Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Midget Autopia's Obscure Brothers

Arrowflite Car 1964

In our last posting we showed a picture from Yesterland's site of what looked like an Arrow Midget Autopia car, featuring two happy children.  On the right side fender there is something which doesn't appear in any Midget Autopia pictures. Its hard to tell what it is, although it kind of looks like something with wings, maybe a dragonfly;

Mysterious Marking

Thru a remarkable string of coincidences, we can disclose the details of this mystery;

RH-BAC-16229-A Medallion
It's a diecast medallion of a highly stylized bird with a distinctively southwestern feel. The tail feathers are linear bars, like a jet exhaust, and there's a V8 chevron where the wings meet. If you look closely, you can clearly make out the letters THUNDERBIRD on the neck.

This is the logo of the Midget Autopia’s obscure brother; which I'm now calling the Arrowflite Thunderbird.  Only a dozen of the Midget Autopia cars survived Disneyland, the majority of which ended up in Marceline, MO. Clearly, this did not come from one of those cars - so where is it from? The answer can be found by tracing the rise and fall of a handful of amusement parks, ending in Pennsylvania, where the story continues to this day.

According to Wikipedia, Idlewild is a children's amusement park situated in Laurel Highlands near Ligonier, Pennsylvania about 50 miles east of Pittsburgh, along US Route 30.  It 1878 it was just a campground next to the Ligonier Valley Railroad. It's the oldest amusement park in Pennsylvania and the third oldest operating amusement park in the United States, behind Lake Compounce and Cedar Point. Idlewild has been called the best children's park in the world.

In 1998 Idlewild introduced two new rides; Raccoon Lagoon, which features Mister Rogers' Neighborhood of Make-Believe, including a 3 ft narrow gauge trolley designed specifically for Idlewild by Fred Rogers, based on his popular children's television show.  Raccoon Lagoon also featured an automobile ride called Ricky’s Racers, but where did Rickey's come from?

Rickey's Racers Today

Ricky's certainly didn't come direct from Arrow Development. The cars and track came from Old Indiana Fun Park, which opened as the "Middle Country Renaissance Festival" in August of 1983. Conversion to a ride park began in 1984, with an opening on June 9, 1985.  More rides were added until 1986, but was mostly a picnic area and campground with a few attractions. In the spring of 1987, the park filed Chapter 11 and the Kiddie Turnpike was sold off.

So, where did Old Indiana get it's Kiddie Turnpike? The answer is; 350 miles to the east, at Shady Lake Park - a small amusement park between Akron and Cleveland, operated by the Humphrey Family in Streetsboro, Ohio. Shady Lake only operated for four years, from 1978 to 1982.

Further back, most of the rides at Shady Lake Park were relocated from Euclid Beach Park, Cleveland's favorite summer destination from 1895 to 1969.  Euclid was the go-to place for summer. It had rides, popcorn balls, custard and the beach and Euclid was also the Arrow Thunderbird’s first home.

So, Euclid Beach’s Thunderbirds eventually became Ricky’s Racers, which also means it may just be the last complete, operating Arrowflite Thunderbird Freeway Ride anywhere.

How 'bout these stripes?

It's a testament to Arrow that 60 years after they designed Thunderbird cars, Ricky’s Racers is still going strong at Idlewild's SoakZone, along with what appear to be a couple other Arrow ride systems.

BTW - Euclid Beach had some of these too; Look familiar?

Another Euclid Beach Car

You can learn more about the preservation efforts of the Euclid Beach Boys by clicking here; https://www.euclidbeachpark.com/

14 comments:

  1. I've been lucky to have been young enough to actually ride the Idlewild version of these things, although I had no idea of the historical significance at the time. Good post!

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