By GUY D’ASTOLFO
A local museum of memorabilia from Idora Park will display its latest prize this weekend: a car from the Turtle ride that has been restored by students.
The car, which looks like a giant turtle, became a project over the past school year for Joe Sander, who teaches auto body collision repair at Mahoning County Career and Technical School. It will be just one artifact from the long-gone amusement park on Youngstown’s South Side that will be displayed at Idora Park Experience, 4450 S. Turner Road. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Admission is $5.
Idora Park Experience is the private collection of Jim and Toni Amey of Canfield, who have been scouring the nation for the past 20 years to find, restore and display objects from Idora Park, which was open from 1899 to 1984. The Ameys have built a structure on their property to house and display their collection, and they occasionally open it to the public.
The Ameys purchased their latest prize from a person in Hinckley, Ohio, in 2011. It was in rough shape, but Sander and his students got it looking as good as new over the past school year.
“It was in one whole piece when we got it, and we tore it apart, logged every bolt and bagged and tagged it, and took photos, so we’d know where they go when we put it back together,” said Sander.
The Turtle car was badly rusted, so Sander and students also had to do a good bit of repairs that involved welding in new plates and using fiberglass for other trouble spots. It was similar to fixing up an old car.
“The [Turtle] car was built around 1950, and the metal was very strong – not like today’s cars,” said Sander. “We also cut out the entire floor and welded in a new one.”
When it was time to paint it, Jim Amey had the final say on picking the exact shade of green.
Sander said that 11 seniors and 11 juniors contributed to the restoration of the car. Next school year, he and his students will restore an Idora Kiddieland auto ride car that the Ameys recently purchased from a person in Tennessee.
“I really like what [the Ameys] are doing, and I want to help out as much as I can,” said Sander.
The Turtle car, which has been nicknamed “Chip,” was sitting outdoors for 30 years when the Ameys bought it.
Jim Amey enjoyed seeing the involvement of students who were not yet born when Idora closed help bring back a piece of its history.
“Years from now, these kids will walk through a museum with their grandchildren, see Chip, and say, ‘I did that,’” said Amey. “It’s what the Idora Park Experience is all about – helping people experience the past and paying it forward.”
At considerable personal expense, the Ameys have amassed what is almost certainly the most extensive collection of Idora Park artifacts. Their trove includes:
The complete Kiddie Train
Wildcat and Jack Rabbit roller coaster cars
All three Baby Wildcat coaster cars
A Silver Rocket Ship car
A Rapids/Lost River boat
Tilt-A-Whirl car and signage
Caterpillar car and signage
An 18-foot replica of the Wildcat roller coaster
Visitors to the museum this weekend will be able to:
Play several Idora arcade games, which were restored by Larry Cadman.
Talk to Chris Bell and Leslie Bell Redman, children of the late and legendary Youngstown DJ Boots Bell, who will be displaying memorabilia.
Purchase cotton candy, made with the original Idora recipe by Tammi Anderson, whose family ran the cotton candy stand from 1929 to 1984.
Talk to Ray and Christine Kondas, former owners of the Wildcat replica.
Amey’s love for Idora goes back to at least the summer of 1976, when he worked at the park while he was a senior at Chaney High School. Thanks to his online presence, he constantly gets emails from people across the country who have pieces for sale.
The Ameys intend to donate their entire collection to the Mahoning Valley Historical Society at a date that both sides agree on.
Leann Rich, spokesperson for the MVHS, said the society has not yet determined when it will take possession of the collection, or where it will house and display the artifacts. The MVHS board plans to discuss the topic this month.
The Ameys recently tried to buy the land where Idora once stood in hopes of constructing a museum on it, but were unsuccessful.
Although it has consumed a lot of money and countless hours, the Idora collection is a labor of love for Jim Amey. He knows it’s all worth it every time he see the reaction on the faces of visitors. “They are crying and laughing, saying, ‘I can’t believe he found this,’” said Amey. “I am so close to this collection that I can’t grasp it, but people are moved to cry and laugh, and it’s a useful feeling. I don’t mind spending the money.”
He recalled one incident at an open house that – while by no means isolated – epitomized the impact of his efforts on others.
“Two ladies in their 80s were talking, one to my wife and the other to me, while watching a video on the monitor, and one said something that caught the ear of the other lady,” Amey recalled.
“She said, ‘Where did you say you lived?’ It turned out it was also her neighborhood, and that the two were best friends growing up but hadn’t seen each other for 60-some years. They were crying and hugging, and it was incredible that we got to catch it. Each one had left the neighborhood when they were in their early 20s, and they had their families with them. Their kids were saying to the other woman, ‘My mother had told me about you!’”