One of my favorite memories from being a kid was my family’s annual trip to Six Flags outside of St. Louis, Missouri. We would leave home early in the morning, arrive at the park around 10 AM, go on a few rides, and then return home, all in the course of a single day. But it was a day that we always looked forward to.
The park had roller coasters, and those were always the ones that my siblings and I wanted to go on the most, even if it meant waiting in long lines and eating up the time that we had in the park. It was worth it, just to be able to tell anyone who was interested that we had taken a ride on whatever that year’s new offering was.
But sometimes we also went on the rides with shorter lines, such as a log flume ride or something that resembled a tilt-a-whirl. And the one that I remember the most was the one with the cars that we kids got to drive. It was always kick to have my mom in the car, and drive her around for a change.
The steering wheels on these cars actually turned, giving the illusion of control of the vehicle, but in reality there was a track that made it impossible to go off course. Instead of just sitting down and buckling a seatbelt, this ride allowed–no, it demanded–that you do something to make it operate. You had to push the gas button down, and turn the steering wheel as needed, and lay off the gas to avoid smacking into the car ahead of you. It wasn’t really driving, but it was the best that we could do at that stage in life.
We never went to Six Flags Great America when I was a kid, because it was north of Chicago, and thus twice as far as St. Louis. But since both parks are run by the same corporation, I have to believe there are some operational similarities between them. Each time I take my own kids to the park, as I did today, I tell them about how we did it when I was their age. And if they’re not interested in this, they’ve never let on about it. I think that they enjoy trying to picture me as having once been a kid, many many years ago.
As we were coming off one of the rides at the park today, I noticed a sight that caught my attention. I took a picture of it, and knew that it deserved a few minutes of my time trying to put my thoughts into words. It’s tough to do that, however, because it feels like something that I remember as a kid is now on the way out.
What I saw, as the picture above shows, was two long rows of the old jalopy-style cars that I remembered driving as a kid. They had all been removed from their track, which was very similar–if not identical–to the track that I recall from the Six Flags park near St. Louis. They had all been replaced by cars that looked more contemporary–like a two-tone Volkswagens–and were also much quieter than those old cars had been.
It appeared that the park had intentionally made these cars quieter, and perhaps more fuel-efficient, than they had been before. The loud rumbling of their engines was part of what made them so much fun when I was a kid. But, apparently, kids going to this park from now on will not know exactly how loud those old cars could be.
I don’t know whether the same kind of change has been, or will be, made at the St. Louis Six Flags. I haven’t been to that park in nearly 30 years, and I doubt that I’ll have a chance to ever go there again. But the idea that these big, loud metal cars would be making their rounds, day after day, forever more now appears to have been less than realistic.
Maybe these cars will find a use somewhere else, but it’s more likely that they’ll be turned into scrap. Fair enough. Time marches on, and saving gas–which I’m assuming these newer cars will do–is a good thing for the planet that I live on. But it’s still hard to see them go like this.
I would have rather just gone to the park one day later in what’s left of this summer, or even next year, and seen the new cars already installed, with the old ones nowhere to be seen. But once I saw it, and felt a twinge of nostalgia and I knew that I had to create some record of these cars before they wind up, literally, on the scrap heap.