Thursday, July 15, 2010

A Blast From the Past - Remembering Stan Nelson's Joyland

On Tuesday July 15, 2010 Stanley Roger Nelson, longtime owner and operator of Joyland Amusement Park in Wichita Kansas, died at the age of 87. We visited in 2003 just a few years before the park closed and one year before the Roller Coaster fell to SBNO (Standing But Not Operating) status. As a tribute to Stan Nelson this week's Blast From the Past highlights Joyland Park (circa 2003).

Born in New York, Stan Nelson was a WWII veteran, serving in the U.S. Army Air Corp. A few years after the war Nelson ventured west to Wichita, to visit an Army buddy, who introduced him to Lester Ottaway & his sons. The Ottaways had purchased a 40-acre tract of land and on June 12th, 1949 opened Joyland Amusement Park.

Stan Nelson was intrigued by the family-owned business and began working for the Ottaways. In April of 1950, a young Margaret Heinzman was working the Skee-Ball booth when she caught site of the tall, lanky Stan Nelson. They began dating and were married in December of that year. The Nelsons would have celebrated their 60th anniversary in December.

In the late 1960s, the Nelsons purchased Joyland from the Ottaways and operated the park for more than 40 years. Stan and Margaret were the driving force behind Joyland Park for over 30 years.

Joyland was the last stop for us, amusement parkwise, of a 10 day/7 park (all new to us) coaster trek out west. While it was kind of on the way, the main reason for the visit was Roller Coaster. Unfortunately, Roller Coaster didn't open as early as the rest of the park. And, the park opened an hour later than their website advertised.

We decided to go ahead and drive into the parking lot, and take some photos of Roller Coaster. We are were snapping a few shots when a maintenance guy approached us, asking what we were doing. We explained we were from Indiana and we were there to ride the Roller Coaster. He told we were welcome to walk all around the coaster and take all the photos we wanted.

Soon the park opened and we had the chance to experience the largest amusement park in Kansas. The park had a nice assortment of flat rides, including a carousel, an awesome log flume, an old style Paratrooper and an unusual Sleigh Ride. The train ride offered a relaxing tour of the park, with some great behind the scenes photo opportunities of parts of the park that were no longer opened to the public.

The Bill Tracy Wacky Shack was a one of the most prominent structures on the Joyland property. There are a very few of these still operating. It's a shame this classic two-story prototype is SBNO. It was said to be the closest to Tracy’s original designs.

As we exited the Wacky Shack we noticed the Roller Coaster was running and thought the Big Wheel would offer some great photo opportunities.

Roller Coaster was designed by Herb Schmeck & John Allen, Built by Philadelphia Toboggan Company, Inc. at a cost of $75,000 with Frank Hoover supervising the construction. It opened with the park in 1949.

Roller Coaster originally ran with three junior sized PTC fixed lap bar trains. On our visit only two trains were on track, presumably the third train was being used for parts. These were the last of fixed bared PTCs in operation in the United States.

Like most coasters of the era, Roller Coaster opened with a manual braking system, which was still used in 2003

At 2,600 feet in length, Roller Coaster offers a first drop of 75 feet and a top speed of 50 MPH.

The coaster's course took riders outside of the park's boundaries, with the turn-around at the back of the parking lot. The return run had several bunny hops and a surprising final drop.

After the 2003 season the Nelsons sold Joyland. Roller Coaster's final day of operation was August 14, 2000. Since the Nelson's sold the park two groups made unsuccessful attempts to buy and operate Joyland. The park has been closed since 2006 and remains for sale. As the years have passed, time and vandals have taken their toll and there is little, if any hope the hope will reopen.

One final photo, the iconic shot of Louie at the Wurlitzer, which for most locals is their fondest memory of the park.


Unknown said...

This was a great tribute to Stan and Joyland Park. However, one of the pictures was NOT of Joyland. The picture of what I believe you referred to as a sleigh ride. It was the picture located directly below the Paratrooper. I'm not sure where that ride is located but it's not at the Joyland in Wichita Kansas. I worked at the park for many years right up until it's very last days so I'm very familiar with the rides that were there.

Thanks for the pictures and the memories.

Unknown said...

No, that ride has always been there, I don't think it was called the "sleigh ride" but that ride was in Joyland.