In the town of Ross, Ohio, is a small amusement park named Stricker's Grove. It dates back to 1924, although in the present location only to 1972. It's comparable in size to a boardwalk pier, really, and has two wooden roller coasters and maybe a dozen and a half other rides. It's a charming little spot, more wonderful for just being in the middle of corn fields, basically, and would be an obvious little park to drop in on anytime if you're a fan of roller coasters or small, family amusement parks.
They're not open most of the year. They focus mainly on selling days at the park to corporations and organizations that need a place for large group picnics. The public is allowed in --- well, back in the day, only twice a year, the Fourth of July and then a Family Day sometime in August. We figured the Fourth of July was the best chance we'd have to get there, and so that's why we had the whole Ohio-Indiana Parks Tour set for one of the biggest amusement-park-going weekends of the year. (We would learn that we might have had more chances than we realized, this year at least: they're also open to the public on Labor Day, on a Customer Appreciation Day in October --- both of which we'd be hard-pressed to drive to, mind --- but also for several days as host of the county fair.)
When bunny_hugger visited the park over a decade ago she barely had the chance to start riding things when a severe storm blew through and after a long time spent hiding in the midway games they closed the park for the rest of the day. We would have much more generous weather, clear and dry if a little on the cool side, and all of Ohio would join us at the park. And with our picnic lunch (well, it was very late for a lunch) we drove to the corn fields and the little amusement park that's set in them. We parked on the grass, next to a rope that blocked off some of the field, and didn't think about the implications of that.
The park was packed. We'd see a lot of heavy crowds over the trip, surely from the blend of it being pretty good weather and a long-weekend Fourth of July and all that. We'd overhear in one line a guy talking about how Stricker's Grove has exploded in recent years, though; they haven't been advertising their public days but the crowds have been growing in number and in volume. Possibly everyone in the Cincinnati area has been hearing about this little secret amusement park and wants to be in on the secret. I don't blame them. But it does make me wonder if the park's going to find being open to the public a good enough scheme they add even more general-public days.
We sat in amongst the picnic benches, which were plentiful, near the roller coasters to eat our lunch --- various salads picked up at Jungle Jim's as well as the shandy --- and wondered why the security guard at the gate carefully inspected the cooler brought in by a respectable-enough-looking middle-class father, but just looked casually into our cooler bag and waved us on. Possibly it is that we were the next people after a fairly thorough going-over.
They had an arcade and it even had a pinball machine in it. Well, a part of one. It was Super Mario Brothers Mushroom World, a noble if failed early 90s effort to bring pinball games to kids. It's a small table, with shorter legs --- I had to stand on my knees to play --- but seems generally fun enough. What kills it as an entry drug for pinball, I think, is that the rule set is way too complicated. We watched one kid playing, and bunny_hugger and I played a couple games each, and I'm still not sure I know what the objectives of the game were. I don't insist that entertainment for kids be stupid, but, to be accessible to newcomers a game should have some obvious thing to aim for. Medieval Madness, for example, does this brilliantly: there's a nice big castle in the middle of the playfield, begging you to shoot at it, and if you do, you get amply rewarded. Super Mario Brothers has a bunch of holes and ramps and tunnels and video modes and I guess it ties into the Mario Brothers mythos well enough but I never felt sure I knew what I should be aiming at. Mind, the ball bounces off the various targets in nice, predictable ways, so it's probably a good game for learning your basic flipper skills on, and a kid who knew what the rules were could probably really tear this machine apart. It just needs better guidance for the new pinball player.
The park is basically one long midway, with rides on either side, plus two roller coasters at the end. The smaller one, the Teddy Bear, was built in 1996 but looks like one from the pre-war golden age of wooden roller coasters. This is because it's built to the blueprints of the Teddy Bear, which operated at Cincinnati's Coney Island from 1935 to 1971. It's a charming little roller coaster and you can feel that wonderful way the roller coaster cars twist around you as it turns. And it tells you something of Stricker's Grove that it's the kind of park which resurrected a small roller coaster from a generation before.
Its big roller coaster is the Tornado, a really handsome wooden roller coaster that runs along the street leading up to the park. As with the Teddy Bear it's technically a new park --- opened 1993 --- but it's a copy of the Comet which used to exist at Rocky Glen Park, an amusement park in northeastern Pennsylvania that closed in 1987. So, yeah, they made a replica of a roller coaster from Moosic, Pennsylvania, which sounds like the kind of thing you expect Knobels or Kennywood to do. According to the Roller Coaster Database, Stricker's Grove even bought the Comet's roller coaster cars with the intention of using them on Tornado, but the cars were in too poor shape and they had to buy new ones. This is probably the most exciting attraction (if you're inclined to roller coasters, as we are) at the park and the touches of history make it all the better.
It was also an awfully long wait, since the day was so busy, but it meant we had satisfied the need to get our riding credits for these hard-to-access roller coasters. We could spend the rest of the day looking just for fun and quirkiness.
Trivia: In 1916 Waygood-Otis installed 28 gearless lifts in a Sydney department store. Twelve of them grouped together formed the largest elevator bank in the British Empire. Source: Otis: Giving Rise to the Modern City, Jason Goodwin.
Currently Reading: Descartes' Secret Notebook: A True Tale of Mathematics, Mysticism, and the Quest to Understand the Universe, Amir D Aczel.