POSTED ON OCTOBER 5, 2011:
A Ride to Remember
Robbie Bell resurrects kidsí rides in West Tulsa
Bell's Amusement Park is one of Tulsa's most well-loved icons -- a symbol of sunny days and balmy nights spent riding the Zingo or noshing on corndogs and cotton candy.
And then, in 2006, the happy dream of tinkerer, ride-maker and Post Office worker, Robert Bell, ended.
But carousels and kiddie rides run in the Bells' blood. Robert's grandson, Robbie Bell, is still at it. He recently took two kids' rides out of storage, and is setting them up in the open space of the Saturday Market off W. 51st St. in West Tulsa.
The market has been open there for 10 years.
Just past jumbled tables filled with antique Tiffany-style lamps and dusty, 80s-era exercise bikes and Frankoma pottery sales, Bell has been busily and cheerfully getting the rides ready to roll again.
Bell, who was five when the Zingo opened and has ridden roller coasters all over the world, said he "never wanted to stop" operating the beloved amusement park that opened in 1951.
A new generation of Tulsans can enjoy Bell's rides only on Saturdays for now. Bell hasn't decided how much to charge, though he said ticket prices will be affordable.
"I'm going to make the price real cheap," he said. "Because everybody's having a tough time."
Bell said he has 26 rides in storage, and expects to have around a dozen up and running by next year. Around 15-20 rides would fit in the Saturday Market location, he said.
"Starting over, I have an advantage that my grandfather didn't have, which is a large inventory" of stored rides, Bell said.
Super-fans created a Rebuild Bell's Amusement Park page on Facebook.
Rita Horton, who's worked alongside Bell in setting up the rides, said she remembers cutting out Bell's coupons in the newspaper and then spending Fridays nights there with her friends.
"That was my Friday night," she laughed.
"I'm excited because now I'll be able to bring my kids," Horton said. Her eight-year-old son is "really amped" about giving a few Bell's rides a whirl soon.
"I kind of get to see a dream come back to life, so it's cool," Horton said.
Before Bell's opened in its last longest-running location at Expo Square, the park began as a series of handmade rides by Robert Bell.
The elder Bell first built a small train, painted with ladybugs, which ran on an oval track around his modest house at 9th St. and Lewis Ave. The neighborhood children fell in love with the little train, and soon he was busy building more rides.
In the 1940s, Bell had rides for kids at the Admiral Twin Drive-In.
"He was a mechanical guy," Bell said of his grandfather. "He'd go buy stuff at junkyards" and putter around with his finds, mending broken pieces of equipment or creating new devices -- for fun.
"You have to be a little bit off to be in our business," Bell laughed.
Sixty years since Bell's opening in March 1951, Robbie is now the one tinkering with rides. One multi-colored canopy, one Tulsa kid at a time, he's bringing a beloved amusement park to life again.
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