Casa Flamingo

Tuesday, November 21, 2017


Book Cover

Introduction

Welcome to the first volume of Legends: Pioneers of the Amusement Park Industry, a new series by Ripley Publishing that pays tribute to the greatest of the great – those who made the amusement park industry what it is today. I think you’ll agree that this first collection of Living Legends is really an innovative and interesting grouping.

To kick off the series, I have chosen 10 larger than life characters that I have had the privilege of knowing for at least 15 years. Interviewing them for this book was more like talking with old friends than conducting a formal interview. As a veteran photojournalist in the amusement industry, I had the opportunity to interview these guys long before they had reached legendary status.

The first time I met them, they were just hard working people who had been around for a long time and were successful in what they were doing. They were pioneers, yes, but becoming a legend was the last thing that any of them had on their mind. They had too much work to do.

One factor all 10 had in common as they blazed their respective pioneering trails was there were no road maps for them to follow. They did it their way with gut instincts leading the charge. They learned as they went, and yes, they made mistakes, but amazingly few. All somehow possessed an innate skill and a clear vision for what they were attempting and where they were headed. Maybe that’s why they are now considered legends.

Buzz Price had no data bank to refer to when he conducted the original feasibility study for Disneyland or when he directed Walt to the location in Anaheim where the park was built. Ron Toomer had no g-force numbers or more than a basic knowledge of friction when he left the space industry to design the world’s first Runaway Mine Train roller coaster for Six Flags Over Texas. He had never ridden a coaster until he designed and built one.

When you read the chapter on the Father of the Waterpark Industry George Millay, you’ll not only become acquainted with this remarkable man personally, but you’ll learn of his amazing visionary skills that led to the creation of three SeaWorld marine parks, Magic Mountain theme park, and seven Wet’n Wild waterparks. You’ll read of Harold Chance’s pioneering journey through life as you also learn the history of Chance Rides, a ground-breaking American ride manufacturer and one of the most prolific ride builders ever.

You’ll discover how Carl Hughes of Kennywood Park became the first non family member to reach top management at the park and at the same time you’ll be treated to a short primer on the history of the International Assn. of Amusement Parks & Attractions (IAAPA), the group that Hughes helped develop into the world’s largest amusement industry trade association.

To most, John Graff is known as the now-retired top official of the IAAPA; but few know of his pioneering efforts in theme park law and contract work when in the early 1970s he became the first lawyer for the parks division of the Marriott Corporation. Dr. Roberto Ortiz, a physician in Costa Rica raised funds to create that country’s first modern theme park as an on-going revenue generator for the country’s largest children’s hospital that he built 17 years earlier. Today, the park contributes nearly $300,000 a year to the operating funds of the hospital.

Marty Sklar, who started working for Walt Disney four weeks before Disneyland opened in California in 1955, has attended the opening of and contributed to the creation of all 11 Disney parks worldwide. His creative instincts and managerial skills took him to the top rung of the Walt Disney Imagineers, where he has worked for more than 50 years.

You’ll meet Bo Kinntorph, the affable Swede from Liseberg Park who was the first non-American president of IAAPA and who is widely recognized as the one who made the IAAPA the truly international organization it is today. Jeff Henry from the family who created and still owns the Schlitterbahn waterpark resorts took his “crazy ideas” and became one of the world’s most productive and creative waterpark ride builders and park designers in the history of the waterpark industry.

This group of pioneers is an amazing lot. All but George Millay are still alive. We lost George in February 2006 to a battle with cancer. Buzz Price is the oldest at 85, coming in three months older than Harold Chance. Jeff Henry is the youngest at 51.

My approach to the writing of these industry celebrities is casual, somewhat whimsical and at times a bit irreverent. The style I chose follows more of an oral history approach than the traditional bibliographic style. It was the best way to communicate the colors, quirks and personalities of this particular group.

When I started this project, I thought it would be a breeze to locate and interview the guys – after all, most of them have retired or have slowed down. Surely they would have ample time to talk with me. Boy was I wrong. I soon learned that catching up with the “older generation” wasn’t as easy as it sounds. Time after time I would call only to find out from their wives that (Insert Name) was either out back in their home workshop, at the doctor or was taking a nap. I was always informed of a specific time to call back. However I soon learned their schedules and all is well. Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy!

Tim O’Brien
VP Publishing & Communications
Ripley Entertainment
October 2006