Remembering the Original “Kiddie Park ” . . .
By Rita Thurman Barnes, as published in Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise 7/11/2004
I’m not sure when this photo was taken. I only know it’s a picture of one of the first trains at the Bartlesville Kiddie Park . I’m so old that I can’t remember a lot of these important details anymore so maybe some of you with better memories can help me out. I remember in the early 1950’s when the park was located on the west end of the TRW-REDA facility and the Glencliff Ice Cream parlor was just across the street to the south.

This was back in the days before soccer practice and little league games and when a warm summer evening called for a trip to the old Kiddie Park and a new delicacy called chocolate chip ice cream. My mother had a whole gaggle of what she called “girlfriends” who got together all the time but who seemed to me, at the time, like a bunch of old ladies. Anyway, my mom and her girlfriends were always doing things together and dragging their kids along.

One of Mother’s oldest friends was Flora Collins. Flora had a daughter named Linda just a year older than I and we attended the same elementary school; good old Horace Mann. So, on these warm summer nights sometimes Mother and Flora would take a notion they wanted an ice cream cone and they couldn’t partake of their favorite flavor cone without getting near the old Kiddie Park .

Linda and I rode about every ride at the park – there weren’t that many back then – but the one that sticks out in my mind is the Ferris Wheel; we got stuck at the top of it one particular night and I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life there. But Linda, the braver of the two of us, just laughed it off and thought it was the greatest thing since sliced bread. I had daydreams of never being able to finish elementary school because I was stuck atop this Ferris Wheel.

I might never darken the doors of Central Junior High School or become a real teenager because of this contraption at the park and my dreams of a family of my own (after college, of course) might never come true because I couldn’t make it back to terra firma. Well, the Wheel finally started up again after what seemed to me like an eternity and I was once again safely on God’s green earth. But the memory of that night has never left me and believe it or not, I’ve never been on a big Ferris Wheel again although I have ridden some much scarier amusement park rides.

My husband and I have fond memories of taking our boys to the Kiddie Park when they were small. The older one was interested in the rides that went fast – the faster the better but the younger one seemed to have my innate Ferris Wheel phobia. I remember wondering at the time if my experience atop the old Wheel had marked me for life and had doomed generations to come with a fear of riding Mr. Ferris’s invention. Funny thing, I never even knew there “was” a Mr. Ferris till I began to research the subject a little bit. It seems that the first Ferris Wheel was designed by George W. Ferris, a bridge-builder from Pittsburgh , Pennsylvania .

Ferris began his career in the railroad industry and then pursued an interest in bridge building. He understood the growing need for structural steel and founded G.W.G. Ferris and Co. in Pittsburgh , a firm that tested and inspected metals for railroads and bridge builders. He built the Ferris Wheel for the 1893 World's Fair, which was held in Chicago to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Columbus 's landing in America . I’m chasing rabbits now though because this story is supposed to be about the old train ride at the Kiddie Park .

Did they actually have a train for kids at the first park on the west side of Bartlesville or did I have its memory scared completely out of me by my experience on the Ferris Wheel? My mother’s photo of the train looks like Johnstone Park but they had lots of trees at the park on West Frank Phillips as well, so it’s hard to tell exactly where it is. Someone please help me out here about the old train ride and remember; at today’s Kiddie Park , the last ride of the night is always free.
Author’s note:
The phone calls, visits, emails and letters that came in to me after the original publication of this story about the original “little park” on Bartlesville’s west side have been a source of inspiration for me to continue writing about the “good old days” in Bartlesville. Below you can read a few of the comments that I received. Hopefully the webmaster for the current Kiddie Park web site will be able to add other comments about both parks and what they have meant and still mean today to the kids, both young and old, of Bartlesville .
For more interesting stories by Rita, visit her web page at www.bartlesvillebooks.com .