This morning in the newspaper was an article about a little amusement park in far north Austin that caters to the under age 10 crowd. There are pony rides, a train ride, a carousel, a downsized Ferris wheel and typical amusement park food. It brought back some memories.
When we lived in Oak Hill, I was about 6 years old and little brother was a baby. At the time Oak Hill was way out in the country and consisted of a church, a school, a couple of Mom and Pop establishments, ranches, the cedar chopper community and a whole lot of traffic roaring past on Highway 290. Aside from the school and church events, life was quiet and dull and entertainment scarce. I had an army of imaginary playmates, but very few real ones. Most of the kids lived on the scattered farms and ranches and I only saw them at church and school.
Every other week or so, we would venture into Austin to get another pile of books at the library and every now and then we would stop and spend a couple of hours at a little kiddie amusement park at the intersection of Barton Springs Road and Lamar Boulevard. I loved that place.
Nowadays there are fast food joints at that intersection, but back then it was a wooded lot. I have no memory of the folks who ran the little park, except for a dim memory of the back of the man's head as he piloted the little train around its circumference with me in one of the passenger cars behind him. At the rear of the lot was a barn where the ponies lived and the train would rumble through its darkness at one point of the ride. I can remember the pony stalls at the rear and the fenced windows at the front and the smell of dirt and straw.
There was a carousel that I was afraid of, but I still rode it. For many years afterward I avoided carousels because of that latent fear, which I think stemmed from the idea that I would lose my balance and the ground was so far down. I'm sure it was only about 4 feet from the top of the carousel horse to the ground, but it was a big distance when I was 6 years old.
There were littls cars that rode around in a circle and little boats that rode around on a green-tinged moat. I don't think I ever got on the Ferris wheel (that fear of heights again that stayed with me until I started driving around the Rocky Mountains). I always loved the pony ride, where I again watched the back of the man's head as he led my horse around its track.
We would picnic at one of the provided tables, ride some of the rides again, and then head home. On rare occasions we would cross over Barton Springs Road and play a round of miniature golf. I was always tired and happy at the end of one of those days.
When I went to work for the law firm, I was talking one day with an Austin native and we compared memories of that little amusement park. He told me that someone had bought all the rides and moved them to a spot on East First Street and I drove out there one day to take a look. Sure enough, all the familiar little rides were there, but the park was no longer in operation. A few years later and they were gone. That little park exists only in the memory of those of us who grew up in the Austin area.
How nice it was to see that the kiddie amusement park is alive and well in today's Austin. If I were a mother or grandmother, I would be taking the kids out there regularly so they would be able to look back with fond memory of warm, sunny days riding around the park on a little train and staring at the back of the owner's head.