Category Archives: People

Eyerly Aircraft

How did an aircraft company become a major amusement ride manufacturer when most of their rides didn’t even look like airplanes? It all started with an aspiring pilot and lifelong tinkerer.

Born in Illinois in 1892, Lee Eyerly had a natural curiosity for machines. When he was a teenager, he and his family moved to Hobson, Montana where he found work repairing farm equipment. In 1911, he traveled to the famous Dominguez Field in California where he was introduced to many well-known aviators of the day. Since the famous first flight of the Wright Brothers in 1903, the possibilities of air travel captivated many Americans, including Eyerly. He dreamed of building and flying his own planes, but didn’t have the money to execute his plans. When he returned to Montana, he started up his own auto shop while tinkering with gliders on the side. He soon married and started a family.

A drought in the region at the time was drying up farms as well as work for a farm equipment mechanic, so Eyerly moved his family to Salem, Oregon in 1919. He started up his own business greasing and lubing automobiles while also working as a mechanic at the local Ford garage. His love for airplanes and flying led him to take flying lessons from a local barnstormer in a Curtiss Jenny airplane. After just three hours he flew the plane solo. This was all the formal training he would ever have.

Lee Eyerly. Photo: Eyerly Family Trust

He moved to nearby Waldport, Oregon for a few years. Upon moving back to Salem in 1927, he bought a little mail plane and began a flying school and airplane repair shop called the Pacific Airplane Service. At the time, his was the only airplane service station on the West Coast. Within about a year, Eyerly developed a new monoplane design that was the first modern airplane design created in Oregon. He continued modifying and developing the concept, but with the onset of the Great Depression, only two were built. However, it was the Depression that also brought about Eyerly’s biggest success.

In 1931, he put together a mechanical device for training pilots which recreated nearly every possible movement experienced while flying a real airplane. This forerunner of modern flight simulators was named the Orientator. Unfortunately, only five were ordered – all by the Cuban government.

Art McKenzie, a fellow member of the Oregon State Board of Aeronautics, saw the potential in the device as a means of entertainment. Recreation and diversion became more desirable to Americans that had grown weary from the hard times created by the Depression. Before he could fully convince Eyerly, McKenzie had already collected a long list of orders for the Orientator as an amusement ride. Eyerly set up a production line to crank out 50 rides – which had then been renamed the Acroplane.

The first moments of this short film show the Acroplane in action:

After Eyerly saw how popular the Acroplane was at carnivals and fairs, he developed the Loop-O-Plane, Roll-O-Plane and a multitude of other rides with great success. Despite the shift in products and clientele, ‘Aircraft’ remained in the company’s name.

When Disneyland was being planned, Eyerly Aircraft was approached to build a Dumbo ride based on Eyerly’s Octopus, but in the end the job was given to Arrow Development in California, which had not yet reached the level of financial stability that Eyerly Aircraft had achieved at that time.

While he may not have had success from building airplanes, aviation was still a big part of Eyerly’s life. He was instrumental in establishing and managing Salem’s airport, located right next to the Eyerly Aircraft facilities. The ranch he lived on outside of town also had an airstrip so he could easily commute to and from the office via his own private planes. Around the early 1950s, he retired and left his sons Jack and Harry in charge of the company. Lee Eyerly died of cancer at age 71 in 1963. In 2001, he was inducted into the Oregon Aviation Hall of Fame.

EYERLY RIDES AT LAGOON

Lagoon has had a good amount of Eyerly rides over the years, starting with their first Roll-O-Plane in 1947. When a tragic fire destroyed half the park in 1953, new rides were needed. Three new Eyerly rides were part of the 1954 lineup – the Octopus, Rock-O-Plane and a new Roll-O-Plane. A Loop-O-Plane and a Super Roll-O-Plane were added in 1972. Bulgy The Whale, which is still part of Kiddie Land after more than 60 years, is also an Eyerly ride. Incidentally, the Paratrooper was created by Frank Hrubetz who was Eyerly’s chief engineer for many years in the 1930s.

Rock-O-Plane 1954
This 1954 postcard shows an Eyerly Octopus in the bottom right corner and the Rock-O-Plane on the other side of the Roller Coaster station in the background.

LINKS

Octopus

Rock-O-Plane

Roll-O-Plane

The Looper

Bulgy The Whale

Paratrooper

Taking Flight At Lagoon

SOURCES

Abbott, Sam. Eyerly Keeps Eyes in Air For Well-Grounded Ideas. The Billboard, 30 Jun 1951.

Villani, William. Eyerly Flies into Hall of Fame [PDF]. Oregon Aviation Historical Society Newsletter, Nov 2001.

Lee Eyerly. Salem History Online, accessed 4 Feb 2017.

Lee Eyerly. StateMaster.com, accessed 4 Feb 2017.

Lagoon And The Fair, Part III: The World’s Fair

1893 World's Columbian Exposition
Along the Plaisance by C. Graham

The World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 was held in Chicago as a tribute to four centuries since Columbus landed in North America. It would become recognized as a pivotal point in history and culture. Many innovations were introduced at or inspired by this fair including the Ferris Wheel, the Midway, Cracker Jacks, Juicy Fruit gum and Quaker Oats to name a few. It became a standard for future world’s fairs as well as amusement parks, which were increasing in popularity. Among the millions of attendees was Simon Bamberger, a German immigrant who had become an entrepreneur in Utah’s mining and railroad industries. Beginning with his involvement in the Lake Park resort on the Great Salt Lake, Bamberger strove to create a place of beauty and joy. In an age of rapid growth in urban and industrial areas, the exposition with its White City sharply contrasted with American cities at the time. It portrayed the idea of a utopian society which served as added inspiration for Bamberger. After the level of the Great Salt Lake had lowered and left many resorts far from its shore, Simon Bamberger looked inland and with the ideas sparked by the exposition, he created the three-acre Eden Park at the end of his Salt Lake & Hot Springs Railway in Bountiful in 1894. The railway benefited from traffic to the park. When it was decided to extend the line north to Ogden, plans for a larger park to be located at the halfway point were developed. A large man-made lagoon was excavated west of Farmington, buildings and equipment were brought in from Lake Park and the new park, Lagoon, opened there in July 1896.

While the 1893 exposition contributed to the origin of Lagoon, the park’s management in later decades brought home some significant souvenirs of their own. Following are the stories of three World’s Fair attractions that were relocated to Lagoon in the 1960s and ’70s.

CENTURY 21 EXPOSITION – SEATTLE 1962

Wild Mouse at the 1962 World's Fair in Seattle. Photo from Roller Coasters of the Pacific Northwest, uncredited.
Wild Mouse at the 1962 World’s Fair in Seattle. Photo from Roller Coasters of the Pacific Northwest, photographer unknown

The tight turns and quick movements of the Wild Mouse was an unforgettable experience for many including Seattle native Bill Gates, who recalled this and the monorail as his favorite rides at the fair. It continued operating on the fairgrounds after the exposition closed until Lagoon bought the ride and it opened as part of a new expansion north of the park. It operated just north of the Bamberger Fountain from 1965 to 1971. There has been conflicting information about whether or not it was the same Wild Mouse that ran from 1973 to 1989 on the South Midway, but it’s possible that it was the same ride.

NEW YORK WORLD’S FAIR – NEW YORK 1964-65

Transportation was a necessity of modern fairs that sprawled across hundreds of acres of land. For the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair, Greyhound had a large fleet of vehicles built to relieve weary visitors. There were smaller, golf cart-like vehicles called Escorters and three-car trams called Glide-A-Rides. After the fair they were sold off at $5,000 each. One Glide-A-Ride tram was sold to Lagoon who called it the Picnic Train and used it to carry park guests between the parking lot and picnic terraces. So far, I haven’t come across any information about how long this was in use at Lagoon or what became of it.

This photo is claimed to be the Jet Star 2 at Expo '74. Photographer unknown
This photo is reportedly the Jet Star 2 at Expo ’74. Photographer unknown

EXPO ’74 – SPOKANE 1974

The smallest city to hold a World’s Fair was Spokane, Washington in 1974. Railyards and abandoned buildings were cleared away near the Spokane River to provide space for the fair, but also to rejuvenate the city’s center. The star of the fair’s Great Northwest Midway was an innovative Schwarzkopf roller coaster called Jet Star 2. Lagoon bought the Jet Star 2 and it opened there in 1976. It was the park’s fourth roller coaster at the time and has been operating in the same location for over 30 years.

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LINKS

Lagoon And The Fair, Part I: The Davis County Fair

Lagoon And The Fair, Part II: The Utah State Fair

Wild Mouse (1965)

Picnic Train

Jet Star 2

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SOURCES

Lagoon Sets 69th Season. Deseret News, 26 May 1965.

Bargains – The Great Souvenir Sale. Time, 8 Oct 1965.

Fun Way To Picnic. Deseret News, 6 Apr 1966.

Smith, Jacob. The Lagoon Resort: A Thrilling Urban Escape. 2005.

Top 10 Bill Gates anecdotes from his early days. Instant Seattle, accessed 13 Jan 2011.

World’s Columbian Exposition. ExpoMuseum.com, accessed 3 Jul 2013.

Glide-A-Rides. New York World’s Fair 1964/1965, accessed 30 Jul 2013.

Greyhound Escorter. The World’s Fair Community, accessed 30 Jul 2013.

Amusements. Expo ’74: The Spokane World’s Fair, accessed 29 Aug 2013.

History. Expo ’74: The Spokane World’s Fair, accessed 29 Aug 2013.

The Legacy of the Fair. World’s Columbian Exposition: Idea, Experience, Aftermath, accessed 29 Aug 2013.

5 Jul 1950: Bandits Crack Safe at Lagoon

Article published in Deseret News, 5 Jul 1950:

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Dean Swaner, 1950
“Dean Swaner, Lagoon employe, holds safe handle knocked off as robbers broke open safe after binding and gagging nightwatchman at gunpoint.” Photo: Deseret News

FARMINGTON – Two armed men bound and gagged a nightwatchman, pried open a safe and escaped with 11 sacks of money early Wednesday at Lagoon resort, Davis County Sheriff LeGrande Hess reported.

Sheriff Hess “guessed” the loss might run as high as $15,000.

But Robert Freed, park manager, said he couldn’t even make an estimate of the loss until after a check by the auditing department. He said it was at least partially covered by insurance.

Hugh Roberts, 74-year-old nightwatchman, said he had just finished cleaning a room back of the resort office and walked into the office about 4 a.m. to be confronted by two masked men, revolvers [drawn].

“Stick ’em up buddy. This is a holdup and we’re not kidding,” he was told.

Mr. Roberts told Sheriff Hess they plastered a strip of adhesive tape across his eyes, forced him into a back bedroom and bound and gagged him with torn sheets and more tape.

The robbers then returned to the office and ripped off the safe door with sledge hammers, bar, punch, and coal chisel, the sheriff said.

Eleven bags of money, ranging from pennies to $20 bills, were taken. It represented receipts from Independence Day operations, the sheriff said, and had been bagged for banking Wednesday.

Elvin King, 1950
“Elvin King, cleanup crew foreman, holds up strips of sheeting which armed robbers used to bind and gag Nightwatchman Hugh Roberts. Mr. King discovered Roberts when he came to work Wednesday at 5 a.m.” Photo: Deseret News

The nightwatchman, his hands and feet crisscrossed with strips of sheeting and tape, lay helpless until 5 a.m. when he was discovered by a cleanup crew.

He was so upset by the robbery he could not give a detailed description of the assailants but he said one was considerably darker than the other. Mr. Roberts said they were wearing caps.

Sheriff Hess said they entered the office by breaking a lock at the rear of the combination office and home. Mr. and Mrs. Max Hess, who occupy the home, were away at the time, he said.

The sheriff said he has reason to believe there were three men involved, though only two were present at the robbery. No clue was given as to method of getaway. Three concession operators who live in bunkhouses at the resort said they saw two men leave the office about 4 a.m. One of the operators followed the men a short distance, then turned back and joined his companions.

The employes – Wesley Wicker, Leon Duffy, and Pete Vlahos, all teenagers – said they thought nothing of the incident.

The resort closed at 1 a.m. after one of the heaviest crowds of the season.

“Photograph shows how Lagoon safe was ‘cleaned’ by two robber-safecrackers who bound and gagged nightwatchman and broke open the safe early Wednesday.” Photo: Deseret News

The True Namesake Of The Freedola

FreedolaAnyone who has been on the authentic Carousel at Lagoon and who has looked closely at the band organ may have noticed the name “Freedola” painted on the bottom. It’s understandable if you assume this is a small reference to the Freed Family who has been operating the park since the 1940s, because that was my assumption at first. I’ve recently discovered that was incorrect.

The story behind this band organ seems to have begun at Opera House Square. When the area opened in 1968, it featured many authentic pieces collected from across the country. This was before Pioneer Village opened at Lagoon so this was the first large display of antiques in the park. One of those displays was Lagoon’s Engine No. 999, a miniature locomotive which pulled Lagoon guests around for many years until it was placed in storage around 1949. The engine and tender were brought out again to be displayed at the new Opera House Square. This excerpt from a Deseret News article explains what happened from there:

Dick Thiriot, a Utah miniature-train buff and theaterman, told Peter Freed, new general manager of Lagoon: “Hey, I know a guy who could get that engine into running condition and you could operate it at the park again. How about it?”

That guy was Richard Freed who is not related to the Freeds of Lagoon. While working on the train, Richard mentioned to Peter Freed that he also built and worked on band organs. The band organ on Lagoon’s Carousel had stopped working and at the time only recorded music was in use. Peter was interested and Richard agreed to build a new 105-pipe band organ which has been in place ever since it was completed in the late ’70s. It’s fitting that the “Freedola” bares his name since he made almost all of its parts from scratch.¹

Along with his work on Engine No. 999 and the band organ, Richard Freed also restored the clock at the end of Pioneer Village’s Main Street as well as several music boxes for the Music Hall and was a maintenance worker on the Bamberger Railroad (which was once the main mode of transportation to Lagoon).

Engine No. 999 is on display once again at the Railroad Museum at the south end of Pioneer Village.

On a side note, Dick Thiriot built the miniature train which operated at the original Pioneer Village in Salt Lake. When the land was sold, the train was moved to Thiriot’s home in Midway and the buildings, of course, ended up at Lagoon.

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NOTES

  1. You can read more about the other band organs Richard Freed has built and the work he puts into them in this 1984 newspaper article.

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LINKS

The Main Street Clock

Opera House Square

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SOURCES

Old Engine 999 is comin’ down the track. Deseret News, 23 Apr 1977.

He’s behind the calliope. Deseret News, 17 Jun 1984.

Small train brings great joy. Deseret News, 7 Sep 1999.