TURLOCK -- With a brass plaque and mayoral proclamation, the old Karymor merry-go-round, a Crane Park staple for upward of 70 years, was memorialized.
Unlike a carousel or modern school yard merry-go-round, the Karymor was a simple wooden bench, maybe a foot wide, shaped into a big octagon -- 14 feet across -- and hollow in the middle.
An elaborate superstructure of steel connected the bench to the center pole, around which everything revolved. Children could stand on the ground inside while the whole thing spun.
The Karymor was as much monkey bars as merry-go-round -- a giant, spinning, heavy set of monkey bars. The design spun in the face of all modern safety standards.
But boy was it fun!
"It was really, really, really fun," said David Kirkpatrick, 50, of Mojave. "It was real heavy, so when you got it going really fast there was a pleasing sensation of centrifugal force."
Kirkpatrick grew up in Delhi and Herlong, but regularly visited his grandparents in Turlock. Throughout the '60s and '70s, the Karymor was the family's first stop in town.
His aunt, Peggy Roseberry, 70, of Turlock, remembers it well. She still has a scar on her knee from the fourth grade, when the Karymor at Elim Elementary School in Hilmar sent her airborne. Her kids came to be regulars on the Crane Park model. Talk with local playground enthusiasts and they'll tell you of one in Ceres and another in Cressey.
"We'd get several people running around in a circle and kids would go flying in the air," Roseberry said. "It was just a lot of fun. Just going in circles when you're a kid is fun."
The Karymor was the signature apparatus of R.F. Lamar and Co., Manufacturers of Pueblo, Colo. Born in Kansas at the turn of century, Ralph Franklin Lamar moved off the family farm and on Feb. 18, 1927, filed the first of his two merry-go-round patents.
(He also patented a slide, novel at the time, because it was made entirely of steel tubing and snapped together easily.)
The Karymor in Crane Park, incidentally, is labeled with that first patent, but it doesn't match the design. The first merry-go-round had dozens of steel support beams that ran through the middle to the center pole -- a clear danger befalling anyone falling through the bars.
In the patent filing for the second design, Lamar addressed this, writing "by the brace rods all being above the supporting arms, a great degree of safety is attained as there are no cross bars of projections anywhere to strike children not actually riding on the platform."
Pictures of 1930s Pueblo show several Karymors, all the second design, which Lamar's steel supplier said in a company bulletin in 1928, "is recognized as the greatest development in the history of the playground industry."
George Williams, 78, a retired assistant director of Pueblo's parks department and volunteer at the Pueblo County Historical Society, tracked down Lamar. Williams pulled out more than 40 Karymors in the 1950s when the city updated its playgrounds.
"They aren't the safest in today's OSHA world," he said.
Lamar, a veritable playground genius, didn't live long and the bulk of his work stayed in Colorado.
On Nov. 28, 1933, he left his office in the Thatcher Building in downtown Pueblo and crossed Fifth Street to the post office. A car was on fire and several men were pushing it into the street away from the sidewalk and buildings. Lamar helped, but tripped, fell forward and was struck by a Southern Colorado Power Co. truck.
"His chest was crushed and he died at Parkview Hospital soon after," Williams wrote in a 1995 historical society newsletter.
Lamar's wife sold the company's inventory to the city, which outfitted its parks with Karymors until the 1950s. But thanks to family in Kansas and California, the playground phenomena spread before Lamar's death.
"How many pieces of equipment back in the day moved as fast as this did and gave the kind of sensation this gave?" Turlock Public Facilities Director Rick Harden wondered Friday. "You'd have to go to Disneyland to get that kind of sensation now."
In the 1990s, state law came down hard on merry-go-rounds. No merry-go-round, the new law read, can travel faster than 13 feet per second. The Karymor beat that in spades. Two years ago, it was pulled from Crane Park and soon the public facilities department was manning panicked calls. "Is it coming back?" "Is it for sale?"
As of April 2, the Karymor was back in Crane Park, but immovable, surrounded by a high fence, enshrined with a plaque and christened with 40 ooohs and aaahs from a second- and third-grade class from Julien Elementary School.
"I spent a lot of time on top of that," Mayor John Lazar said before pronouncing Friday Old Crane Park Merry-go-round Day. Lazar grew up in a house facing the park. "We'd hear the snow cone truck and all jump off and go running. You could get a snow cone for 10 cents back then."
At last week's celebration, the mayor cut a big yellow ribbon and the 40 school kids rushed past the Karymor to the new health-and-safety approved, red, white and blue jungle gym -- part of a larger Crane Park makeover.
The Karymor sat by quietly, a champion in the cause of fun.
Bee staff writer Michael R. Shea can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2391.