Kids Only Please. No Rough Ridin'
December 27, 2014 6:57 PM   Subscribe

Rise and Fall of the American Kiddie Ride - Coin-operated kiddie rides used to be ubiquitous outside grocery stores and shopping centers throughout America. In the age of the iPad, what happens to them, and do kids even care any more?

Kiddie rides were the small coin-op machines designed for young children. Never thrill rides, they generally just moved up and down or side to side or back and forth for a while, usually while playing a song or some sound effects. But several generations of kids loved them.

Kiddie rides came in a plethora of forms, from pink elephants to submarines to miniature Ferris wheels to pigs to... mushrooms?! Perhaps most common was the horse ride.

Among the many kiddie rides were licensed characters from a ton of cartoons, tv shows, and products. There was the Dalek ride, the Batmobile, Superman, and even a Slush Puppie slushie cup.

Now that kids have so many flashier ways to entertain themselves, a lot of the old machines are slowly disappearing into storage, collections, or landfills. But they're still out there -- for now.
posted by litlnemo (52 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
 
I enjoyed this article. Remember those guys fondly, although I was embarrassed to ride one that made much noise or wackiness.

Part of the decline is probably that young kids aren't so frequently left to their own devices in a store or mall while the parents do errands. No parent wants to stand and watch a horsie ride go through its paces, and today far fewer parents are comfortable leaving the kid out of their sight long enough for the dread predator to snatch him. So the kids have to stand next to Mom or Dad and whine the whole time instead.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:04 PM on December 27, 2014 [13 favorites]


When I was a young kid (probably 1974-75) our local grocery had a ride with a seat mounted on a vertical rotating disc which would rotate the occupant slowly uuuuppppp and dooooooown in a circle to some hurdy gurdy music. It was bright yellow and other circus tent colors and had scary clowns painted all over it. I used to BEG BEG BEG to ride it every time I went to the store with my mommy. Never saw one like it anywhere else in my life.
posted by hearthpig at 7:08 PM on December 27, 2014 [4 favorites]


For the record, the Meijer chain of stores here in the Midwest US still has Sandy the Penny Pony, who still costs just one measly cent. They even made it their visual hook for an ad campaign this year.
posted by Strange Interlude at 7:09 PM on December 27, 2014 [25 favorites]


My wife told me that money was so tight for her parents when she was a toddler that her dad would save a quarter by placing her on the elephant/rocket ship/horse/whatever and shaking the ride back and forth as best he could to simulate the experience. Which is just...damn.
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:10 PM on December 27, 2014 [33 favorites]


oh, also, obligatory:

[williams]Momma, can I have ANOTHER quarter?[/williams]
posted by hearthpig at 7:13 PM on December 27, 2014


Very neat, thanks. Just today I saw a child playing on an unbranded racecar ride outside a supermarket. There's something about these things that's utterly irresistible to the under six set no matter how shitty the ride is. I remember examining them longingly, thinking there was magic inside their molded plastic and metal exteriors. My parents would never, never dish out the quarter to ride the damn machines so I was always the kid sitting on a still one, rocking back and forth and powering it with imagination and appropriate mouth-driven sound effects.
posted by item at 7:14 PM on December 27, 2014 [14 favorites]


So, let me get this straight... the kiddie ride, it vibrates?!
posted by srboisvert at 7:20 PM on December 27, 2014 [14 favorites]


When I was a young kid (probably 1974-75) our local grocery had a ride with a seat mounted on a vertical rotating disc which would rotate the occupant slowly uuuuppppp and dooooooown in a circle to some hurdy gurdy music. It was bright yellow and other circus tent colors and had scary clowns painted all over it. I used to BEG BEG BEG to ride it every time I went to the store with my mommy. Never saw one like it anywhere else in my life.

They have these (minus clowns) at the Chuck E. Cheese-s around here. That's where you'll still find lots of moving rides, also at some of the malls, which usually have 5-6 in a cluster and a wacky photobooth (you can add "effects" to your pictures). They are usually kind of pricey and not that exciting.

My parents let me ride one of the old kind maybe once or twice. I remember being thrilled and underwhelmed at the same time. Kind of like actual merry-go-rounds, come to think of it.
posted by emjaybee at 7:21 PM on December 27, 2014 [1 favorite]


Of course there's a helicopter parent discussion to have, and maybe even a Jackass link, but for comparison if your friend hopped off a metal seesaw at the wrong time those things turned into a medieval genius of torture. And in dreams these still grab my feet.

The ancient playgrounds of the 1980s were dangerous, amazing things. It's nice the sparkle rocket rides are still giving children a moment of adventure.
posted by four panels at 7:22 PM on December 27, 2014 [4 favorites]


I don't remember ever being excited about these. I do remember staring dreamingly at the attract mode for Asteroids Deluxe or Donkey Kong Jr. at the grocery store while my mom shopped (unless I had a quarter, then it was 1 minute of playing and 14 minutes of staring)
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:24 PM on December 27, 2014 [2 favorites]


There are still two of these outside our local Market Basket grocery store. There was also a section with several of these at the local mall though I haven't been to the mall in a long time. They were quite popular with my kids when they were small.

In fact I wonder if my youngest has outgrown them? I'll have to take him grocery shopping tomorrow and see.
posted by dweingart at 7:27 PM on December 27, 2014


They have a bunch of car and truck ones at my local mall, and when we get really desperate in the winter and go to the mall to work off some energy without getting frostbite, it is some pretty good value for my quarter. All the rides seat two kids. For fifty cents or a dollar they are overjoyed.

Of course we don't go to the mall too often and when I take my kids with me it is usually specifically to entertain them, so I don't mind spending a buck on rides. I'd probably be ticked if there were one at the entrance to my supermarket and I had to listen to weekly whining about it.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:30 PM on December 27, 2014


There was only one in my rural area - a horse, a brown horse with a white mane and tail, and black saddle/bridle - so there was always a line, which somehow filled me with even more longing as my parents weren't ever willing to wait.

But now as an adult who still loves these things and hops in on them whenever I see them, complete with voicing sound effects, I have to say that kids aren't the only ones who will miss them when they disappear. Only now they come with bonus embarrassing of companions joy factor!
posted by barchan at 7:35 PM on December 27, 2014 [7 favorites]


One of the arcades on the boardwalk in Ocean City, NJ has the seat on the vertical disc ride; an old one, for sure, it might have even had the clowns. I was so fascinated I made my kid ride it.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:36 PM on December 27, 2014 [3 favorites]


When I go to Meijers and get some pennies back in change, I like to leave them on the horse ride for a little kid to find. If I'm lucky, I'll get to see a little kid all excited about finding a coin and being able to ride the horsie. You can't buy that much happiness anywhere else for just a penny.
posted by stray thoughts at 7:41 PM on December 27, 2014 [96 favorites]


My parents would never, never dish out the quarter to ride the damn machines so I was always the kid sitting on a still one, rocking back and forth and powering it with imagination and appropriate mouth-driven sound effects.

That was me. And then one day, for whatever reason, one of my parents put a quarter in the machine. I still clearly remember what a disappointment it was -- it moved slowly back and forth for a minute and then wheezed to a stop. My own rocking and sound effects were far better. It was enough of a letdown that I never bothered to sit on one again, much less beg for money to put in it.

So, let me get this straight... the kiddie ride, it vibrates?!

If there was ever a question that got you put straight on a list...
posted by Dip Flash at 7:42 PM on December 27, 2014 [5 favorites]


I remember the ride Hearthpig is talking about. When I was young, I stayed away from that ride because I have never seen it in operation and thought that the seat was bolted to the disc, that is, you were flipped completely over with one revolution.

Now I can't get enough of it.
posted by user92371 at 7:42 PM on December 27, 2014 [2 favorites]


He was much more into the Ernie & Bert firetruck. I followed the great wisdom passed on from my Aunt Jill: never put money in the ride. Never let them see anyone put money in the ride. At 2, this was perfectly OK. He loved just sitting there.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:42 PM on December 27, 2014 [7 favorites]




As a cub reporter, one of the first hearings I had to cover in a new town was on the "rides" Zayre wanted to install outside one of its stores (yes, for you New Englanders, I'm dating myself). Seems they're regulated just like DJ equipment and, gasp, pool tables in many Mass. towns, and required official hearings before the board of selectmen.

Then, when we finally had a kidlet of our own, well, she used to love the yellow horse outside the door of our local Star Market. This was around 2000 or so. Fortunately, she'd outgrown it by the time we went shopping one day and it was just gone, only some differently shaded concrete on the floor where it used to be.
posted by adamg at 7:55 PM on December 27, 2014 [4 favorites]


There was one of these - a pony - at my neighbourhood Loblaws grocery store until maybe a few months ago. When my son was young, I would put him on it and, yes, shake the thing for a minute or so and then he'd happily get down and we'd head home. Yes, I did that without hesitation or embarrassment. He didn't care so I didn't care.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 7:58 PM on December 27, 2014 [1 favorite]


My three and a half year old still goes ape-shit bananas over these things, as does my almost two year old. Since I'm privelaged enough to live in a world where a quarter is piddling small change and a world where my kid's joy is worth staring at him on the ride for a minute there's no question. Frankly the more common problem is just not having any change to shove in the thing.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 8:00 PM on December 27, 2014 [6 favorites]


My 18 year old came up to me in the drug store and asked for a quarter. I gave him two and asked him to get me a gum ball too. I come outside and there he is on/in a little car with his knees to his chin just laughing his head off going up and down. It was the most likes I ever got for an Instagram picture.
posted by 724A at 8:40 PM on December 27, 2014 [53 favorites]


These exist at Fred Meyer in the Pacific NW still too.
posted by k8t at 8:46 PM on December 27, 2014


There's at least a dozen of these rides at my local mall, and they can be divided into two groups. One is the aforementioned car/animal/Disney character moving slightly for a little bit, intended for small children. The other are vehicles, both stationary and moving, that have a screen display of some kind, intended for kids a bit older. Naturally, all kids gravitate towards the latter, except those who aren't old enough to move on their own so well. Parents place them in a princess carriage or on an elephant, drop their coin, and stand by.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 9:10 PM on December 27, 2014


Meijer chain of stores here in the Midwest US still has Sandy the Penny Pony

I only know of the existence of this chain because of MetaFilter. Somehow, in all its mentions on this website, I've always mentally misspelled it as Mejier (mental pronunciation: Meh-hee-er), and did not know my error until watching the aforelinked video.
posted by ocherdraco at 9:13 PM on December 27, 2014


Meijers! Worked there/rode that.
At break, I had the savvy to remove the name tag and stand at least 4 ft from the kids. Sandy still works on hill rd and the new mega center, #200, has one I believe. No pun intended.
As a kid we would drive from Ann Arbor to the nearest Meijer circa 74'
At first sight I said "Meyers what"
Thrifty acres
Fifty acres?

were else but for a penny you can trek an electric pony for fifty acres.
posted by clavdivs at 9:39 PM on December 27, 2014 [1 favorite]


My veterinary's has a Sandy in the lobby. Pretty sure it's a quarter per ride, though. Inflation and all that.
posted by wallabear at 9:52 PM on December 27, 2014


My 4-year-old, who is the proud owner of an Android tablet, definitely wants to ride every single one she sees. And she sees a fair few here in Hungoland. The price is generally a hundred HUFs, which is 50 cents! Daylight robbery. :)
posted by holist at 10:10 PM on December 27, 2014


I just hate these things. By the time I was old enough to know what one of these machines were, I was ready for a real roller coaster. Gimme a banana's level pleasure of Ms. Pacman for what I could have spent on one of those.

As a a parent, I gave in from time to time for one of these. Caused me an existential crisis each time.
posted by frecklefaerie at 10:11 PM on December 27, 2014 [1 favorite]


The saddest one of these I ever saw was in the run-down mall in the part of our city we call "the demilitarized zone." It was a little space shuttle, sitting in the center of a big, dark hallway with vacant stores staring out at it from three directions. Nothing at this end of the mall had been open for years.

On the side, in fading paint: COLUMBIA.
posted by Scattercat at 10:12 PM on December 27, 2014 [34 favorites]


I'll just leave this here. (SFW)
posted by sourcequench at 10:14 PM on December 27, 2014 [4 favorites]


I remember sitting on my uncle's knee (early 70s)pretending that he was a horsey ride, miming feeding dimes into his shoulder . At one point I told him that I'd put 100 dimes in and he went haywire.
posted by brujita at 11:22 PM on December 27, 2014 [5 favorites]


A quarter? The last one of these I saw, the price was $2.

There's also a carousel ride with three or four horses for $1. I don't see many parents using it, because it seems a waste to pay $1 for three empty seats, and damn if they're going to let some other parent's kids freeload on their dollar.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 4:04 AM on December 28, 2014


My Meijer has a Sandy, too! A mere penny per ride. Every Christmas, they shove a stylized "holiday" background behind it, I guess in case someone wants to take a picture of their kid on it.

When I go to Meijers and get some pennies back in change, I like to leave them on the horse ride for a little kid to find.

Best. Idea. Evar! We'll be doing our grocery shopping later today at Meijer. I just may pack a pocketful of pennies.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:20 AM on December 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


Need a penny for Sandy at Meijers? Ask the nearest door greeter. They have a vest pocket full of them and it's pretty much company policy that no child shall be denied a ride for mere want of a penny. I live in the heart of the heart of meijer country and it has always been thus...
posted by Chrischris at 5:35 AM on December 28, 2014 [12 favorites]


There are a whole bunch in our neighborhood in Queens. Outside every bodega, it feels like. My 6yo is still into them-- she's given all the animals names and she greets them as we walk by. She gets two quarters every time we are out and about to bestow on the current favored ride.

At least its better than her obsession with those stupid claw grabber games.
posted by gaspode at 6:15 AM on December 28, 2014 [3 favorites]


There are kids on the horse every single time I am at a Meijer (this is way more often than I care to admit.) And Sandy is the s l o w e s t horse, EVAR.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 8:26 AM on December 28, 2014


I never got to ride on these when I was a kid :(
posted by oceanjesse at 8:52 AM on December 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


Our local downtown mall has a bank of these. I use it as a shortcut sometimes in bad weather. They have proximity sensors and emit a barrage of canned toddler laughter if you walk too close. It creeps me out and makes me think it should be a scene in a zombie movie. In four years of using that shortcut, I've seen them in actual use once.
posted by meinvt at 8:59 AM on December 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


huh. our King Soopers in Boulder still has pony rides near the entrances (large and small) and I constantly see kids on them. Boulder is more of a free-range-kids community than median U.S. demographically tho, so ymmv.
posted by lonefrontranger at 9:03 AM on December 28, 2014


lfr, in Eugene, the preferred term is "feral" kids.
posted by Danf at 9:16 AM on December 28, 2014


You still see them every now and again. And the kids, especially the little ones, still dig them.
posted by jonmc at 9:23 AM on December 28, 2014


Not every King Soopers has these in Colorado, but they are more of a King Soopers / Colorado thing than a Boulder thing as I've seen them in a few other cities like Arvada and Golden. I hit up two King Sooper's last night looking for a Rubik's cube. Can you believe it, they were buy 2 get one free and nowhere to be found :(

As a parent I learned how to physically whisk my kids past these and verbally or visually distract them as we walk by...of course if the ride was really fun they would more intensely remember it and bug me about it during the entire store trip, but they are more excited about the varieties of crap to buy and then it's just a ninja / PR / security maneuver on the way out ensuring they never see that fuckin' horse.
posted by aydeejones at 12:36 PM on December 28, 2014


Also: in Colorado we have Casa Bonita which I won't bother to link to, but it's like a legal kiddie crack playground with crappy Mexican food and poorly maintained video games and skee ball, etc. The whole experience is a spectacle and people even walk by your table and try to sell you bullshit plastic light toys so that your kids can flip out when you say "no."

I have honed my skills to where I can leave that restaurant with two kids and mom, which is full of distractions everywhere, including at least one gumball machine and horsey ride on the way out. By the time we're ready to leave I'm not in the mood to teach my kids the wonders of delayed gratification and stuff so I just really pull out the misdirection as mentioned above and it's deviously fun, like sneaking out of your parents' house except you're pulling a fast one on a 7 year old.
posted by aydeejones at 12:41 PM on December 28, 2014


King Soopers in Denver in the 90's: a regular old horsie ride in the corner by the pharmacy which my kid got years of enjoyment out of, from the times I had to hold her to the time she got too old. I remember it being one penny…but even if it was actually a quarter, she got to ride that damn thing every time we went to the store. Obviously, it didn't make the store any money, so they eventually got rid of it. I still see them sometimes, but my parental antenna have atrophied, so I can't remember where.
posted by kozad at 12:54 PM on December 28, 2014


My parents were not normally willing to shell out for the gumball machines - they had a tight grip on a dollar and they didn't want us to have gum anyways. But we often got rides on the penny horses at Meijers.

In the 1970s Meijers also had what they called the "Oasis" which was a gazebo in the middle of the store, with green shag carpeting and plastic zoo animals to climb on, surrounded with benches for the dads to sit on while the moms grocery shopped. It was our favorite store.
posted by elizilla at 12:55 PM on December 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


I remember there was one at the local shopping centre which was a koala with a saddle on it that used to climb up and down a slightly inclined "tree". I always used to beg Mum to go on it. One day, it broke in the most magnificent way - it just wouldn't turn off. The usual minute of slowly creeping up and down the tree turned into two, then five...

At which point, Mum said "Time to get off now!". I vaguely remember having a melt-down because, dammit, it was still moving so the ride wasn't finished, and being dragged off while some poor store employee tried to turn off the OUT OF CONTROL ride that moved like a speeding glacier.
posted by ninazer0 at 3:12 PM on December 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


Screw the ride, give me candy instead.
posted by Fizz at 3:25 PM on December 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


I was at the gym today, watching people with various "creative" approaches to the stairmaster and other equipment, and it made me think of this thread.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 4:55 PM on December 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


My parents would never, never dish out the quarter to ride the damn machines so I was always the kid sitting on a still one, rocking back and forth and powering it with imagination and appropriate mouth-driven sound effects.

Lucky! Not only would Mom not shell out the quarter, we weren't allowed to even get on them. And that pink elephant outside KMart used to sit there smiling so sweetly!
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:47 PM on December 28, 2014


Kiddie rides provide other important functions aside from just riding them. When I was little my mom always made me tie up my invisible miniature brontosaurus friend at the kiddie ride before going into the store. Without kiddie rides, where would kids tie up their invisible dinosaurs?
posted by homunculus at 7:21 PM on January 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


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