Both parks had the usual, and sometimes the unusual,
assortment of rides and attractions, but what drew me in like a magnet was the
Penny Arcade. They each had one wall lined with Skee Ball machines, which I
always tried my hand at, and the "required" fortune teller, as well as Flip
A Show gadgets which, when you turned a handle, would flip a series of cards
to simulate a herky jerky movie of sorts. But the real treasure for me, even
as a young boy, were the pinball machines, some of which were non-paying gaming
devices, but to me, they were all Pinball Machines. Since I was only six or
seven at the time, which was fifty years ago, I have no idea which games were
in those Penny Arcades, save one.
I do know that there were several ScramBalls
tucked in the corner of the LaSourdesville Lake Penny Arcade, because a friend
of mine has recreated the game for Visual Pinball. I don't recall if I played
the game that first year I saw it, but later on, when my friends and I were
older, we did play it for hours, betting a nickel a game, and keeping track
of who owed who, since wagering was illegal. Part of the fun was arguing about
the amount lost and won when we finally settled up. Thinking back, I chuckle
at the For Amusement Only plastered on every pinball and Bingo machine in sight.
Yes it was amusing, especially if I was lucky enough to collect a pocketful
of nickels from one of my buddies.
Another popular attraction at LaSourdesville
Lake was its Old West Island village, which could be reached one of two exciting
ways, exciting especially for boys and girls. You could ride a replica of a
1890s coal burning locomotive, which weaved its way through woods which had
not only an Indian village, but also a recreation of both an Old West fort,
and a small but thriving pioneer settlement. Or you might decide to take a more
direct route on a small replica of an old paddlewheel river boat, complete with
Indian warriors who would paddle out from the island village to see if you were
friend or foe.
Once at the island, you could explore the many
buildings in the Old West town, a general store and trading post, the town bank
a small jail, a saloon, a barber shop, a blacksmith shop with a corral, a one
room school house, and a small church. The park employees of course wore period
costumes from the Old West era, and played their roles as if it really was the
late 1800s. Each place you visited sold souvenirs, and the saloon offered root
beer, sarsaparilla, and sandwiches and plate lunches. But the highlight of the
visit occurred every hour on the hour, when there would be staged one of several
exciting shows, in which visitors were often involved. They staged bank robberies,
a jail break, a barroom brawl, or a shoot out between the town marshal and an
outlaw. Since we always spent the entire afternoon exploring, we usually saw
most of the shows.
But I feel I was born thirty-five years too late,
since from the '20s until WW II, there had been amusement parks scattered around
the entire Greater Cincinnati area, which I'm sure was the case in nearly every
city, town, and village across all of America. Most of these marvelous parks
were built by either the transit companies, as bus companies were called in
those days, or by public utilities, such as gas and electric company or the
telephone company. Each was unique in it's own right, and for many years offered
families a break from what was often a harsh existence.
The realities of war, and then inflation, doomed
most of the smaller of these parks, as both time and money became valuable and
important commodities for the average family. Modern day Theme parks are not
only more costly, but are geared toward younger people, often ignoring older
folks, who prefer a slower pace. Fewer of these Theme parks offer Penny Arcades
as I remember them, and what few pins you'll find quite often are in disrepair,
or at least are in need of a good cleaning. Sad to say, but in these cases,
no pins may be better than what is offered.
I'm often accused of living in the past, and
I plead guilty, and proudly so. The time machine of my memories allows me to
once again be twelve years old, when pins were found just about everywhere.
They were still the beloved EMs, and the coin slots took a nickel for the older
'chines, and one thin dime for the newest games. And if you were lucky, you
could still find a goodly number of Bingos, and even now and then a Flipperless.
Yes, I can and do relive my younger days by playing Visual Pinball tables, but
wouldn't it be oh so nice to be able to go back, just for a day, to a nice warm
summer afternoon in 1957.
Ah, the sweet memories. But back in the mid 50s
and 60s, and even into the 70s, there were no such things as arcades, outside
of those found in amusement parks. At least there in the Midwest, the only places
you regularly found pins were in taverns, pizza parlors, or bowling alleys.
Every pizza parlor had at least two or three pins, and they were almost always
kept in good repair, since they made good money for the owners. Both bowling
alleys I visited had a dozen or more pins, with one alley having nothing but
Western themed pins, to go along with their Western Bowl name.
Finally, in the mid 80s, Western Bowl opened
an arcade of sorts, in addition to the pins in the bowling alley, in an unused
basement storage area. I gave it a try, curious what an arcade was. Unlike the
familiar Western theme EM pins upstairs, The Underground, as it was named, offered
newer, and much noisier pins, as well as something really new, arcade games,
which were nothing like those revered and beloved pins. Video type games such
as Pong and Pac Man shared the space with those irritating electronic pins with
their blips and scratchy tinny voices. Most of the players were youngsters,
who tended to be a bit louder than the older pin player upstairs. And adding
to the distracting din was a blaring radio tuned to a station that played endless
clamoring noise, music from the mid 80s.
That experience drove me back upstairs to the
comfort and enjoyment of my beloved and treasured EM pins, and convinced me
of something I had always known, but had never given much thought to. Pinball
is more than the challenge of the game itself, more a total experience. Pinball,
at least to me, is the sights and sounds, and yes, the smells I have grown accustomed
to. At Coney and LaSourdesville Lake it was the sounds not only of the pins,
but also the Skee Ball and Fortune Teller, the sights and sounds of the rides,
and the smell of cotton candy, caramel apples, and ice balls. At the pizza parlors
it was the sounds and smells of the pizza oven cooking pies, as well as hoagies.
And at the tavern where I played first Bingos, and later worn out EM pins, there
was the sounds and smells of sweaty men enjoying friendship and beer, as well
as food from the grill, and even potato chips and pretzels.
As for as I know, today's arcades are a far cry
from the Penny Arcades I remember from my youth. I'm told that there are few
pins to be found any longer, and that doesn't surprise me, since few pins are
being made now. And while the few pins that are being made seem to be challenging
and interesting, forgive me if I still long for those worn out relics of my
hey days. To me, pinball is and always will mean EM and Bingos, and yes, even
Flipperless and Payouts. For me, my memories, as well as the Visual Pinball
recreations are what real pinball is and was about.. If you treasure pins and
memories from a different era, I can only hope your remembrances are as wonderful
as mine still are.