In 1921, a new carousel was introduced to park patrons at Euclid Beach Park. Its "proper" name was The Great American Racing Derby, but frequent park visitors called it simply The Racing Derby. It was designed to become a park favorite until its removal in 1965 when it was sold and relocated to Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio. The Great American Racing Derby was located right next to the park's grand carousel, manufactured by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company, installed in 1910.
The Racing Derby was a true carousel in every sense of the word, but it was a more "grown up" version of any carousel that had been installed in the Park. First of all it was much faster traveling at nearly fifteen miles per hour which made it more of a thrill ride. The sixty four, two seated horses on its ninety foot platform were arranged in sixteen rows with four horses abreast in each in row. The horses could carry two riders each for a total capacity of one hundred and twenty eight each time it turned. They not only moved up and down as the circular wooden platform revolved, but they also moved backward and forward as it they were racing each other. This is what made the ride so endearing . . . you weren't merely riding a horse . . . you were in competition with the fellow riders in your row heading toward the imaginary finish line at the end of the ride. No one knew the outcome of the "race" and much of the ride's excitement involved "egging" your horse on until the ride came to a complete stop.
Patent drawing shown here on the right.
The design of the hand carved wooden horses created by the Williams Amusement Device Company of Denver, Colorado added to the mystique. The horses outstretched legs and elongated stance gave the illusion the horses were in full stride even when the ride was not spinning. There was a sense of excitement just looking at the ride before it began. At full speed, leaning into the wind as the ride turned you couldn't help but feel you were in a horse race.The mechanism was an "upside down" version of a standard carousel with the mechanics tucked under the platform instead of operated from above by poles and cranks. The intricate mechanism that allowed the horses to operate consisted of a series of pulleys and cables that drew the horses along an undulating steel track. The ride design was patented by Thomas W. Prior and Frederick A Church in 1913. The two gentlemen originally met in Chicago and moved to California. The company they formed not only built their patented Racing Derby but also roller coasters. At least eighteen Prior and Church Racing Derbies were installed in various amusement parks between 1916 and 1927. They are also credited with the manufacture of about ten roller coasters.
The four photos below, show some of the mechanism below the platform
Only two Prior and Church Racing Derbies exist today in North America. The one that was originally installed at Euclid Beach Park, which now is at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio with the name changed to Cedar Downs. The second, a later model (1927), operates at Playland Park in Rye, New York. Theirs is called the Derby Racer, with fifty six horses that operates at twenty five miles per hour. There is also one operating at Blackpool Pleasure Beach in the United Kingdom.
At Euclid Beach Park, some of the ride operators had a special way of showing off their agility on the spinning platform for the riders, and possibly to impress the girls. While the ride was turning, standing on the loading area, they would face the oncoming horses, lean back, step onto the moving platform, then step off. and repeat the on and off motion during the ride. The performance appeared to be a dance which became known as the "Derby Shuffle". It took a great deal of practice to perform the "shuffle" but the agile ride operators made it seem effortless.
The horse in the lead at the end of the ride in each row was considered the winner. In the early days, the ride operator would have a bunch of small American flags in his back pocket. At the end of each "race", a flag would be placed in a hole behind the left ear of the lead horse in each row at the end of the ride. This signifying the horse the winner and thus it's rider who would receive a free ride. I questioned Dudley Humphrey about why his family abandoned this popular practice and his answer was a bit of a surprise. They were forced to discontinue giving the free rides because the Ohio Gaming Commission looked at the practice as a form of gambling. No skill was involved to win the free ride . . . it was purely by chance . . . like pulling the lever on a slot machine.
Note:Another ride at Euclid Beach Park was called The Derby Racer in 1921. Its name was changed after the installation of the Great American Racing Derby to the Racing Coaster to avoid confusion.
Reprint of an article from The Arch, Euclid Beach Park Now's quarterly newsletter. Volume 25, Issue 3, Summer 2014 by Jim Wise, Former Euclid Beach Park Employee and Euclid Beach Park Now Member.
The Great American Racing Derby was a horse racing ride that sat almost in the center of ride attractions found at Euclid Beach Park. This large horse racing ride was located just to the east of the "Carrousel". The building in which the ride was located, was 114 feet in diameter and had a dome shaped roof that was open to sky in the very center. This let in plenty of daylight and allowed grass to grow in the very center of this "racetrack" and created a very open and spacious setting.
Unlike a carrousel, the 64 horses on this ride were not suspended from above by any type of overhead mechanical equipment. The horses, paired in sets of four, were each attached to a post that appeared to simply come up out of the floor. Yet the horses were not fixed in place. As the ride was in operation, the horses moved up and down as well as forward and back within each set of four.
The floor of this ride was a large moving platform. This platform or "table" (as I believe it was called) was right at ground level. (No steps or ramps were needed to step onto the ride.) This meant that the machinery needed to make this ride function was located in a basement/crawl space beneath the platform or "table". (To my knowledge, the Racing Derby was the only ride in Euclid Beach Park to have a basement.)
I was in this concrete crawlspace once and was surprised to discover six tracks (much like roller coaster tracks) down there. These tracks were made up of six or eight layers of wood, laminated on top of each other and topped with a strip of steel. The outer and innermost of the six tracks were flat. These were the two tracks on which the moving table, with its steel wheels, rolled. The middle four tracks were the tracks on which the horses rode. These tracks were laminated in such a way as to create small hills and valleys. This caused the horses to go up and down as the followed the contour of the track below.
I regret that, on my tour of the Racing Derby's basement, I did not look at the mechanics that made the horses move back and forth. The ride operator controlled the forward and back movement of the horses and rumor has it that pretty, young ladies were often fortunate to have the winning horses.
The ride was cable driven. A cable was stretched around the outside perimeter of the table eventually reaching an electric motor then back to the table. The cable was then spliced together to form a continuous loop. This cable needed to be replaced every few years. The park maintenance staff would install the new cable and then a professional cable splicer would be brought in to make the final splice to form the continuous loop.
I was told that there were well over one hundred grease fittings underneath the ride that required regular, ongoing attention. Walter Williams, a member of the maintenance staff, over saw the maintenance of the Racing Derby from its arrival at Euclid Beach Park in 1921 until it was dismantled and moved to Cedar Point (Sandusky, Ohio) in the fall of 1966.
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LAST DANCE AT THE BEACH, by Neil Rozum, former Euclid Beach Park Employee and member of Euclid Beach Park Now.
The above article appeared in The Arch, Euclid Beach Park Now's Quarterly Newsletter Volume 25, Issue 1, Winter 2013-2014