It was the Spring of 1970 and the last week of my fourth grade school year at Sidney Lanier Elementary School in Tulsa.
I watched from the playground as the sixth grade class walked the half mile to Bells Amusement Park at the fairgrounds in Tulsa. My elementary school was just a few blocks from the fairgrounds.
It was a long tradition at Sidney Lanier to take the sixth grade class for a day of fun at Bells as they closed out a chapter in their education. In the fall, the class would be transitioning to middle school, or junior high as I called it.
Two years quickly passed and during the Spring of 1972, I got my chance to spend the day at Bells. What a fun day I had with my classmates and good friend, David. I probably rode every ride, including the famous Zingo, a wooden roller coaster at the park. That may have been the first time I rode the roller coaster.
Among the rides, the park featured the Phantasimorgana, Scramber, Himilaya, Ferris Wheel, Tilt-a-Whirl, White Lightning Log Ride, Bumper Cars, Wildcat and many other rides. On the south end of the park there were two nine-hole miniature golf courses.
Bells was founded in 1951 by Robert Bell, who started with a miniature train around his Tulsa home in 1948, later offering children’s ride at one of Tulsa’s drive-in theaters. He opened Bells at the Tulsa Fairgrounds in March 1951.
The amusement park remained in operation by the Bell family for 55-years through the 2006 season when the park lost its lease with the Fairgrounds. I’m sure city politics were involved.
It was a sad ending to a popular Tulsa attraction that provided memories for many young people and families through the years. Bells was the place to visit on a Friday or Saturday night.
There have been efforts in recent years to bring the park back, but nothing has materialized. There are a couple Facebook pages hosted by fans of the park that I follow and enjoy reading the many comments.
The Tulsa State Fair, which starts on the fourth Thursday following Labor Day, was a popular event I attended with my family. Back in the day, all the older students at my elementary school received free tickets to the first Friday of the fair and a day out of school.
Like the Iowa State Fair, the Tulsa fair runs for 11-days, only six weeks later than Iowa. The Tulsa State Fair features the Golden Driller, a 76-feet tall statue of an oil worker resting his hand on an oil drilling derrick. The driller man, as he is often called, took up permanent residence at the fairgrounds in April 1966.
Debbie and I have attended the Tulsa fair a couple times since getting married. It’s not as large at the Iowa State Fair, but it’s still a good fair that has provided lots of memories through the years.
I was thinking about the state fair and Bells the other day and it flooded my memory with the many August vacations the Parker family enjoyed.
My dad, who spent nearly 40-years in factory that made huge pumps that moved crude oil through pipelines, would take three weeks off every August for a camping vacation.
My dad had a 1967 Chevrolet pickup with a shell camper and walk-in door. My mom had three beds built in the back. We were able to store our luggage and camping gear under the beds. My brother slept on a homemade bed in the middle.
We drove and camped, mostly staying in KOA Campgrounds. My mom cooked our meals on a Coleman cookstove and my dad would load and unload the camper.
We enjoyed a great trip to see my mom’s uncle in Flint, Mich., then drove into Canada to visit Niagara Falls. We got to tour the Kellogg cereal plant on that trip.
In 1974, we took a trip Nashville and our truck broke down in Dixon, Tenn. My mom had planned to attend the Grand Old Opry, which just opened in the new opry building, but was unable to as we spent all day at a gas station getting our truck fixed. My parents didn’t have a credit card and buying tickets online was not an option at that time.
We’ve enjoyed many trips to Southeast Missouri to see family where my mom was born and raised and also Van Buren, Mo., on the Current River, where she attended high school.
And I can’t forget about the trip to San Diego to see my mom’s cousin. We got to go to the ocean and visit Tijuana, Mexico. We enjoyed lots of great trips and I’m thankful for the memories.
Summer is coming and it’s a good time to take the family on a vacation. It doesn’t have to be three weeks, it can be a day or two. Iowa offers lots of wonderful attractions, museum and camping offerings.
There is always something to do these days to keep people busy working and dealing with life. The work will still be there when you get back. Enjoy your family and take time to thank God for your many blessings.
Have a great week and always remember that “Good Things are Happening,” every day and always.