Park was always designed with families in mind, an entirely new area of
the park was created just for kids when the Collins family bought the
park in 1952. It was no different from the trend happening across
the U.S.: young soldiers from World War II had settled in the
area and were starting families of their own. They needed some
place to take their children. Amusement parks were accomodating
that trend by building ride areas designed specifically for small
children. I spent a lot of time there as a child. I still
vividly remember the peacefulness I felt gently going around and around
on the little boat ride. I felt like a grown-up "driving" along
the winding course of the Cutie Caddie. (As a child, it never
occurred to me that the car followed its own path no matter which way I
turned the wheel.) I also loved the quirky Toonerville Trolley (a
simple train car that followed a wobbly circular path around a grassy
area) and Paddy on the Railroad, a self-powered hand car.
The kiddie rides at Mountain Park were well-planned. Many of the "big kid" rides had a kiddie counterpart, so small children didn't feel left out of the action. Next to the big Whip was a kiddie Whip. There were also the kiddie roller coaster, Ferris wheel, merry-go-round and jet ride. In addition to those were rides that had no adult counterpart: Puffing Billy (which replaced the Toonerville Trolley), the boats, turtles, swings, pony carts and little auto cars. All of those were squeezed into the south area of the midway between the Clambake Pavilion and the Whip.
In my second year at the park, Roger Fortin (my boss) wanted to expose me to more rides than just the carousel. So in addition to running the Satellite, he had me learn the kiddie rides. I guess he had a strategy since eventually I would become the break man, cycling through the park and giving breaks to all the different ride operators. Most of the kiddie rides were simple affairs, run by a clock timer (like an old-style kitchen timer). You'd set the timer for three minutes, push the green start button and let the ride go. When the timer ended, the ride automatically stopped. It could seem like a really boring job and many ride operators hated being assigned to kiddieland, considering it a form of punishment. But Roger knew that it took a special kind of person to work there. You couldn't simply stare off into space while the ride was running. Kids can be rambunctious. Some kids scare easily. Some get bored. Three minutes can be a long time for a child. So as a ride operator, you had to continually watch the kids to make sure they were safe. You'd help them get in the ride and strap them in (sometimes with the parents helping). You'd try to calm their fears if they were scared. And when the ride was over, you'd help them out. That was especially important on the boat ride, where a child climbing out unaided would probably fall into the cinderblock pool where the boats floated. The one ride where kids didn't need much assistance was the kiddie merry-go-round. They would just hop on the platform, climb on a horse and they were ready to go.
It still amazes me how simply things ran back then. Some of the rides were fenced off: the swings (because of the free-flying seats) and the stretch between Puffing Billy and the Cutie Caddie (because of their electrical rails and the kiddie coaster between them). The turtles had a chain-link fence surrounding them, as did the Ferris wheel. But many of the rides were essentially in the open, usually with a simple chain swag between thin posts surrounding the ride platform. For the kiddie merry-go-round there was merely a yellow line painted on the asphalt surrounding the platform. And yet there were very few accidents over the park's long history.
There were four kiddie rides that didn't involve simply pushing a button. Puffing Billy, an elevated train ride, and the Cutie Caddie, a turnpike ride, had a series of electronic blocks similar to a dark ride. One button sent a car on its way. When the car came back to the station, it would hit a section of track that had no power and coast to a stop. The passengers would get out, and then there was another button that would advance that car to the starting position. So there were still buttons to push, but more of them and you had to watch both the start and stop points. It was amazing how that one extra button helped the day move by quicker.
The Schiff kiddie coaster was fun to operate. It was similar to the merry-go-round mechanism: a clutch handle that was attached to a semi-circular ratcheted metal plate. A button started the motor and chain. Pulling the handle back released the brakes and allowed the train to roll up to the chain. I would normally let the train come back through the station and go right back up the lift three times. Then I'd turn the motor off and pull back on the handle to catch the train in the squeeze brakes as it returned to the station. It was a lot of fun to operate, and the station had a roof to shelter me from the sun on hot days (as did the Cutie Caddie).
The other kiddie ride that made time pass quickly was the Ferris wheel. It was a six-cab version made by Mangels (like many other kiddie rides at the park). Each cab was a cage, completely enclosing the riders. It operated with a clutch similar to the Big Eli Ferris wheel nearby. Even though it seated far fewer passengers than the adult version, the ride still had to be correctly balanced. So cab 1 would be loaded first and then cab 4. Then 2 and 5, and so on. There was no timer, so I would usually count the number of rotations and begin unloading passengers after about a dozen circuits. The kiddie wheel was right beside the Dinosaur Den flyover. My dad would usually be running that dark ride or the Pirate's Den next to it. So if there was a slow day, I'd spend time chatting with him. The kiddie wheel and the coaster were almost always busy, and that made them the most enjoyable rides to run.
Another aspect of working in Kiddieland was that rain would shut down the entire area. The dark rides, the big Whip, Dodgems, Carousel -- they all would get mobbed during a shower. But the kiddie ride operators would just shut down their rides and stand under the shelter of the nearby concession booths. The kids didn't care about the rain and would probably have stayed on them in a downpour. But the brake systems wouldn't work properly and the platforms would get too slippery. Rain was a brief respite. Once it stopped, we'd wipe down our rides and the kids would come flocking back.