusement Park
First, let me open with special thanks to the following in their assistance researching Joyland:
- Rick Davis of Darkride & Fun house enthusiasts.
- Nick Marsh of Remember Joyland.
- Brian Reichow of Casa Brian
Joyland Park was founded by Lester Ottaway and his sons, Herbert and Harold, to serve as the home for a miniature 12-inch (300 mm) gauge steam locomotive that Herb Ottaway had purchased in Fort Scott, Kansas, back in 1933. The train had been part of a defunct amusement park in Fort Scott and was originally built by the Miniature Railway Company of Elgin, Illinois, between 1905 and 1910. By 1934, Herb Ottaway, who worked as a race car builder, had fully refurbished and restored the steam locomotive and cars and began transporting the miniature train to county fairs in western Kansas and eastern Colorado. Ottaway soon built a track for his miniature locomotive around the Manitou Springs, Colorado racetrack and operated the train there for some time. The current location of Joyland Amusement Park came into existence on June 12, 1949, primarily to give Harold’s miniature locomotive a permanent home in Kansas. The park was originally located at 1515 East Central in Wichita (between New York and Mathewson streets) but soon moved to it’s current location at 2801 South Hillside.
After Lester Ottaway’s death in the mid-1950s, his three sons, Herbert, Harold, and Eddie, continued running the park as a family operation. In addition, the original miniature train retired with the Ottaway family and was replaced with the first-ever C.P. Huntington miniature train. This train carried serial number 1 from the factory.
Joyland had over 24 working amusement rides, including:
Roller Coaster/The Nightmare:
Joyland’s 1949 era roller coaster, a Philadelphia Toboggan Company coaster designed by Herbert Paul Schmeck, is one of the last surviving original wooden roller coasters and is one of 33 surviving roller coasters of only 44 original coasters designated as an ACE Coaster Classic. Originally called simply Roller Coaster but for a short time in later years was renamed the Nightmare, it had a 2,600 ft track span, 75 ft drop, and 50 mph top speed. It had the distinction of being the only remaining roller coaster in North America using vintage rolling stock with fixed lap bars.
Its highest point was a 75 foot first drop, near trees through valleys. It turned around in the rear of the parking lot then had several bunny hops plus a surprising last drop. The film King Kung Fu was filmed on location at several locations in the Wichita area, including at Joyland. One scene in the film features several minutes of footage shot on the Roller Coaster.
The Ottaway brothers retired from the amusement park business in the late 1960s and sold the park to Stanley and Margaret Nelson. The Nelsons were the driving force behind Joyland Park for over 30 years and a large percentage of the park’s current rides.
One of the most prominent structures on the Joyland property was the Bill Tracy designed “Whacky Shack” dark ride, added to the park in 1974, came to fruition during the Nelsons’ time as owners. Though there are a few Whacky Shacks still in use across the country today, this classic two-story dark ride was the prototype and the closest one can find to Tracy’s original designs.
During the early 1950’s, the Dodgem Car ride was the popular ride at Joyland. When park designers decided to merge Kiddieland it seemed to be a logical decision to install the original park’s Dodgem Car ride at Joyland to double the ridership. If one was good, two had to be better! In actuality, the second ride did not increase ridership so it was removed and replaced with a new attraction. The Wacky Shack!
In place of the bumper cars the park installed their first darkride. This darkride was a one-story fright house type ride common in the 50’s. Stan Nelson, owner of Joyland (now retired), did not recall who built it but thought that the Philadelphia Toboggan Company may have been involved. This ride in turn would be updated with new gags when it was converted to a safari type ride with lions, alligators, snakes, and scary things. Parts of this version of the dark ride survive in the current Wacky Shack.
While the ride opened with standard darkride cars, they were eventually changed to rotating type Pretzel cars to add some additional surprises. As at some other parks, maintenance concerns and people with motion sickness ultimately forced the park to weld the cars to stop the rotation. The classic Pretzel cars would also be replaced. Bell’s Amusement Park in Tulsa, Oklahoma built the replacements. Bells used fiberglass body shells supplied by Lake Winnepesaukah along with Bells own chassis design. Bell’s also built cars for themselves for their own Wacky Shack twin “Phantasmagoria”.
As the years went on, some changes crept into the ride. Stan related- Tracy was into thrills, not maintenance. The two dips that were originally built into the ride were removed and replaced with level track. The barrel that the cars traveled through in one portion was built by the park but it never worked quite right so it was removed. Another minor problem was that of operators losing track of the cars in the ride. The first solution was a simple one, don’t send in a car until you see one come out! In later years, a computer prevented the cars from getting too close together, if they did the ride would stop, the lights would come on, and the doors opened. The ride would also shut down if someone got out of the car and ran ahead.
He also thought that Bill Tracy never received the recognition that he deserved. He had a great imagination and a knack for scouring the local area for just the right materials for a ride. If he needed old looking wood for a ride, he would search for an old building being torn down. No sense in creating that look when the real thing could be found. While no one knows where the late Tracy may be today, Stan is confident that he may be redesigning the Pearly Gates or did he get the contract to make Hadies a whole lot scarier?
Herbert Sellner, a woodworker and maker of water slides, invented the Tilt-A-Whirl in 1926, at his Faribault, Minnesota, home. Over the next year, the first 14 Tilt-A-Whirls were built in Herbert’s basement and yard. In 1927, Sellner Manufacturing opened its factory in Faribault, and the ride debuted that year at the Minnesota State Fair.
Family legend states that Herbert experimented with a chair placed on the kitchen table. Herbert’s son Art sat in the chair, and Herbert rocked the table back and forth.
The earliest Tilt-A-Whirls were constructed of wood, powered by a gas motor, and featured nine cars. Today, the ride is constructed of steel, aluminum and fiberglass, is powered by seven small electric motors, and features seven cars.
The Log Jam:
The Log Jam was Joyland’s water flume ride, built by O.D. Hopkins. It was without a doubt one of the most popular rides in the park. Park goers would climb into a log and ride down a river that had been built into the ground. The ride finished with a 35 foot hill splashing down into the water.
In 1997, the City of Wichita was hit with a massive rain storm and the park flooded. 2 Log Jam boats were also lost. One was recovered a few days later, the other was found in the summer of 2000 about 7 miles away in the Arkansas River!
Manufactured by the Eli Bridge Company & introduced in 1949. Guests could board one of 16 carriages and take a ride around Joyland’s 60ft tall Ferris Wheel. At night, a giant blue star lit up from the middle. Unfortunately on April 16th 2004 Federal safety investigators were examining Joyland’s 55-year-old Ferris wheel to find out why a girl fell from the ride and was seriously injured in a mid-April mishap, according to the Wichita Eagle.
A lawyer working for the Wichita park submitted a private ride inspector’s report indicating that the Eli Bridge Co. wheel was in good working condition when examined on April 20, the paper said.
In the April 16 incident, Elizabeth Schmitz, 13, fell some 30 feet from the wheel and suffered injuries to her head, face, arm and leg. The girl’s father told the paper that the seat’s safety bar opened and when she reached for it, she fell.
DODGEM — Classic Bumper Cars:
The name “Dodgem” actually does mean something. The original concept of this ride was to actually dodge the other cars and not try to hit one another. If one was to take a hard look above the lights inside, you could still see orange “One-Way” arrows that were originally supposed to be followed.
Old-West Town Square:
Other rides that were included around Joyland are:
- Round Up — a circa 1960 Hrubetz High Speed Circular ride
- Zumur – A Chance Rides Wave Swinger!
The park also had land rides, including Dune buggies, Horse drawn carriages, Bulgy the Whale, and other Herschel Children’s Rides.
Reopening & Closing :
The park was showing its age with many attractions requiring extensive repairs when the Nelsons shut it down in mid 2004. However, in 2006 the Seattle Based T-Rex Group, who were instrumental in turning around a pair of small parks in Washington State, leased the park from the Nelson family and temporarily reopened it with plans for a complete refurbishing. Nevertheless, financial problems continued to plague the old park.
The Wichita Eagle reported that Joyland would not open for the 2007 season. Also in April 2007, the Support Joyland advocacy group was started to draw public interest in the historic amusement park.
Joyland -Then & Now:
In 2007, Michael Moodenbaugh and Robert Barnard, the former operators of Joyland Park who had planned to reopen the park faced a new lawsuit filed by Star lumber Supply Company. Inc
Star President and CEO Chris Goebel said the lawsuit stemed from unpaid debt due to his company for materials used on the amusement park’s wooden roller coaster. Goebel said Star had been partially paid for the work but was still owed nearly $10,000. Star initially tried to go through a collection agency, he said. “It isn’t a huge amount, but it still makes you angry,” Goebel said. “I’m just lucky we weren’t involved with the Wild West World situation (Which is a whole other story).
Actually, Goebel said, Star was paid a small amount it was owed by Wild West World before owner Thomas Etheredge filed for bankruptcy in July. Blaming the City
Moodenbaugh and Barnard comprised “T-Rex Group”, a privately held real estate development business that specializes in amusement park turnarounds.
Barnard, who said he was no longer with T-Rex, claimed Joyland’s difficulty in getting an application for an amusement park permit was to blame for the park’s troubles and debt that followed. The city had stated that it had wanted Joyland to comply with its requirements before a permit would be issued. “What it really comes down to is the city refuses to deal with us,” Barnard said. “Star Lumber was a great vendor. We had a lot of great vendors and we appreciated their support. It’s unfortunate that it happened. “Moodenbaugh could not be reached for comment. His former attorney, John Woolf, said he hadn’t spoken with Moodenbaugh since helping the group complete a lease-purchase agreement with owners Stan and Margaret Nelson, who own the park.
Barnard and Moodenbaugh have said they owe more than $150,000 to several vendors but planned to pay the bills had the park reopened.
Historical & Misc Photos:
Joyland Visions – Tour the park:
Louie the Clown:
One missing piece of Joyland meant far more to a former employee who was caretaker of the famous Joyland clown and organ for 15 years. Damian Mayes was 4 years old when he first met Louie, a nearly life-size carved clown who enchanted -and sometimes frightened visitors of all ages as he played the park’s automated Wurlitzer.
Mayes said when he was 15 and doing renovations for the park, owners Stanley and Margaret Nelson would let him take the clown home when the park closed in the winters. Mayes would apply a fresh coat of paint to Louie’s grin or add to his whimsical attire. But his labor of love is now missing along with the organ. The clown was just one of the items listed as damaged or taken from the park. The Nelson’s stated that the clown may have been taken out of state. Mayes said it’s hard to tell if reported Louie spottings in Wichita were of the original clown or a replica. He said he hasn’t seen the original Louie in a few years.
The Wurlitzer organ with Louie the clown at the keys, was a Mammoth Military Band Organ, also known as a Wurlitzer Style 160. It was the largest of the Wurlitzer’s early band organs. The organ was built around 1905 by the DeKleist Musical Instrument Works and was sold by the Rudolph Wurlitzer Company. It contained 486 wood and brass pipes and used two perforated paper music rolls.
The Ottaways added Louie the Clown Organist, an automated clown who sat before the organ keyboard and “played” the instrument. Louie the Clown and the Mighty Wurlitzer had been a fixture at Joyland ever since. It created a sound that resonates through the entire park. The Joyland organ was one of only two Mammoth Organs still in existence and, until the park closed, it was the only one in public view.
Since the park closed in 2006 it has been subjected to numerous incidents of vandalism and looting. Nearly every building in the park is covered with graffiti and the administration offices have also been destroyed. Margaret Nelson was quoted as saying “We’re sick. Our hearts are sick. It’s not easy, Just not easy.
Joyland has suffered in recent years more than 20 break-ins and from vandals. The last break-in the park suffered was especially brutal. Police arrested two men in the case. “They were really reckless,” Nelson said. “They turned over ticket booths, broke into the office, threw furniture out the windows. “They also spray-painted swastikas into a hangman’s noose and other graffiti on buildings. The vintage “Last Warning — Do Not Stand Up – Sit Down” sign was stolen from the top of Joyland’s nearly 75-foot-high wooden roller coaster in 2009.
The opera house at Joyland was famous for its puppet shows, its classic movies, and its entertainment. The park had hosted many concerts, fried chicken dinners, and the coaster cars whooshed along its wooden tracks.
Today, the opera house is a charred ruin. Wichita Fire Investigators say there is a good chance that the blaze that broke out at 3:30 am burning the buildings that used to be part of the old western town at the abandoned park was intentionally set. “I don’t think there is any doubt that this fire was intentionally set,” says Fire Marshall Ed Bricknell. “We likely have a human hand involved in this thing.” Investigators went through the entire property and found several places where small fires were set. Bricknell said the building that burnt had mostly junk and old trash inside it. The fire created quite a scene across the city as thick, black smoke could be seen for miles. The sight even caused congestion on nearby I-135 as drivers slowed to see what was burning.
The Future of Joy land:
Stan and Margaret have put the land up for sale and have begun selling some of the rides. “What’s going to happen? We don’t know,” Margaret Nelson said. Stan is 85 yrs old; Margaret is 75. This time there is at least $2 million price tag.”It has to be cash,” Margaret said. “This time there is no leasing or holding the note.” The Nelsons are open to whatever buyer comes along.”We would love to sell it to somebody who wants to make it a park, if some company wanted to make it a corporate headquarters or another kind of park, we would consider that,” she said. They have since sold the Paratrooper, the Round-up and the big truck ride.
For now, the icon of the park, the wooden roller coaster, The Wacky Shack, & the remains of a few other rides are still on the site.
Margaret Nelson says she and her husband are trying to get Joyland sold and have a few prospects. They also had thoughts of a bike trail project to make the park more attractive. She considers them retired from the amusement park business. “I don’t think my husband knows that, though,” she says. ” He’s been out there mowing for weeks.”
Stan says “It’s a far cry from what the park was in its heyday”.
Update: July 14th, 2010
Stanley Roger Nelson
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Nelson, Stanley Roger, 87, owner of Joyland Amusement Park, passed away Tuesday, July 13, 2010. Funeral services will be 10:30 a.m., Friday, July 16, at First Evangelical Free Church, with graveside committal service 2:30 p.m., Resthaven Cemetery. Visitation with family present will be Thursday from 5-7 p.m., at Broadway Mortuary. He was preceded in death by his parents and brother, Billy. Survivors include his wife, Margaret; sons, Roger (Christie) and Steve (Melinda) of Wichita; daughters, Valorie Hagerman of Topeka (William, Hutchinson), and Barbara Bachman (Matthew) of Centralia, KS; 17 grandchildren and 8 great-grandchildren. He was born June 24, 1923 in Mt. Vernon, NY. Serving in WWII as a navigator in the CBI theatre and honorably discharged, he settled in Wichita graduating from WSU. He started his career at Joyland selling tickets at the Dodgem where he met his wife and life partner of 59 years. She was working the Skeeball! Together with their family, they operated the park for more than 50 years. Being recognized by his peers, in 1972, Stan was the first Parkowner to become president of the International Assoc. of Amusement Parks and Attractions. As a result of his passion for the industry at large, he was instrumental in helping develop safety standards. It was a great life, giving children and families many hours of fun, entertainment, and memories. Memorials have been established with the ARC of Sedgwick County and First Evangelical Free Church. Share online condolences at www.CozineMemorial.com. Services by Broadway Mortuary.
Published in The Wichita Eagle from July 14 to July 16, 2010
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