I can still hear the ominous click, click, click of the Coaster as it began its slow climb to the peak of the towering wooden precipice that would then propel it thundering down through the twisted maze of dips and turns comprising the scariest ride at Riverview Park.
That was long ago, back when amusement parks and their rides had personalities of their own - during a time when real family entertainment was obtainable without a cross-country air flight.
How well I remember breezing down Des Moines’ Sixth Avenue with Dad at the wheel of our maroon 1949 Ford. The anticipation of an afternoon at Riverview was about as exciting as anything a 12-year-old boy could muster up.
My father had stops to make at various "paper houses" in the city. He would visit wholesale paper businesses, looking for the best buy on high quality paper for the family’s commercial printing business. His paper pilgrimage provided the perfect excuse for me (and a few friends) to tag along.
The amusement park occupied an island beside the Des Moines River and was accessible by crossing a wooden bridge supporting a huge marquee proudly proclaiming RIVERVIEW. Under that bridge, vintage Chris-Craft boats were often seen skimming by, with their enthusiastic riders in tow.
Once inside the gates, a wondrous world awaited - rides of all shapes and sizes, games of chance sporting prizes of unbelievable grandeur, a penny arcade complete with fortune teller, bumper cars powered by electricity sparking from the ceiling, whirling metal wheels spinning webs of cotton candy and long steel arms pulling endless ribbons of saltwater taffy. The puff, puff of a steam-powered locomotive on a miniature railroad weaving its way throughout the park.
Walking the sidewalks of Riverview was an adventure as well. Cork guns popping, balloons exploding, metal milk bottles clambering, barkers barking … oh, what a strange but wonderful stroll.
Along the way, a Ferris wheel would transport riders to the heavens and back while miniature metal cars chased each other around and around. The pony ride lured would-be cowboys and a dunk tank drew aspiring baseball pitchers. The tunnel-of-love was an enticement for folks of a certain mind.
Riverview was a magical place, definitely an adventure well worth exploring. Yet all of its attractions paled when it came to the Coaster. It stood majestically by itself. Towering high above all the rest. The screams of riders nestled down in its long, tabagon-shaped cars echoing across the park. The more experienced (and fearless) holding their hands above their heads.
The roller coaster traveled 2690 feet in less than two minutes. It dropped to the ground a total of eight times from as high as 65 feet. The tracks formed a figure eight design. There were no lap bars or restraints in the cars.
Unfortunately, River-view Park, with all of its attractions, is long gone, or I thought it was. I recently read that a movement is in the works to bring back the park. City and county officials are actually investigating the possibility of restoring the park. To what extent is yet to be determined, but at least it’s something positive in an all too often negative-thinking society.
(Ed Rood is the former publisher of the Tri-County Times.)