FOREWORD from JOHN WOODMARK
During the 1960s, when Art Linkletter’s show, “House Party” was in its heyday, a man named Bob Thorn appeared on the “Kids Say the Darndest Things” segment with his new invention: a toy horse with a hidden spring which, when stretched and contracted, produced the effect of the horse moving forward, as though galloping. When a child mounted the 2-foot tall horse, he/she could “ride” it forward – across a room or down a sidewalk.
Demand for the toy was immediate. Mr. Thorn’s new invention was a hit, and every child had to have his/her own galloping pony. However, within a few short years, the demand had become so intense, it far exceeded Mr. Thorn’s ability to supply. As a result, outstanding orders were not able to be filled, and Mr. Thorn’s business declared bankruptcy just as it was poised to take him to a place in toy history.
No quitter, Mr. Thorn carried on with his horse-themed toy dream, developing a pony kiddie ride industry, and manufacturing those rides in an old aircraft hangar on the Moses Lake Army Air Base/Larson Air Force Base (now a part of Grant County International Airport), outside Moses Lake, Washington.
In 1984, I purchased that Kiddie Ride business from Bob Thorn. At that time, I went up to Moses Lake and produced 250 horses alongside Bob, who taught me the craft, before I moved the plant to Newport, Oregon. Over the next 5 years, I produced and placed rides throughout Oregon, in pizza parlors, gas stations, restaurants, and grocery stores, and sold rides throughout the U.S. and Canada.
I leased 6,000 square feet in Newport, Oregon, to set-up the manufacturing plant, hiring several staff to assist me. The horses were produced in a rotational molding oven; we could produce 4 horses at a time. We would open the molds and pour in the polymer, reset the molds, and put them into the oven. As the molds rotated, the polymer coated the inside of the molds and baked the horses. We would then take them out of the oven and, while still hot and pliable, would cut open the belly of each horse and insert a metal frame work. As the horses cooled, they became very rigid and hard. We then painted the horses in high gloss automotive paint, which held up to the elements and children’s use, some horses lasting for years before having to be refurbished. Our rides were unique in the kiddie ride business because our machine had two horses so two children could ride at the same time. We called our machine the “Twin Horse Kiddie Ride.”
Our sons, Wade and Clay, were 6 and 2 years old, respectively, at the height of the business. I was always fascinated with the old rides I grew up with, and I thought it would be a business side line – a fun hobby – and something they, too, would remember fondly when they thought of their youth.
Unfortunately, a fire broke out in a rental unit down from our leased space manufacturing unit in 1991. While our facilities did not burn, the resulting smoke damage made further production unfeasible. At the time, I was also developing commercial real estate, owned a night club in Corvallis, and was operating the oldest private aquarium in the world, with live sea lions and harbor seals, and a high end gift shop in Depoe Bay.
I have several favorite memories of the kiddie ride business:
In the late 1980s, I was with a group of my hunting buddies in the Livingston Bar & Grill in Livingstone, Montana, when some ranchers asked me what I did for a living. I started with telling them I had over 250 horses, then went on to indicate they were all registered quarter horses. I extolled the fact that I had so many, I didn’t even give them names, I just numbered them. They wanted to know where and how big my ranch was, and I told them I had all my horses leased out, and they were being taken care of by other people, and I did not have to even feed or water them. It went on from there. I’ll bet they are still trying to figure it out.
Another is when my buddy’s wife, Judy Brandis, got on one of my kiddie rides. We turned it on, and she began frantically screaming, “Get me off this bucking horse!”
A fond memory was when my adolescent boys would come into the Blue Heron Gallery with their friends and ask for a quarter. With their friends giggling and laughing, they would climb onto the horses together.
My fondest memory was when learning of my future wife’s love of horses (she owned a champion quarter horse while she was growing up), I told her of my 250 quarter horses. She was so excited, asking “When could [she] see them?” I told her the following Monday we would go see some of them. You should have seen her face when I drove up to a grocery store and we walked up to old #1 & #2 quarter horses!
My wife is one of the most talented and creative people I know. For over 15 years, she has asked me to let her have the leftover horses I currently still had in storage, to be able to “do something amazing with them.” Why it took me so long to let her have them, I will never understand. I’m so glad I finally flung open the gate and let loose the herd.