Sunday, July 25, 2010

Fun Spot (Former) Amusement Park and Zoo



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An abandoned amusement park in northern Indiana brings back childhood memories.

A slight headache due to the early morning wake up, the drive the day before and the beers from last night didn't help the mood set by the ominous rain and gray clouds that were going to make photography difficult. I had driven out of Cincinnati to visit family and once again meet up with my cousin Jeff to explore something abandoned, like we had done at Bush Stadium last year. The rain let up as we exited the gas station and ditched the "Corolla Rager." We traversed through the Vietnam-like waste high grass and swamps to "Fun Spot Amusement Park and Zoo." Despite the sudden stop of precipitation from the sky, the wet grass soaked our clothes and gear. By the time we had reached the inside of the park, the rain fell once again as we took cover from sight and nature in the picnic shelter of an abandoned amusement park.

Fun Spot had originally opened as an amusement park in 1956, one of just a handful in Indiana. The family owned place thrived in a time where the local, small parks were a staple of American summers in small towns like this before the likes of Cedar Point, Kings Island and Six Flags were at their peak. In the wake of the proliferation of corporate theme parks during the mid 70's - present, many local parks met their demise and were abandoned. You may recall a similar story in the original QC/D post about Americana/LeSourdsville Lake Amusement Park back in 2007.

Fun Spot was unique though. It's location didn't really allow it to be threatened by parks like Cedar Point and Kings Island. The local tourism of Indiana's northern lakes and numerous vacation homes in proximity to the park also helped. Over the years though Fun Spot would attempt to adapt and grow, eventually adding a waterpark and small zoo that featured white bengal tigers. In its later years though, the park had sporadic, irregular operating hours and eventually shut its doors blaming "the economy." 2008 was the park's last season.


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- Cars from the "flying scooters" in storage under one of the park's picnic shelters.

As the rain continued to pour, we had a look around the shelter. Cars from the park's "flying scooters" ride could be found, still brandishing the Fun Spot name. Ironically, these cars had been purchased for Fun Spot's ride after the aforementioned Americana closed in 2002. Yet again, they were sitting in storage at a closed park.


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- Jungle themed trash can tops.

Park benches, picnic tables and trash cans could be found amongst the numerous ride vehicles. The similarities to Americana were incredibly eerie, the owners of that park had done the same thing to store their property upon closure. Eventually the rain stopped and the forecast on my phone came true, sun was moving into the area. Still soaked in rainwater, we moved out to see the rest of the park.


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- The abandoned park midway.

In an abandoned amusement park, the absence of people is ever more apparent to me. In all the factories, schools, train stations and countless other abandoned places I've been, its easy to imagine what those places might have been like when they were thriving, but I never experienced them firsthand. Amusement parks however, I'm plenty familiar with. I had spent many summers working at Kings Island and even at the end of the night after all the guests had gone home, the place was still usually bustling with employees going about after hours duties. An amusement park devoid of all people is a surreal place.


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What I like about places like this though, and the carnival from last week's update, is what they represent and say about our culture. At one point, places like Fun Spot, Americana and the local fair that rolled through were regarded as getaways and entertainment destinations. They were a symbol of American culture. After the rise of the large theme park chains, places like this became almost second rate. Suddenly it was all about what blockbuster movie will the new ride be themed after and who can build it taller and faster. The large amusement parks kicked the charm the smaller parks had to the curb and became almost like the fast food restaurants of the industry. You certainly don't find attractions like "The House of Glass" at Cedar Point or Kings Island.


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- Gordon Bombay and Jeff representing QC/D in "The House of Glass."

Strolling around to one of the former maintenance areas, we came across a graveyard of sorts. Old food carts and roller coaster cars laid rusting in the weeds, most had probably been sitting there since before the park had closed for good. We passed the arcade and other closed rides such as a small kids coaster, a swinging pirate ship and "The Zyklon."


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Fun Spot had three roller coasters. Like many of the park's rides, "The Zyklon" was actually a "fair model," meaning it could be easily taken down and transported along with a traveling carnival or fair. Smaller parks often purchased these types of models and made them permanent installations. "The Zyklon" features a similar layout to the "Pepsi Python" at Cincinnati's Coney Island. Having ridden the Python before, I would assume that the Zyklon wasn't that good of a ride.


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- The steel track of "The Zyklon."

As we browsed through the control boxes and operator booths of the rides, it was interesting to read the instructions and manuals that had been placed there by the park's management. As someone who is familiar with ride operations, its always interesting to compare and see how other parks operated their rides.


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- "The Matterhorn," a ride that was supposed to simulate an olympic bobsled race?

The asphalt midways lead to more rides and the steel garage doors that when opened, had once revealed the games of the park. Here is where numerous kids could've forked over multiple dollars in an attempt to win a stuffed animal that probably cost two cents and came over on a boat from China.


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- The shuttered games building.


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- The "Tilt-A-Whirl" and Ferris Wheel.

I don't really remember visiting Fun Spot very much as a kid when going to see my grandparents, aside from some vague memories of riding the little boat ride. One thing I did remember perfectly though, was the sign that advertised the park's main attraction. Brandished with an F-15 Eagle fighter jet, the sign presented the name: "The Afterburner: The All American Coaster."

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A locked gate was no match for our climbing skills as we raced up the stairs to The Afterburner. If you're a dork like me and know too much about roller coasters, you'd know that this coaster is historically significant. It was the first working prototype of it's kind and many Cincinnatians who can remember, have probably ridden one similar to it. A similar model existed at Kings Island between 1977 and 1987. Named "The Screamin' Demon," Kings Island's had been the first model to open at a park and was considered the first modern looping roller coaster.


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- The "Screamin' Demon at Kings Island. Photo from Cincinnati Views.

The Afterburner at Fun Spot had originated as Arrow Dynamic's first looping prototype at their headquarters in Clearfield, Utah. Eventually they opened the Demon at Kings Island and sold their original prototype to a park in Florida. Once that park closed, Fun Spot purchased it, moved it and re-branded it as "The Afterburner." (The Kings Island model would be sold to Camden Park in West Virgina in 1987 and eventually scrapped by that park in 2004)


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- "The Afterburner."

Known as "Shuttle Loop Coasters," these models could be found at many parks throughout the country in the late 70's. Arrow Dynamics quickly came out with bigger and better designs and the Shuttle Loops were soon found to be obsolete. Not many still operate today. Originally this prototype had featured an elevator to bring guests to the station. Over the years though, it had been removed and replaced with stairs. If you're wheelchair bound and wanted to ride The Afterburner, well, you were shit out of luck


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Up in the station, the ride still featured its original trains. One notable difference from the Kings Island model though, was that all the seats on the cars faced forwards, meaning every rider would be turned backwards on the trip back to the station. At Kings Island, half the seats faced forward, the other half backward, a concept unheard of at the time. If you visit Kings Island today, you can still see very similar trains on the park's Vortex roller coaster, which also features a similar style track.


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- Front seat on "The Afterburner."

Until 2008, this was the only looping roller coaster in the state of Indiana. While unimpressive in comparison to the massive coasters at the larger parks today, the single loop and fading white track do stand out on the skyline above the surrounding fields and treetops.


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- Layout.

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- Operator panel.

Making our way down from the station platform of The Afterburner, we still had see one more thing. Both Jeff and I could remember riding a kid's ride where you sat in little boats, pretended to drive and went in a circle. The boats had a little bell you could even ring. I don't know, that was pretty cool when you were a kid. Jeff remembers riding a lot of the rides in the park, then the boats, and getting off and vomiting. I can remember riding it while visiting the park with my grandmother and mom when I was really young.


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- A sign of a bygone era, these horse and buggy rides are few and far between.

We searched through the park relics in another picnic shelter, coming across the cars to a horse and chariot ride, a ride that is really rare to find in parks these days. Finally we came across the last thing we wanted to see, the little boats:


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The boats had "God Bless America" stickers slapped on their backs, carrying on the park's theme of "The All American Coaster" and the numerous other "God Bless America" stickers that could be found throughout. Just for old time's sake, throwing back to the one memory I have of this place when it was open, I had to reach out and ring the bell on one of the little boats. The soft "ding" echoed through the closed park.


To see the full set of photos from Fun Spot, check out the full QC/D Photo Gallery.


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Previous Update :: July 19, 2010 - "Where have you been? What's the plan? What were you doing? Where do you go from here?"

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39 comments:

  1. Wow.... that was totally worth the wait. Fascinating stuff about the Afterburner history.

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    1. Yes definitely fascinating history on the Afterburner! I drive past fun spot almost every time i visit my grandparents house, with eyes glued on the coaster and eager to learn its history after the parks closing. I dont think i would have the balls to walk up next to it, but learning its history is much worth it. Theres even some youtube videos of it in operation, Its like seeing a ghost! Thank you for sharing!

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    2. This place brings back many memories. I worked there every summer from when I was 14 till 17 and enjoyed it very much. It is very sad to see this place just rust now. I have moved away from that little town now but when I go home to visit that side of town just seems empty now.

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    3. I worked there 5 summers starting @ 14yrs old. Both my brothers also worked there. By 15 I worked the far end of the afterburner. Long walk to restrooms, most of us just watered the grass. My last time working there was their last summer, to bad these parks have lost their luster.

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  2. So cool, thanks for sharing!

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  3. I have this site in an rss feed but that displays the images with a white background. It's amazing the difference here with the black background. Especially the darker images.

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  4. totally awesome pictures. I am pretty sure that at one point kings island had the matterhorn ride. i remember it , i think.does anyone else?

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  5. Quim, is it really that much different? Would you say its better or worse with the black background? I'm thinking of changing up the QC/D layout soon if you have any advice.

    Karen, KI did in fact have a matterhorn ride, I'm not sure if it was that exact one though. Although, everyone I talked to up near Fun Spot seems to think that the Afterburner came from KI. Maybe they're thinking the Matterhorn did.

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  6. This post was totally worth the wait.

    Seeing the Tilt-a-Whirl (even though devoid of its cars) brought back my own childhood memories of hurling just as I stepped off the ride. Good times!

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  7. Very interesting pictures; it's really cool to see an abandoned amusement park.
    Are you sure about KI's Demon having forwards and backwards facing cars though? All the photos I've ever seen of it, the cars appear to be in one direction- http://img514.imageshack.us/img514/7913/ki6f.jpg. Just wondering.

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  8. first off great pictures. i get this eerie feeling every time i look at them. I hope you don't mind but i have a few questions. 1. where did you park for the adventure? 2. How did you go about getting into the park? and finally 3. did you feel "safe"? sorry if you are annoyed by my questions you are the only person that i can find that has visited the park (and documented it) since it's closing in 09 and I have been wanting to visit the shut down park. sorry again

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  9. My questions are the same as Gabrielle's. I heard about the place a few months ago and have been in love with the idea of shooting some self-portraits here... Although I want to make sure I don't commit to a lengthy drive from Minnesota (in 2 days) until I can secure some more details. Let's talk?? halve207@d.umn.edu

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  10. You always do a beautiful job, thanks for sharing!

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  11. wow interesting pictures, I also would like to know where did you get these pictures, looks so nice, thanks a lot and keep it up

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  12. So sad it is closed, my grand babies will never know what a fun place this was. We had a lot of fun there when my kids were little.

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  13. Was the Matterhorn originally at Kings Island? I rode it once in 1981 and it was gone the next year.

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  14. Cool Pic's. Spent many hours there back in the 60's and 70's when it was called Hollies Follies. Not as many rides back then, but for a kid it was a great place to go in the evenings after a day on the lake !

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    1. My brothers used to take me there when it was Follies Follies. Great memories.

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  15. I'm in Texas, but I spent a lot of summer vacations in nearby Kendallville, IN visiting my grandparents' farm. We would often make the trip to Sandusky to go to Cedar Point. Growing up, I was always jaded by the bigger, faster, more thrilling rides of the big parks, so I never really had an interest in the smaller parks like Fun Spot. In 2009, I made the trip to the family farm with the wife and kids. We made the trip over to Sandusky that year as well, but I was also going to take the time to finally visit Fun Spot. Unfortunately, that was the year the gates never opened. While I was up there last summer (2012), I drove over and took some of my own photos of the park. With a couple Sheriffs driving by on the road and a couple of people in a minivan in the parking lot doing God knows what, I wasn't brave enough to hop the fence, so I had to settle for what I could shoot from outside the fence. It really is sad. I wish someone could save the place.

    Great photos.

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  16. I'm only 14, but my grandparents would take us every year to Fun spot because I live down the road from it. Half of my childhood I grew up going to Fun Spot. That little boat ride was the first on my list to go on when I was really little. And what sucks is that the first year that I was going to ride the Afterburner was conveniently the year it closed :/

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  17. The afterburner was the first looping coaster I ever rode and I'll tell you what it was like no other coaster I've rode to this day going forward was fine and dandy but the wait and then facing forward as it goes backward thought that loop is a whole different feeling I'm 22 now so I was probably 10 or 11 at the time. I'll never forget it.

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  18. We went every summer growing up... do you have to have permission to enter?

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  19. I grew up going there. I had many a birthday party there growing up. It is still owned by a local factory called Vestil Manufacturing. They even still have some of the animals (mainly Tigers) as of last year. I had head of attempts to auction everything off failed. The family that owns the site isn't hard up for money though so I imagine it sitting there for quite some time. They also had rides called the Bullet and the Paratrooper that I didnt see pictured. Between the Dragon Boat and the Arcade was the Round-Up. I barely recall the Glass House. I don't believe it was there long.

    I also had teh privilege of working there for a summer or 2 while on college break. They actually taught me how to run each and every ride and I was the guy who gave a 30 min lunch break to workers of each ride every day.

    Funny story is that I am not too fond of coasters and one morning I was assigned to the Zyclon which responsibilities included warming up the ride before the park opened. Warming up entailed riding in the front car with no harness on. Wait what? Yes that's correct a guy who was afraid of coasters had to ride in one with nothing keeping him from wickedly spilling out of the car, or so I imagined that's what would happen. I did indeed have to ride in the front and no harnesses attached. This was incase it got stuck. So what happens if it got stuck you ask? Well, that meant you had to climb out of the back of the car and jump down to the tracks and then push it to get it going again and if you were good you could run and jump back in.

    So yes of course one of the first times I rode it got stuck at the top. I had to jump out the back, blindly let my feet fall to the rails,and push. I then had to climb down because I couldnt imagine running and jumping back in at those heights. This is something with more experience I got better at sadly enough.

    I still drive by it every time i am home to visit and remember my experiences there and climbing out of the coaster car at what seemed a mile into the sky. Good times

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    1. You are so rite about the people who own the park.I really don't think they put much thought into it.Most of the time the park was closed before it got dark and back then every kid around there wanted to be there after dark, as well as the parents.I raised two childern in the Angola area, Crooked lake to be exact.They both graduated from Tri State University.
      I think when the owners of the park ended up with the university " Tri State University" named after them for a donation, The President that is still there and the Board Members who were there then helped get it done,they lost interest in the little park around that time.No telling what they will do with it now,But you can be sure it will have something to do with alot of money.It's in a pretty good area.I still drive by the park every day.
      It's pretty sad. )o:} They used to have some pretty good fire works for the Fourth of July also.....
      Too bad for the young kids in this part of the country,they will never know of the fun they will miss at Fun Spot Amusement Park.I guess thats progress rite?

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    2. The rich people who own it are a-holes. They claim that the name change of Tri-State to Trine State had "nothing" to do with the fact that they donated millions of dollars. They only bought Fun Spot because they were Lakers and since it was near the lake, they didn't like the noise from Fun Spot at night time, so they bought it to shut it down. They claim that it closed due to economical troubles. Do you know how much money they have!? Its a bunch of BS.

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  20. My family had a cottage on Crooked Lake-in fact it was past the fence and down the hill from the boat ride. My friend and I decided to "camp" one night after watching Cat's Eye and swore the little bells on the boats were really little trolls! :)

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  21. I went there so much as a young child! Always had a blast! I drive past it everyday on my way home and my son always asks about it. I wish they would reopen it but as a waterpark. We, angola, get some many lakers (tourists) in the summer and it would be perfect!

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  22. I worked at Fun Spot during the summers of 05 and 06 while I was attending Tri-State University. It was a fun place to work and the Trines were good people to work for. I knew the park had closed and every time I've driven by since then I became more and more curious how things were looking on the other side of the fence. It brought back some good memories to look through these photos. I'm a big fan of roller coasters and although it barely stands in the shadow of the large modern coasters "the Burner" will always have a special place in my heart.

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  23. Good ole hollies follies !!! Thats the name of it when i was a kid ...

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  24. This park was a wonderful place to take my son with autism. He loved the rides and it didn't have the busy-ness of the big ticket parks. The people that ran the park were very kind and our family still misses this park!

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  25. Great story. Thanks for writing it!!

    I grew up in the area and still live nearby. I also worked at the park. Although the owners are not hurting for money, there are many reasons for the park’s demise, but the main reason for the park closing was the high cost of insurance. There had been a few accidents, both here and at other parks, so the insurance companies raised their rates by several hundred percent. This, along with the declining crowds, spelled the end.

    I was also there when they purchased the Afterburner. It did not come from KI. It came from a Florida parked called Baseball and Boardwalk which was located at the exit ramp to enter Disney World. It was shipped by train. The track arrived in Angola, but the controls were shipped somewhere else and lost for almost 2 years. Finally they were found and then a variance had to be obtained because the structure was too tall for local ordinances. Many locals will remember seeing the tracks laying out back for years wondering if the coaster would ever be built.

    There is also a long-flume ride laying in pieces on the back of the property that was never built do to the same height restrictions. As I remember it; The coaster was considered as 'movable' so they got the variance. The log flume was considered a permanent structure and was never given the ok to build.

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  26. I only live in Auburn, about 20 mins away from Fun Spot. We'll go up past there on our way to the mall nearby and see it abandoned which is still so sad. I remember going there with my sister and her kids and going on the afterburner several times because we just loved that ride.

    However, the only problem was there were several incidents at funspot. Maintenance on the rides was never fully kept up to date. The last incident was the Afterburner getting stuck at it's loop and the riders had to wait for rescue to come and get them down. No one was hurt, but it hurt the business majorly. I only know about that because we were at the park when it happened. It was a scary situation.

    Still, I think if they had stayed up to date on a lot of this stuff they would possibly still be open. But who knows...

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  27. I used to go there in the 70's when it was Hollies Follies and when I was old enough I worked the when Berkeley Roberts (I think) owned it.

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  28. It is so sad, and what an eyesore! All of my grandchildren went there when they would visit Grandma and Grandpa. Some of them rode the Afterburner ten times in a row when the park wasn't busy. Such good memories.....and many, many pictures from when they were little.

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  29. I know the men who went to Florida to take the Afterburner down and when it arrived in Angola they re-assembled the ride....this article brings back so many memories. The park is in such disrepair and neglected. I had many fun times there as a kid, took my own kids and a few grand kids before it closed. I wish that someone would bring it back to it's glory days.

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  30. Its amazing to hear the history, and really sad that future generations couldnt experience the fun times that i had has a kid there. My children wanted to go there many times and in the summer you could hear the animals making there noises. Its sad that they finally removed all the big cats from their inclosures last winter. it has taken this long for everything to be removed and now just sets a ghost park.

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  31. This is a sad sight, I love amusement parks! How very interesting all this is to read about and the pictures are amazing. Thank you for sharing this with us.

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  32. I used to go to the park as a young kid when my family would drive up from Cincinnati to visit my grandparents during the summer at Bledsoe's trailer park on Lake James and Jimmerson Lake. I remember ringing the bells on the boat ride and riding the Ferris Wheel. If I remember correctly, I think the ticket booth was shaped like a horse/pony where you would buy the tickets for the rides. One ride that I remember always riding was one where you sat on a wooden train/car and you would use your arms to turn a wheel which would move you forward. The ride operator would walk around with a wooden stick that they would use to give the riders a little nudge if they got stuck going around the track.

    The Zyklon was one of my first roller coaster type of rides that I ever rode. I wasn't too fond of roller coasters growing up, but when I eventually started to like them I planned on riding The Afterburner. Unfortunately I never took my chance to ride it before Fun Spot closed. I actually ended up going to college at Tri-State University which was changed to Trine University my Sophomore year. Had Fun Spot still been open when I was in college, I feel like I probably would have spent even less time on homework and studying.

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