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Reaching for the Brass Ring

Odds are, you’ve heard the phrase, “reach for the brass ring” at least a few times in your life. Heck, there’s even a website with the same theme.

But, I’m willing to bet a Fast Pass that you probably don’t know where the phrase originated – turns out, it’s amusement park related and it’s also one of the greatest pieces of nearly lost Americana.

In fact, according to the National Carousel Museum, there are only 12 places left in the United States where you can still, “reach for the brass ring.”

A carousel brass ring machine is similar to a lottery – catch the lucky ring on your ride, and you usually got a free re-ride. Only come up with a steel or iron ring? Just toss it into the (insert open mouth item here).

Reaching for the brass ring at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.

Reaching for the brass ring at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.

Once a staple of every carousel (just like a live band organ), the ring machine slowly feel out of favor with most parks.

Ring machines are generally a pain – literally. Anyone caught not paying attention could be in for a nasty surprise if they leaned outward at the wrong time. Plus, there’s the toll the rings take on the horses, themselves. Ring throwers aren’t always the most accurate – and ricochets also take their toll on the wooden carvings.

In addition, while brass is certainly beautiful, it has one minor flaw – it’s incredibly malleable. (Easy to bend and shape). So, while it’s great for making rings, it’s even better at jamming ring machines when they eventually deform from wear and tear.

With higher insurance premiums, threats of litigation and soaring maintenance costs – most parks opted to remove the finicky machines in order to cut costs.

Even the Santa Cruz Boardwalk , seen today as a champion for amusement history and preservation, removed its ring machine back in the 1970’s. As a result, ridership plummeted 50%.  Needless to say, the ring machine was back up faster than you could say, “Welcome back, riders.”

But, for the parks that have kept this great tradition alive – it’s worth the sacrifice. For the riders, it’s just another reason to visit these traditional parks.

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