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Cheap Thrills

40 years of kiddie rides

What do GrandPa Pidgeon’s, Venture, Crestwood Plaza, Kmart, and Big Lots all have in common? They’ve all played host to those little merry-go-rounds, horsies, and police cars bolted to the ground in front of their stores, where kids can ride for a quarter.

What you probably don’t know is that a St. Louis family, the Veatches, and their Carousel International Corporation once dominated the quarter-ride industry, manufacturing 75,000 rides over 40 years, from 1968 through 2007. Family scion Steven Veatch has written Okay, Just One Ride, a memoir of his family business.

From a factory in Eldon, in the center of Missouri, Carousel International built the Thunderhorse, upon which countless kids galloped to nowhere with big grins on their faces. The company also created SammySaurus the dinosaur, a dolphin, a mock all-terrain vehicle, and its flagship ride, the merry-go-round, on which four kids could ride a donkey, two horses, and the “eleduck,” half elephant, half duck. Changing times found Carousel making kiddie rides with video screens, like “Skycopter2, which showed the child taking off from the Kmart parking lot, and Speedster2, where the kid would dodge cowpies while driving down a country road,” Veatch explains.

The three-generation business stopped taking quarters six years ago, when a combination of lagging sales for its biggest account, Kmart, and an aggressive takeover move by a competitor led to a liquidation.

Veatch made a study of customer behavior around the rides, and he said he heard parents promise again and again, “If you’re good in the store, you can ride the ride.” On the way out of the store, he said, that same parent would typically submit with “OK, just one ride.”

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