Published in the Chinook Observer on August 9, 2016 4:43PM
An ambitious amusement park makeover is underway in Long Beach. The owners of LB Amusement since May, Chris Summerer and Russell Maize have been on a mission to return the park to its former prominence.
“That was the first thought in our mind, to get [the rides] repaired and back running again,” Summerer said, “Over the years they have fallen into disrepair and have sat here idle.” A carousel, Tilt-A-Whirl and bumper cars comprise the core rides of the park currently, where rides on the fringes of the property have been focus of a facelift.
Return of Rock-O-Plane
Several of the rides have been out of service for longer than many children attending have been alive, but they will soon discover what they’ve been missing.
“It’s exciting,” said Summerer. “When I first came to Long Beach in 2002, these were all running.” It’s been nearly a decade since Long Beach residents stood in line for a ride on the “Rock-O-Plane,” but the wait won’t be much longer. The final green light is likely in coming weeks pending a final inspection. Finding parts, including new ‘scissors’ and an electrical box, took time. Summerer estimates the last refurbish occurred in 1996, and the ride has been entirely idle for about eight years.
Twenty years later, the ride is receiving a makeover from Marcus Cox, Casey Strong and Jeremy Peven, the trio tasked with repainting the colossal ride from fire engine red to a cool, cobalt blue. As Cox worked on the base, Strong and Peven alternated turns climbing, cleaning and repainting the “scissors,” one of several parts that had to be replaced on classic carnival ride. Currently, the “Octopus,” “Rock-O-Plane” and “Midge-O-Racer” each had new parts installed and are awaiting a final inspection.
“A couple little things and we’ll be ready to rock on three more rides,” Summerer said. Some rides, including the bumper boats, were simply beyond saving.
“There was just way too much wood rot and rust,” Summerer said. Instead, the vacant space will allow for as many as six or seven new rides. “For the next couple years we look to continue to add things, maybe bring in a couple food carts,” Summerer said.
Fallout from recession, rain
The Great Recession, which officially lasted from December 2007 until June 2009, had a direct impact on Long Beach businesses including the amusement park. The “Rock-O-Plane” and the “Octopus” were shut down in 2008, the result of the recession, according to Bob Steffens. Steffens heads a five-man crew overseeing the maintenance and operation at the park, a position he had for more than 20 years. The park was long owned by the Rutherford family, most recently by Don, son of legendary Long Beach mayor Fred Rutherford.
“The economy was hit hard,” Steffens said, “So he decided to shut them down.” Vacant and exposed to the wet Pacific Northwest winters, soon the wind and water took a toll. The Tilt-A-Whirl, first purchased in 1999, began showing wear beyond its age early on. Rides require reconditioning after only a couple seasons because of rampant rust, but little attention was given, particularly to those no longer in service.
“Our electrical boxes rusted out,” Steffens said. A windstorm in 2008 was responsible for ripping the protective liner underneath the bumper boats, where rust and rot soon spread sinking the ride into disrepair.
Bigger than ever before
After the refurbishing of existing rides is complete, new rides will be added in the coming months.
“By next year, we’re going to acquire a number of additional rides. It will be much bigger than it ever really was before — the largest that we’re aware of on the coast,” Summerer said. The search for a centerpiece ride and new additions appealing to a broader audience will occupy much of the offseason.
“We want to buy a Ferris wheel, and we’re looking at some other rides. There needs to be a good mix of rides for young children, and also rides that will bring in the high school and college-age crowd. A Ferris wheel is something a grandparent can take a grandchild on — you want to have a nice mix,” Summerer said. Even with only a few rides running, the park hasn’t lost its appeal.
“We bring our grandkids down all the time,” said Long Beach resident Vicky Hacker looking on as granddaughter, Emma Griffeth, climbed into a bumper car. Hacker has been coming to the carnival since retiring to Long Beach in 1986, and was among the crowd of people who came to the rides Friday, Aug. 5.
After 30 minutes, Emma had weaved her way through all the available rides and retired to open seat next to her grandmother by bumper cars where she started. Next year it will likely take Emma much longer to experience all the amusement park has to offer.