Giddy-up! Young, aspiring buckaroos looked forward to the weekly trip to the grocery store to insert a coin and gallop away, for a few minutes, at least.
Whether these youngsters saved up for the ride or begged their parents to shell out, the coin-operated pony ride was a childhood favorite for generations.
Invented in 1930 by James Hahs, a machinist in Sikeston, Missouri, after he noticed his five children loved riding their rocking horse and knew he could create something more realistic. He crafted a mechanical horse ride, with a real saddle, for their Christmas present that year. Seeing how his children loved it so, he decided to manufacture additional models. While his business, Hans Machine Works, produced lesser known inventions, the “Hahs Gaited Mechanical Horse” was declared the most original invention of the year in 1932.
While the original model, which his children named “Spark Plug”, used a wooden horse from a carousel, the improved version used horses cast from aluminum as the wooden horse proved to be too heavy. Attached to a stationary base, the horse is powered by hydraulics to mimic the gait of galloping horse. The first models were operated by inserting a nickel into the coin slot.
During the heyday of coin-operated “kiddie rides”, 20 manufacturers produced pony rides named Sandy, Champion, and Trigger, Roy Rogers horse from movie and television fame. Other animals followed suit, such as Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, Flipper the dolphin, El Toro the bull, the Esso tiger, and razorback hogs.
Star, the pony pictured, was created by Carousel International Corporation of Eldon, Missouri. Owned by the Veatch family, they created a wide range of mechanical rides from 1968 to 2007, when the company shut down after several deaths in the family. Star is available for rides during regular business hours at U.S. Auto Mart, 5800 E. Truman, for 25 cents.