Park In His Blood
- a story related by Tom Burhyte
Edited with comments by BILL COOK

Sometimes the past will creep up on you and surprise you. Tom Burhyte relates a story about himself which he has told many times over the years. It is filled with memories of summers when he worked at Eldridge Park. This time the story ends a little differently. Because in this recollection, the powerful memories crept up and surprised even him.

hances are, if you rode the Merry-Go-Round at Eldridge, you heard Tom Burhyte working there. "Heard" is the operative word here, because he was the person who rang the bell. Two quick dings and then a pause and then another ding to get the thing started. And then about three or four minutes later, just before it stopped, another ding, just to let everybody know the ride was about to end. Remember that?

Tom Burhyte - 2003Tom's is a wonderful story about a young boy learning the amusement ride business. It's about the years he spent at Eldridge working for the proprietors of some of the Park's rides and midway attractions, a story about dedication and loyalty. And it's a story of how the Park got "into his blood." In all, he worked over 20 years at Eldridge - well into his adult years - and he spent many of his youthful and formative moments with the "Eldridge Greats" like Bob Long and Herb Randall.

This is how he tells that story:

"A day at the park started at about seven in the morning and went a lot of times past midnight seven days a week in the summer. I remember when I first started working there we would sweep the whole park with just brooms. Twenty people and some times more. We finally got power vacs in the late Fifties, and, boy, what a break that was !!!!!

"Mechanic work was the big thing at the park: fixing broken Scooter Cars, changing motors in them, replacing the bands around their bottoms, sanding the rust off the metal floor once a week. Fixing broken Spooks House cars, fixing the scary things, cleaning the grease off the track so it could make good contact, welding broken parts if they could be welded at all."

Tom has fond memories of Bob Long and Herb Randall:

"Working for Bob Long was the best thing that ever happened to me. I started when I was fourteen. Got the job thru Herb Randall, another park employee that I worked for, who lived just up the street from me and was just like a father to me. We did everything together and for some reason he thought I had Park Blood in me, which I found out later was true.

"As far as Bob Long goes, you couldn't ask for a better person to work for. He would give you the shirt off his back if you needed it and then more. He was always there for his helpers and was concerned about them 100 percent. If you had a problem, he would stop what he was doing, and sit down right there with you and give you his insight on what was wrong and how to solve it. I saw people who lost their driver's license, and he would make a phone call. They'd have their license back within a week's time or sooner.

"Bob and Herb taught me how to paint the horses in the winter, take motors apart, weld, carpenter work, carving, rigging, electric. I left the park in 1970 and told Bob that if he needed anything from me to just give me a call."

It was the Flood of 72, a disaster that devasted Elmira and the Park, that brought Tom back to Eldridge.

Flood of 72 at Eldridge"One day Bob Long took me up on my offer. When the 1972 flood hit I was working in Syracuse. He called me and told me we were going to get flooded real bad at the park. That's was all I had to hear and I was on my way home to help out. We got all the horses up so the water couldn't get to them (we thought). We had to do that just about every spring anyway because of flooding. I went home to eat supper and got to thinking maybe I ought to go back down and check things out one last time. I called Walt Kowalski, a friend and also a Merry-Go-Round employee, and took my eleven-year-old son with me. We met over on Grand Central Ave. and walked in from there.

"We waded through water up to our knees and went straight to the Merry-Go-Round to get the stereo and amplifiers up just another foot or so to save them. Then we then went next door to the Spooks House and made sure it was all right over there. We had the cars up on picnic tables and the water wasn't there yet so we thought it was pretty safe there.

"From there we went to the scooter car ride and all of a sudden we had a cloud burst and you couldn't see past the outside overhang. It was just like being underneath Niagara Falls. It couldn't have been ten minutes and the water started coming in like a dam broke. We tried to get the scooter cars up on the railing. Walt and I could pick the front end up but my son Tommy couldn't push it up so we put the motor end up on the bumper cars to try to save them.

"I never saw water come so fast in all my life like it did that night. We pretty nearly had to swim to get out of there. The very next day Walt and I were back down there at six o'clock in the morning hosing things down as the water receded. We had everything cleaned up by noon.

"But the Merry-Go-Round horses were doomed - some had two inch gaps where they came unglued. Bob said to me, "Tommy we got to get this place up and going,' and that's what we did. 1973 was the last time i worked there and that was the last time the Merry-Go-Round was painted as far as I know. I had twenty years there full and part time and was the time of my life, and, to this day, I still have Park Blood in me. You either do or you don't and you might say I was one of the lucky ones to have worked at Eldridge Park."

Tom Burhyte has been involved in the recent restoration of the Carousel at Eldridge. The original bell that Tom used to ring was located but wasn't available and so Bob Lyon, Eldridge Park Carousel Preservation Society founder and President, found one almost like it on E-Bay. It's 10 inches where the original was a 14-inch bell. Tom built a stand for it to make it look as close to the original as possible.

Bob Lyon asked Tom to build the stand for the new bell. He completed and painted it and decided to take it down to the park and install it when no one was around. Tom's memories of the bell and his many years at the park had welled up inside of him and he wasn't sure if he'd be able to keep his composure. He tells it this way:

"I'm really glad I went to the park alone, because when I put the bell in position where the old one used to be I got a chill. Surprised, I just sat there for twenty minutes or so. I closed my eyes, rang the bell and it just seemed as though I could hear the sound that the jumper horses used to make. And that's when I got really teary eyed.

"As I sat there with my eyes still closed, I could just about see the people I worked with those many years ago. There was Herb Randall. I could see his wife Gerry selling tickets and all the people riding the Merry-Go Round. No one in this world could imagine what went thru my mind when I was down there with that new bell at Eldridge Park doing my thing, so to speak.

"The Merry-Go Round will be restored to mint condition if I have anything to do with this project. And the bell is part of that! My special thanks to Bob Lyon for letting me relive a part of my life all over again, working at Eldridge Park! "

To read more memories of Eldridge Park,
please visit The Eldridge Park Home Page