ST. LOUIS, MO -- Now available from major booksellers is a history of kiddie ride pioneer Carousel Industries, written by Steven E. Veatch. Titled Okay, Just One Ride, the book (paperback, 120pp., ISBN 9781480094222) is available for order online from Amazon.
Veatch is the grandson of company founder Norwood E. Veatch who, with his son Norwood E. Veatch Jr., ran a variety of coin-operated equipment types and founded Central Distributors (St. Louis, MO) before establishing the iconic kiddie ride manufacturer-operator.
According to the author, Carousel was the brainchild of his grandfather and a merry-go-round expert named Bill Swanson. The elder Veatch's flair for machinery had gotten him into pinball-machine operations before the outbreak of World War II, when he bought two used pieces, restored them to working order and found locations for them. He and Swanson purchased a couple of kiddie rides, took them apart, and decided that they could build more reliable, durable and attractive ones themselves. In 1968, they founded Carousel Industries and went to work.
Carousel's initial products were the Senior Carousel, an innovative design with four cast-aluminum animals to ride, and the Thunder Horse, a more conventional one-child piece. Senior Carousel found favor rapidly, and customers asked for more such multiplayer rides. Carousel responded with Kentucky Derby, which featured three of the Thunder Horses on a single base, lined up for a race.
With a line of proven rides, the first and second-generation Veatches and Swanson sold Kmart on the idea of placing kiddie rides in front of its stores. Kmart had been launched in 1962 by the venerable S.S. Kresge Corp., which recognized that the days of the urban "five- and ten-cent" variety store were numbered and saw the potential in large suburban malls. Landing this large and growing national account put Carousel Industries on the map, and led to an eventful quarter of a century.
Along the way, the company reached agreements with other chains, like Family Dollar Stores and some regional supermarkets. It developed video-enhanced rides, such as automobile simulators with interactive displays giving the rider a view of the road ahead, and went on to add interactive games with ticket dispensers for Chuck E. Cheese's Pizza Time Theaters. But Kmart remained its largest customer.
With the approach of the millennium, the retailing environment was being transformed again, and the first generation of big-box store chains was under pressure. As that pressure increased, Carousel Industries suffered the consequences of having one account that generated most of its volume. If it chose not to comply with that client's changed demands, the Veatch family would face the challenge of removing thousands of rides from stores in markets where it had few other locations.
Norwood E. Veatch Sr. died late in 1999. Steven's brother Brad died in the fall of 2006, and their father died a month later. The difficulty with Kmart came to a head, and Steven saw no alternative to liquidating the business, selling the rides on location to local and regional operators whenever possible and auctioning off the rest. The first and last chapters of Okay, Just One Ride deal with that auction and Steven's memories of the former family business, its employees, and the ups and downs of a 20th-century entrepreneurial coin machine company.
Although there are devoted collectors of coin-op machines, most of them seem not to share the enthusiasm for detailed history often shown by collectors of classic automobiles, cameras and firearms. For this reason, an industry that did far more than its share of innovating during the 20th century is documented very sketchily. Steven Veatch's memoir is a valuable chronicle, as well as a tribute to the old middle-American values of diligence, honesty, commercial ethics and familial enterprise.
Okay, Just One Ride has won praise from coin machine industry readers. "Not unlike pinball machines and jukeboxes, kiddie rides hold a special place in American culture, and they continue to play a role in modern vending machine operations," said Vending Times vice-president and executive editor Nick Montano. "Steven Veatch skillfully tells the story of kiddie rides, alongside a fascinating history of his Midwestern family."