Back in the day we didn’t have much in in the way of amusement parks. Oh, there was Lesourdsville Lake and Fantasy Farm down near Middletown. And Coney Island in Cincinnati, but that was it.
Imagine then as kids when the Taft Broadcasting Company, owners of TV, radio stations and a stake in Paramount Pictures was planning on building one of the best amusement parks in the Midwest right down near Cincy.
April 29, 1972 the doors to the newly named Kings Island opened their gates for the very first time. So named by taking ‘Island’ from Coney and ‘Kings’ from Kings Mills, OH, technically where it’s located. The park had the latest and best rides around. Only 150 of the 1,600 acres were utilized at the time which in hind sight is pretty smart, plenty of room to expand.
While my brother Tom who got a job there the first year out of high school handling lighting chores inside the ‘balloon like theatre.’ Remember that? Where upon seeing a show, staff would announce, ‘if the air comes out of the structure please everyone lie on your backs and blow up!’ Funny how you remember things.
So, with a brother as an employee, you could get family in for free. At least that’s what he told me as we hid in the back seat while driving into the employee lot.
But on first notice, what is the Eiffel Tower doing smack dab in the middle of the park? “I believe there’s one of those deals in France.” My buddy Joe blurted.
Uh, ya’ think?
The park from 1972 consisted of ‘The Racer’ a dual roller coaster which back then ran one set of cars forward, the other in reverse. The classic model-T mini-cars, gondola ride over the park, log flume, and Hanna-Barbera Land pleased kids of all ages.
And who could forget the Enchanted Voyage which was an air-conditioned indoor boat ride to the land of all your favorite cartoon characters. Anyone remember the song that played throughout?
‘Cartoon friends and funny faces all in my TV, the happy friends who live in my TV!’
Again, the things you recall.
Another fav of mine was and is The Kings Island Railroad. During the early years actors portrayed cowboys and Native Americans with guns, bows and arrows along the way.
The summer pf 1972, when my brother worked, we were there 40 hrs. per week over the summer, basically during his work schedule. Never got old and sure beat staying home cleaning my room and other chores.
My highlight over all these years must be when ‘The Brady Bunch’ TV show filmed there. We experienced the film crew and some extras, but one scene with the Brady kids was not too far from our view. Could have sworn we positioned ourselves perfectly in the background of this particular scene. Imagine the excitement to see the episode months later, Friday night on ABC TV.
Now imagine the disappointment of ending up on the editing room floor. *sigh*
Later it was loads of fun to cover all the new happenings during my TV reporter years. One highlight was the opening of the Happy Days Diner, based on the television series. The PR folks brought in Mrs. C, actress Marion Ross, to ham it up with on-air folks. Wore my leather jacket, with slicked back hair just like ‘The Fonz.’ She had a ball with it and at the end of my news report gave the classic ‘ehhhhhhh’ to the actress. Without missing a beat, she replies, ‘Oh Arthur.’ If you have no idea what I’m talking about, catch the series in reruns.
It’s been really cool to experience the parks changes over the years. Adding ‘The Beast’ was awesome and couple of misfires like ‘The Bat’ and ‘Son of Beast’ really didn’t matter much. You knew the wizards behind the scenes would come up with something bigger and better next year.
Now jump forward to 2017. Many of those early rides are history, but this year dawns a new and exciting addition to the parks legendary coasters, the all wooden ‘Mystic Timbers.’
It’s funny how many of these rides experienced as a kid was literally a walk in the park, but at my age what was a breeze is now a big windstorm.
But I was game, and … survived. It is a bit bone shaking, but nice twists and turns with a surprise end when you find out the secret of ‘what’s in the shed?’
By the way, I’ll never tell.
Cheers and Happy Birthday Kings Island! — Buch
Jim Bucher is a popular Dayton personality and guest columnist.