Last Rides of the Season

Can you hear the clinking of pulleys, chunking of metal and squeals in
the cool, crisp air, as the whoosh of people fly past on colorful rides in
the amusement park? It’s one of the last October joys of the season.

Amusement Park Rides

Amusement Park Photo © by Pat Ruppel

Summer is fun to hang out with friends in high-profile Theme Parks or for a corporate picnic with co-workers. But, there’s nothing like riding a Tilt-o-Whirl or racing go-carts with your grandsons on a clear, autumn day. 

It’s more special in a little, mountain amusement park, with the smell of freshly, fallen
leaves and a chill in the air from the dusting of snow leftover from the night

Tilt-o-whirl ride

Tilt-o-Whirl Photo © by Pat Ruppel

Yes, we managed to get it in before real winter sets in. It’s a tradition we try to keep with our grandsons every year. I know it won’t be long, when they’ll have their own friends they’d rather hang out with and that door will be closed forever. I can only hope these memories of rides and amusement parks will stay with them like they have for me.

When I was a kid, there was a carnival that came to town at the end of the summer. We watched from our front porch, as the trucks rumbled in, set up in the field right across the street from my grandparent’s house and a block from downtown.  In the years prior, when the amusement company was smaller, they used to set up a few doors down in the parking lot of the fire station.

It always captured the imaginations of my sister, cousins and I with the sights, sounds and smells.

Night after night, in that little field, we’d watch the progress of the fairytale city go up until the Ferris wheel, Tilt-o-Whirl and other rides were fully erected along with game booths and concession stands. Then, they’d open for business and for one full week the town would take on a new life with the bustling of people from miles around.

It was magical, unlike anything I ever remembered. My grandparents would give us a little money to go on the rides and play some of the games, like throwing hoops on bottles or baseballs at bowling pins.

As each night wound down and we ran out of money, we’d go back home across the street to Grandmom’s and watch from our front porch until it was time to go to bed. Then, if we were quiet, we were allowed to sit at the front window on the floor in my grandparents’ front bedroom and watch until they closed down. We could hear the traffic slow, see the last of the people trickle out and ride after ride shut down.

Then, the vendors and company workers would clean up their stations, run their maintenance checks and count their money. Slowly, one-by-one, the lights and machines would turn off and the fairytale city would go to sleep. We sat on the floor, at the window, taking it all in, whispering back and forth to each other, in the wee hours of the morning.

Soon, the week would draw to an end. There were big promotions giving one last push for the finale. More people would come to get in one more night of fun and rides for the summer. It was a crescendo of sights, sounds and smells. There were hot dogs and cotton candy, colorful lights, hi-fi music blasting from speakers playing “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes”, clinking and whirling of rides and people’s squeals of delight.

Then, it was over. But, this time, when the people left, instead of the fairytale city shutting down and going to sleep, it was slowly dismantled and packed away in trucks. In the early morning hours, they would quietly leave, on to the next town bound to do this all over again. For us, it was like a dream, they were here and then gone – puff!

Afterwards, we’d go over and comb the empty field for loose change, occasionally finding a dollar or two. Our dreams came true once more feeling the reality and glee of a traveling roadshow.

Simple times, then, in remembering, but no less joyful on the early October rides with our grandsons at a small, mountain amusement park.

Pat from the ol’ kitchen table

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18 thoughts on “Last Rides of the Season

  1. Nice story Pat! It took me back in time to when I saved my money all summer to attend the annual Ottawa Exhibition, which was a fair similar to yours on a larger scale. I remember the sideshows and the carnival callers pitching their stories, the smell of cotton candy, and the daredevil motorcycle riders. Like you, I take my grandchildren to a smaller fair now, and yes I still ride the Tilt-A-Whirl and the Bumping Cars with them. It’s the one day of the year that I get to be a kid again!

    • I’m glad you enjoyed it, Bev, and could relate to similar times and the fun of being a kid. I know there are still smaller amusement parks and fairs like this all over the world where families get together taking in all the festivities. Like you said, it’s fun pretending to be a kid again and watching the younger generation have fun! 🙂

    • Hi John – thank you. Yes, we’re okay and fortunate that the flashfloods didn’t affect us, though can’t say the same for many others in Colorado. I wrote a story about it a few posts back including some videos. Don’t know if you got a chance to read it or not. It was pretty bad.

      Hope you’re well. It’s good to catch up with you again and I’m glad you stopped by. Let me know how you’re doing and what’s been going on. Take care. 🙂

  2. What a great memory. I’m sure your grandsons will remember the amusement park days with you.

    Reading your story of how they pack up and disappear into the night, to the next town, always made me think of loneliness. A carnie life must be lonely with no personal connections or the security of a home.

    BTW, I love autumn. It’s my favorite time of year. Today, we’ll be heading out to find ourselves a pumpkin. 🙂 Have a great weekend, Pat.

    • Hi, Denise, it’s been awhile – I’m glad to see you again and happy you enjoyed the story. Yes, they’re good memories of the kids and being a kid myself I tuck away and bring out once in awhile for a tale or two. I guess being a carnie can be a lonely life — never thought of it like that. I think it works for them, though, cause it’s what they prefer in always moving and not putting down any roots.

      Have fun getting a pumpkin and taking in all that lovely autumn air. I love this time of year too! Hope to talk with you again soon and keep in touch. Take care. 🙂

  3. Lovely memories Pat! I too remember when the travelling carnival would come to our small town and can share the same feelings as you, the excitement of it all watching it all arrive, get set up, the fun we had on the rides, then watching it all come down again and move on, leaving behind the empty field. I love your descriptions of it all and how it was like a dream, gone in a puff!
    How lovely to have these special times with your grandsons, what a wonderful tradition, but I also sense the poignancy of your words as you wonder how much longer you will have these precious times with them. You always will of course, but it will be different. Many of my friends have grandchildren but I don’t as yet and can’t wait. Some are feeling what you are, as their grandchildren grow up so fast. I’m sure that the memories you are making with your grandsons now will stay with them for a lifetime, as yours have with you.
    Have a lovely weekend Pat 🙂

    • Sherri – it’s so good to hear you also had memories of the carnival coming to town and I wasn’t just imagining it. They are magical with all the excitement and high energy. I’m sure there are still some places today where a small carnival company comes to town. It would be fun to know where.

      That’s what I love about spending time with the grandkids. They bring out those beautiful times remembering when I was a kid and life seemed a lot simpler. Like you said about your friends who have grandchildren, we all know time keeps moving on and they grow up losing some of that magical innocence. But, for now I want to hold onto it as much as I can. Even if it’s just in memories. 🙂

      • Pat, we still do have carnivals here, usually in October and most towns have them. It’s quite a traditional thing, although we haven’t been to one for years now. Guess I will have to wait for those grandchildren to come along and guess who will be first in the queue??!!

        • Oh, that’s good to hear, Sherri, to hear where they still have carnivals like I remember. It seems like Theme Parks have taken over in most cities where the smaller individual amusement parks used to run. The bigger parks seems to lose some of their mystique and charm even though they bring in the bigger rides.

          I hope it won’t be long when you’ll have that chance to start a new tradition of maybe taking them to the carnival. When you do, you’ll join us in sharing adventure and excitement at a whole new level. 🙂

  4. I love those old-fashioned fun-fairs. The ones today are too fast and furious by half. Reminds me of the time we took our students to Thorpe Park as an end of year treat for doing so well. We kept telling fibs about the rides we tutors had tried, but i did go on a good old carousel! Lovely memories Pat thanks for the post:-)

    • Oh, I know, Diana, those good old carousels. It’s hard to pick which horse you want to sit on and I know what you mean about riding the rides. Even as a kid I would get sick on the spinny ones and still stay clear of them today. I’ll do the go-carts, boat rides, zip line, Ferris wheel and alpine slide leaving the rest to them where I can just watch.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the trip back to memory lane.

  5. I just found my way here from Living Simply Free.

    What a nice fall tradition! We’ve just moved to a warmer climate, and it’s really strange to not have winter looming on the horizon. We’re going to have to come up with our own, unique traditions.

    • Hi Bethany – I’m glad you came over from Lois’s site and happy you enjoyed the read. I love fall and can’t imagine living where there’s no seasonal changes. I can see where that would be quite an adjustment. To be honest, I wasn’t ready for fall this year. I was enjoying summer so much and hated the thought of snow. But, now that’s it’s here I’m good and am totally embracing it.

      I like your site and intrigued with your sense of adventure and traveling. I don’t know much about Ithaka in Greece but I’m hoping I’ll learn more from reading your stories. Hope you’ll come back and share some more insights and stories. 🙂

I would love to hear from you. . .thank you for stopping by.

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