Tim's Turn | Buckeye Lake Lessons
When I was a kid, I mowed lawns for cheap. Our neighbors in their summer cottages at Buckeye Lake in Ohio got a deal, and I got a few bucks to buy gas for my Evinrude outboard motor, which powered my 12-foot, wooden Old Town rowboat. Everyone was happy, including Pixie, my Border Collie buddy who LOVED boat rides.
Be it ever so humble, that little boat was an effective mode of transportation and my link to fun and adventure. I think my wanderlust was born the day I was given the “OK” to take the boat out by myself.
In just 15 minutes, I was able to cross the lake, tie up, and be inside Buckeye Lake Amusement Park. No traffic, no parking fees, and no haggling with my parents to drive me over to the park.
I loved playing miniature golf, and I made a deal with the owners of the course at the park that on certain days I would come in the morning to sweep the course, and in return, I could play for free until the crowds came—which they rarely did until evening. My first “real” paying job was across the midway from the golf course, where I was a lifeguard for two seasons. Crystal Swimming Pool opened several hours after the park did, so I was still able to get a few rounds of golf in before reporting for duty.
I trained and took my Red Cross lifeguard course from the manager of the pool, Ida Fletcher. We called her Fletch, but, of course, not to her face. Not realizing it then, and as my first real boss, she taught me important work ethics that have stayed with me to this day.
Never say, “It’s not my job.” We were hired primarily as lifeguards but did many other chores. Since I didn’t know the difference, I thought this was the way with all jobs. We washed and scrubbed the locker rooms, including the toilets and showers, and hosed down the pool decks. If things were slow, she would pull one or more of us off our guard stations to paint whatever needed to be painted.
Another lesson learned was to never show favoritism while at work. I can’t tell you how many times I had to whistle down one or more of my friends as they ran, splashed, or harassed other swimmers. After a couple times being whistled, Fletch insisted they spend some time on the “goofer’s bench.” It largely backfired on Fletch because most of the teenage boys condemned to time on the bench saw it as milestone in their reputation.
If the offense wasn’t too bad, the whistled swimmer had to come and sit under our guard chair for a specified amount of time. It was a great way to meet that good-looking redhead over yonder. Of course, we weren’t supposed to be distracted by talking, but we did, and I don’t think Fletch ever called any of us on it. It was a much looser ship back in those days.
I always liked one specific guard station where I could look lengthwise over the 200-foot-long pool and see a good portion of the (still standing but not operating) wooden roller coaster, “The Dips.”
Having access to a traditional, old amusement park was amazing for me, and that little rowboat served me well. It allowed me to plant my seeds in the amusement park industry at an early age. All young folk should be blessed with those kinds of opportunities.
- Tim O’Brien is a veteran outdoor entertainment journalist and is a longtime Funworld contributor. He has authored many books chronicling the industry’s attractions and personalities and is the only journalist in the IAAPA Hall of Fame.