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A LOOK BACK: Smith & Smith

Circling-Wave-next-to-the-factory-on-Franklin-Street

The Circling Wave set up on Franklin Street about 1915.  If you look closely, most of the houses behind the ride are still standing. 

By Derek M. Otto

The annual Dairy Festival has come and gone already and now we are ready for the fun that summer brings.  The Chaffee-Sardinia Firemen Carnival is coming this weekend—the last of the local firemen’s carnivals. It is neat to see that today, a local company, American Amusements, provides the teen and kiddie rides for these events.

Coincidentally, the first Springville firemen’s and American Legion carnivals were held on the same spot that this year’s Dairy Fest was held.  Before the high school was built in 1950, the football and baseball diamonds were in Eaton Street Park.  Even more interesting, the amusement rides were too provided by a local family, the Neffs.   Neffs amusements were an off shoot of another company in Springville, Smith and Smith.

In 1900, brothers Joseph and Louis Smith began manufacturing the Circling Wave for James Armitage and D. Guinn of North Tonawanda.  They were using the old Shuttleworth foundry on Mill Street to forge the steel components and mill the wood for the ride.   The Circling Wave was similar to a merry-go-round, but riders sat facing outward and gravity would cause the ride to wobble as it turned.  The ride was marketed globally in Popular Mechanics and other trade magazines.  It promised owners could make up to $1,000 a day with the ride.

The success of the ride caused the Smith brothers to expand their operations, building a large facility along the BRP railroad in 1915.  The new location on Franklin Street in Springville allowed direct access to steel and coal being delivered right to their door.  The proximity to the railroad also allowed easy shipping to places all over the globe.   

By the 1920s, the Smith brothers retired and the family kept the company going through Ellery Neff.

In 1923, the chair plane ride was introduced by the company.  This ride is still seen at carnivals and fairs today, even at the Dairy Festival.

After World War II, Jim (J.J.) Neff and Robert Glazier took over the manufacturing of rides. By this time, rides included a ferris wheel, car ride, boat ride, and variations on the chair plane ride that included rocket ships and fighter jets.

In addition to manufacturing the rides, the Neffs also had a small amusement company that would travel locally.

A few years ago, I was able to have phone interview with Mrs. Gloria Neff, Jim Neff’s wife.  She recalled that the amusement company provided rides for fireman’s carnivals in Rushford, Orchard Park, East Concord, Springville and the Pike Fair every summer. While her husband produced rides, Gloria worked in the office.  She remembered that one customer from Israel purchased a boat ride.  He was determined to be there when the boat ride was packed for shipping. “He was very persistent on being here in Springville when the ride was packed,” she said.

Sure enough, on the day the boat ride was being packed, the man showed up and “with a car load of silk stockings,” Gloria recalled.  As she remembered, after the war, there was a huge shortage of silk stockings and they were rationed in Israel.  The man bought a huge stock of them in New York City and drove here to stash the stockings in the ride. “Every nook and cranny of the boat ride was stuffed with silk stockings,” Gloria said.

In 1964, Diamond Acme Manufacturing purchased the company from the Neff and Glazier families, with the intent that the company would move their ride division to Springville.  However, the company purchased the equipment and closed the Franklin Street plant.  Rides were no longer produced in Springville.

The legacy of the Smith and Smith Company will be the many hours of fun and laughter.  This was furthered in 2008 when Jim Neff of Pine Bluff , AR, formerly of Springville, donated a 1936 chair-plane ride to Bay Beach Amusement Park in Green Bay, WI.  Locally, a chair-plane ride was installed at Midway Park in the 1950s.

The ride at Midway Park is also the one I have knowledge of tipping over. In June 1958, students from Falconer High School were riding the ride when it tipped over, breaking one boy’s leg.  Whether the ride is operational still, I do not know.

In the movies, Smith and Smith rides were set up in South Dayton during the filming of The Natural in the early 1980s.  The rides were the backdrop for Robert Redford.

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