Little Amerricka

This week, I’m talking about the still-operational small family theme park in southern Wisconsin, with connections to dozens of now-defunct amusement parks. It’s time for the story of Little Amerricka.

When one is trying to visit Little Amerricka, the first impression is always along the lines of “Are you sure you typed the right address into the map?”

To get to Little Amerricka, one heads west from Milwaukee or east from Madison, there in the heart of Wisconsin. Exit number 250 off I-94. And then you drive another five miles along WI-73, past farmhouses in groves of shady trees, big fields of corn starting to grow tall in the summer sun. A nice little two lane road. It’s just rural enough and just far enough off the beaten path that you invariably ask your fellow car-riders: “Are you sure this is the right way?”

But eventually you hit the small town of Marshall and take a right at the Ace Hardware, and then there it is, just down Main Street. The first thing you see is a bizarre tree – no, is that a roller coaster? And that, no, THAT is definitely a giant inflatable tiger butt.

And that, my friends, is how I met the Little Amerricka theme park.

Lee Merrick and Darryl Klompmaker

The park is spelled A-merrick-a, a somewhat troubling yet ultimately harmless spelling, named after its founder, Lee Merrick.

Lee Merrick was born in Illinois. He was a farm boy. Eventually, he found his success in the necessary but unpleasant field of livestock rendering. (His son, Garth, currently runs the Merrick’s brand of pet food, seen in stores all over.) 

In his spare time, Lee Merrick found a hobby in large-scale miniature trains. Not train sets like in someone’s basement, but “grand scale” or rideable miniature trains. Such as those we might talk about here on The Abandoned Carousel, for instance. Yes, my friends, we are talking about trains again, so hang on to your hats.

Merrick had been involved in the grand scale miniature train scene since the mid-60s, but it took until 1987 for Merrick to meet up with the other main figure in our story: Darryl Klompmaker. That year, 1987, Merrick purchased the land in Marshall, WI that is now Little Amerricka, and set up himself a nice miniature train loop. According to Klompmaker in an interview with Parkworld Online, the train was the genesis for Little Amerricka. You see, they set it up so that the train took guests out to pick Christmas trees and then took them back to their cars – can you imagine how fun that would be, a steam engine on a snowy Wisconsin winter day, maybe some hot chocolate?

The train ride was incredibly popular, and they soon added a second building near the train loop. This building can still be seen today: it’s right at the entrance to the park, and is now the main concessions and offices. 

Ferris Wheel at Little Amerricka. Source: Jeremy Thompson, via Flickr. CC BY SA 2.0.

Even back at this time in the late 1980s, Klompmaker said that Merrick already had four rides in storage. These were reportedly the Ferris wheel, the tilt-a-whirl, the fire truck ride, and the bumper cars. Reportedly, Merrick offered Klompmaker a job, and in 1989 plans for the park began in earnest. 

Klompmaker is quoted as saying: ““I kind of fell into the amusement industry. Lee didn’t really have a plan, he just had the railroad. He thought that if we added a miniature golf course and a couple of rides alongside the train, it might draw people in and keep them longer. ””

In 1991, Little Amerricka opened, with those original four rides, the mini golf course, and the extended train loop. By the time of this episode in 2019, the park has 26 operating rides, catering to the young family crowd in southern Wisconsin. 

The park, unlike some, wasn’t planned. There were no blueprints, and some of the rides have moved a few times during the park’s lifetime. “It just kinda grew, almost like a mushroom”, said Merrick in a video interview from years ago. “Wasn’t planned, it was just spontaneous”.

What I personally love about Little Amerricka is how it has taken all of these seeds of older parks and planted them to grow anew. Little Amerricka has only been open for 28 years, but it feels like a place from out of time, like it’s been there in the cornfields longer than forever.

Entrance at Little Amerricka. Source: Jeremy Thompson, via Flickr. CC BY SA 2.0.


Like I said, the park is situated about five miles from the nearest “big road”. Location is key, yes, but this is still close enough and easy enough to access that the park hasn’t suffered as a result. 

You park your car adjacent to the theme park, either in a grassy field or a muddy field, depending on how recently it’s rained. There are two entrances, one from the parking lot and one right off Main Street, for any pedestrians. Of course, entrance to the park itself is free. Little Amerricka has a wristband/ticket system and allows guests to bring in their own food and drink. This obviously makes the park a cost-effective place for families to visit. 

Rides at Little Amerricka

The atmosphere is charming and freewheeling, like something out of a history film. Each of the park’s 26 rides tell a story. Today, I’ll be telling you a little bit about a lot of different defunct theme parks, because that’s the thread that weaves through Little Amerricka.

Wild & Wooly Toboggan at Little Amerricka

Take the connective tissue between this episode and the last. Perhaps you’re not listening in release order. That’s fine, this isn’t a serialized podcast. In last week’s episode, I talked about Dogpatch USA, that theme park down in Arkansas based on Al Capp’s Li’l Abner comic strip. Well, Dogpatch USA closed at the end of the 1993 season and began selling off its assets. One of the rides being sold was that original prototype Chance Toboggan, called Earthquake McGoon’s Brain Rattler. This was different than later Chance Toboggans, in that it was not on a trailer but a permanent installation, built in 1969. 

I misspoke slightly last week, though, so let’s correct the record. Before Dogpatch was closed, the Toboggan was sold in an effort to cut costs, reportedly around 1988. A little park called Enchanted Forest in Chesterton, Indiana purchased the ride in a last-ditch effort to stay operational itself. We’ll talk more about Enchanted Forest in a minute, but know that that effort was in vain. Enchanted Forest operated through the 1990 season and did not reopen in 1991. In the fall of 1991, all their assets went up for auction, and we’ve got a delightful treasure online – the original 1991 auction flyer. In the link for the auction flyer, you can see pictures of the rides on offer, including Toboggan, painted its distinctive tan on brown, and see the serial number: 69-4101. 

Well, Merrick and Klompmaker purchased the Toboggan at the auction for a cool $30,000, and installed it at Little Amerricka soon after. Klompmaker is quoted in the Little Amerricka mini-documentary as saying that the color scheme (brown and tan) appealed greatly to Merrick, and though they hadn’t planned on purchasing the ride, they knew they had to have it. 

Interestingly, the Indiana state inspection sticker on the ride could be seen in 2001, years after it had been operating in WI.

Today, the Toboggan at Little Amerricka is the last currently operating Toboggan at the time of this recording, according to the Roller Coaster Database, although there are a few nominally in storage. One such “in storage” is the Toboggan at Connaut Lake Park in Pennsylvania, which can be seen folded in pieces in a summer 2019 photo, overgrown with vines and other flora, rusting apart

Funnily enough, this coaster is often one of the major draws to Little Amerricka, at least for out-of-towners, due to the novelty of the coaster. See, apparently “coaster counts” or “coaster credits” are a thing, where coaster enthusiasts travel the world and log as many coasters as they can ride. The current leader on the website Coaster Count, George, has ridden 2,872 coasters as of the time of this recording.

The last currently operating Chance Toboggan, seen at Little Amerricka. Source: Jeremy Thompson, via Flickr. CC BY SA 2.0.

Back at Little Amerricka, some in trip reports describe the Toboggan as the worst coaster ever devised. One trip report says: “Ironically, after 500 roller coasters, the scariest rides are no longer ultra-intimidating stratacoasters but things like this.” There’s about 450 ft of track, crammed into about 45 ft of length. The coaster cars are tiny, small claustrophobic enclosed cages for two. This is not the ride for a tall person. 

How does the ride work? The chain winches you vertically up the central tube, staring at the sky like an astronaut about to launch. Then, a dizzying downward spiral, five and a half times around the outside of the lift tube. Since visibility is compromised in the cage-like car, the violent little bunny hills at the end are a jarring surprise. Your knees, head, and back take a beating on this ride, despite the car’s padding, despite the apparent simplicity of the ride, as you slam back into the station. 

It’s either a blessing or a curse for the rollercoaster enthusiast.

Little Amerricka 2019: the Wild & Wooly Toboggan. Almost immediately after taking this photo, the ride broke down. Image by the author.

Every ride at Little Amerricka has a history, though of course we don’t know about all of them in as much detail. The rides are almost entirely secondhand, allowing the visitor in the know to trace the connections to parks past, parks still operational or parks defunct.

Mad Mouse at Little Amerricka

Let’s go back to Enchanted Forest. Klompmaker and Merrick had gone to the auction at Enchanted Forest in Chesterton, Indiana, intent on purchasing a Scrambler ride. They ended up with a lot of stuff: the Scrambler, the Toboggan. 

Something else that was there caught their eye though, at that auction, and like the best of the impulse purchasers among us, they bought it: the Mad Mouse coaster, to the tune of $6,000. The coaster can be seen in operation there in this vintage TV commercial on YouTube and in a still photo from the 50s or 60s here.

(Enchanted Forest sat in a state of flux for a few years, as I’ve alluded to a few times – it’s a park worthy of its own episode. But briefly, for now, the park operated between 1994-2009 as Splash Down Dunes. It then operated from 2013-2017 as Seven Peaks Water Park Duneland, and is currently abandoned. Like I said, it’s worthy of its own episode.)

Here’s a great aerial shot of Mad Mouse: As noted in the Dogpatch USA episode, this coaster is not the mouse coaster from Dogpatch – that was a Monster Mouse model, with an extra loop of track to the left of the lift hill. Demonstrated in this image, Little Amerricka has a Wild Mouse model, which doesn’t have that extra track. The Allan Herschell Mad Mouse is an endangered species. This specific coaster, a “Wild Mouse” model, was manufactured in 1960 (serial number 432760), and has been at Little Amerricka since 1993. It was the only Herschell Mad Mouse in operation until just a few months ago, when another Wild Mouse opened at the small Arnolds Park in Iowa, its third location.

I’m not sure that we’ve talked about a Mad Mouse coaster in any depth yet here on The Abandoned Carousel. If you’re unfamiliar, mouse coasters run with single wide cars instead of trains of cars; the wide cars overhang the edges of the tracks and contribute to the psychology of the ride. The track itself is characterized by many tight, unbanked turns, as well as short bunny hills. Despite their name and descriptions, mouse coasters are often quite thrilling, with abrupt negative G forces and quite good airtime (the cars often are without seatbelts, particularly on vintage models). The original ride operator instructions were apparently “”Sit down, shut up, and hold on!”” an exact quote, apparently.

Some chide the appearance of the Mad Mouse. One review describes it as “it’s basically a giant plug-and-play erector set roller coaster”. Another commenter online describes it thusly: “Mad Mouse twists and turns on a naked track that weebles and wobbles”. And still others call it rickety, rusty, horrifying, “deathtrap” and “never quite seen one like it”. BUT they also usually love it. The Mad Mouse at Little Amerricka is generally considered its most popular coaster.

In a final fun fact, the cars all have padded bumpers on the front, because originally at Enchanted Forest, seven cars were run at a time, and if they bumped into each other, well, how about a little padding from a pool noodle? Now at Little Amerricka, they usually only run 3 or 4 at a time. 

One of the last operating Allan Herschell Mad Mouse coasters, operating at Little Amerricka. This ride was built in 1960. Source: Jeremy Thompson, via Flickr. CC BY SA 2.0.

Monorail and Other Rides at Little Amerricka

Merrick and Klompmaker have found impulse purchases at other places, too. The auction for the former Peony Park, in Omaha, NE, occurred in 1994. They went down to purchase the kiddie boat ride, where a handful of boats spin in endless circles over a pool of water. (Spoiler alert, this is one of my kids’ least favorite rides.) In addition, though, they picked up an incredibly unique ride on a whim: the monorail, formerly called “Sky Rail”. Apparently it took about six trips with one truck back and forth between Marshall WI and Omaha NE to move the pieces of the Sky Rail.

This is technically not a monorail since there are three rails, but let’s not be pedantic about things. The ride is actually Mad Mouse-esque, with wide cars that overhang the tracks. However, it’s ultimately just one big loop that circles most of the park, allowing for lovely views. One report claims without source that only two of these rides were ever made, and that this is the only one in operation. I do believe it, because despite my research I have been unable to find another other rides like this.

Little Amerricka 2019: view to one side of the Midway. Concessions on the left, slide and Toboggan in background, blue monorail platform ahead top, train bottom, Meteor right. Image by the author.

Other rides we have less details on. 

Take that Ferris wheel, stored away and opened with the park. “12-Car Eli Ferris Wheel came from Wonderland Park in Amarillo, Texas, when Wonderland upgraded” their wheel. It can be seen operating at Wonderland here: Otherwise, not much is known about it. 

The carousel reportedly came from somewhere in Boston. The Tilt-a-whirl “possibly” came from Ohio, and has been moved twice on the Little Amerricka grounds. One report pings this as the oldest permanent currently operational Til-a-whirl in the world, with serial number 614 from 1939, though Wikipedia cites without sources a claim that a Midwest traveling carnival called “Evans United Shows” still operates a 1927 model. Little Amerricka’s Tilt-a-whirl has a licensed Mario sculpture in the center.

Little Dipper, the Allan Herschell classic kiddie coaster, came from a private owner who’d been running the ride in his backyard. It came to Little Amerricka when the Missouri town he lived in decided to institute a “no coasters in the backyard” policy. The Little Dipper was manufactured in 1953 and still has the original flat iron wheels. It makes a small circuit around the kiddie ride area at Little Amerricka, with an 11-ft lift hill and a few bunny hills before the station. Apparently in most parks, this ride has a MAXIMUM height limit; here at Little Amerricka, anyone can ride. 

I don’t need to go through the entire list of the park’s ride, but suffice to say there are plenty: bumper boats, a haunted house, mini-golf, an inflatable slide, a carousel, bounce house, etc. The only ride the park purchased brand new was the Red Baron kiddie airplane ride. 

Little Amerricka 2019: little ferris wheel, Pinto Brothers fire truck ride, Little Dipper track, helicopters, and Chance Toboggan. Image by the author.

Roll-o-plane at Little Amerricka

The Roll-o-plane at Little Amerricka (“Test Pilot”) is a gem in the crown of the park. If you’re not familiar with the ride, this was a 1934 improvement on the 1931 Eyerly Loop-o-Plane. Not familiar with that? The rides were built by the Eyerly Aircraft Company. Another Lee, Lee Eyerly, had always been a mechanically inclined person. He built and raced his own cars and airplanes in the early 1900s, and actually began his own flying school, there in Oregon. He built a custom flight trainer for his students, called simply “Aeroplane” (originally the Orientator). The students did well, but Eyerley began being approached by a salesman who saw the flight trainer while passing by the school’s parking lot. (Video of this early trainer can be seen here.)

The salesman proposed selling the Aeroplane to theme parks and carnivals, and Eyerley reluctantly agreed. Upon seeing the profit totals that next year, though, he was happily surprised, and the Loop-o-plane came out soon after. A 1951 Billboard article notes that over 500 of these had been produced at that point, saying “there is scarcely a show or a park that doesn’t have one.”

The Rolloplane, then, came in 1934. This ride executes an “Immelmann turn”, named after the WWI ace Max Immelmann. An Immelmann goes as follows: the plane accelerates at level flight, then climbs vertically (a half loop). The plane then completes a half-roll, coming back to level flight at an altitude above the original flight path. Reportedly, this is a difficult maneuver. 

Anyhow, despite once being such an incredibly popular ride, this is now 2019, and very few Loop-o-planes or Roll-o-planes are operational anymore. Merrick and Klompmaker picked up their Roll-o-plane from “a very small park in northern Indiana” for $75,000. Klompmaker is quoted describing his pride in their restoration of the ride. Apparently, the same ride inspector who’d once inspected the ride in Indiana came and did the inspection on the ride in Wisconsin, and didn’t believe it was the same ride until he’d checked the serial number.

The ride is pristine, shiny and gorgeous, and the operators are generous with ride time. It’s probably the most thrilling ride at Little Amerricka.

Test Pilot (Rolloplane) at Little Amerricka. Source: Jeremy Thompson, via Flickr. CC BY SA 2.0.

Meteor at Little Amerricka

The Meteor is the shining star of the Little Amerricka ride pantheon. It’s reportedly the only wooden coaster that’s been successfully moved twice. The Meteor, you see, was originally called the Little Dipper. It was manufactured by PTC, Philadelphia Toboggan Company, for the Kiddietown park in the Chicago area (Norridge, IL), beginning in 1953. 

Meteor at Little Amerricka. Source: Jeremy Thompson, via Flickr. CC BY SA 2.0.

It was a nice little junior coaster, and reportedly was one of six manufactured; today only one nearly-identical sister coaster survives, at Kiddieland in Melrose Park, IL.

Little Dipper, as it was known then, operated there until Kiddietown was shuttered. The coaster has serial number 120 from PTC, and was designed by Herbert Paul Schmeck. Do you remember another coaster I’ve already talked about here on TAC that was also designed by him?  I’ll post the answer in the website shownotes.

Hillcrest Park, another Chicagoland location (Lemont, IL) purchased the classic wooden coaster in 1966 for $6,000, and spent another $66,000 to move the coaster 30 miles from one side of Chicago to the other. Images of its disassembly at Kiddietown can be seen here: The former site of Kiddietown is now a bank. 

Hillcrest is not a very well-known place. It was a private “picnic park”, used for corporate outings, weddings, etc. The park handled between 200-2000 guests, depending on the day. Little Dipper operated there from 1967 until 2003. Images can be seen here: In addition to the coast, Hillcrest operated a helicopter ride, bumper cars, a merry go round, and had a C. P. Huntington miniature train: number 41. 

In 2003, Hillcrest Park simultaneously saw a decline in the number of corporate outings and an increase in the value of the land. It became not profitable to operate the park, so it was closed in 2003. Today, the land is warehouses, storage, and parking lots.

The auction for Hillcrest Park was held in October of 2003, and of course, Klompmaker was in attendance. He purchased the little woody coaster for between $9-10k. Lest these numbers start making you think you might open your own park in your spare time, it then took Klompmaker another three years and over $100,000 to restore the ride and install it at Little Amerricka. 

Little Amerricka had to replace about 75% of the lumber in the wooden coaster, but “it was still cheaper than buying new”. (You can find 2005 pictures of the disassembled coaster sitting in a field at Little Amerricka here) Today, the coaster sits in the center of the park, looking as though the rest of Little Amerricka had been planned around it, despite being one of the newest additions to the park. It has a unique curved loading station and still uses the classic large person-sized wooden handles for braking the coaster.

The unique curved loading station at Little Amerricka. Source: Jeremy Thompson, via Flickr. CC BY SA 2.0.

The sister coaster I’d mentioned earlier was purchased from Kiddieland Melrose Park by Six Flags Great America in 2009 and currently operates there at the time of this recording.

One of the best parts of Little Amerricka is the ride operators, who give you plenty of bang for your buck. For your two tickets ($3), you get at least three complete circuits on the coaster. More, depending on how the operator is feeling that day. 

A Comet Coaster at Little Amerricka?

Interestingly, the Meteor is, according to some, only practice for a larger event. 

Merrick and Klompmaker took a trip to New England in the early 2000s, inspecting some defunct coasters: at Whalom Park and Lincoln Park, both Massachusetts theme parks. 

Whalom Park’s Flyer Comet

At Whalom Park, they were looking into the Flyer Comet coaster (vintage on-ride video). Opened in 1940 and closed around 2000, the Flyer Comet was a classic old figure-eight style woodie designed by Vernon Keenan (image). Whalom Park shuttered, as seems to be the common refrain, due to financial struggles and competition for audiences from mega-parks like Six Flags. However, the park sat abandoned for half a decade after its closure, as assets were sold off piece by piece, or left to rot. The Flyer Comet fit both these categories. Unfortunately, weather and time had not been kind to the ride, some 70 years old at the time it enters our story

Klompmaker and Merrick inspected the ride, and found the wood of the Flyer Comet coaster in very poor shape. (Unsurprising, as trip reports and memories of the park from its active years in the late 90s described the coaster as dangerous and wobbly. Some even remember seeing actual pieces of wood fall off during coaster rides.) 

Despite the quality of the wood, Klompmaker and Merrick were able to salvage the lift motors, lift chain, and other station parts. This required the track of the coaster to be cut apart, reportedly the final death knell for the original Flyer Comet. The coaster sat, cut up and overtaken with greenery, for several more years, prior to its demolition. 

Model of the Comet in the concessions stand at Little Amerricka. Source: Jeremy Thompson, via Flickr. CC BY SA 2.0.

Lincoln Park’s Comet

Their next stop was Lincoln Park, in North Dartmouth (an unrelated, unlisted, hilarious video: “link in park”). This park had been around since 1894, operating first as a picnic park, traditional to that time period, and then later becoming an amusement park. There, they were looking at another vintage wooden coaster: the Comet, opened in 1947. This one was designed by Vernon Keenan (wait – screeching noise – yes, the same Vernon Keenan who designed the Flyer Comet we just talked about! Funny world, that). Keenan designed the Comet (with Edward Leis) and it was built by Harry Baker. Keenan and Baker also built the 1927 Coney Island Cyclone coaster. Ironically, the oldest of this family of coasters is the only one still operational. 

(As a sidebar to a sidebar, the Coney Island Cyclone was saved from demolition by a massive refurbishment effort in the mid-1970s and millions of dollars have been invested since in order to keep the ride running, along with another major refurbishment in 2011. Apparently the structure is considered “irreplaceable”, since wooden coasters can no longer be built under NYC building codes. A single ride today on this 92-year-old coaster costs $10.)

There’s a great video from opening day of the Comet (1947) available on YouTube.

Again, we’ll only go into it briefly since this is a Little Amerricka episode and not a Lincoln Park episode, but the downfall of /this/ park, for once, was not solely finances. In fact, it revolves around the coaster we’re talking about. This time the story is a bit more grim. In 1986, there was a fatal accident on the Comet coaster. The owner reportedly invested $75,000 in upgrades and park safety, but it wasn’t enough. Only four months after the owner was quoted in the papers talking about the ride’s safety, the coaster’s brakes failed (or were applied too early, according to others). This caused a coaster car to actually jackknife on the track and derail, leaving passengers dangling over the edge and reportedly injuring four (image of the incident). The coaster’s cars are quite arresting-looking, even moreso when they’re not on the tracks correctly. This 1987 ride was the coaster’s last, and ultimately the park closed as a result a few months later. 

The park changed hands several times before its current development company owner purchased it. This didn’t do the park any favors, as it suffered heavy damages from arson and vandalism. Many of Lincoln Park’s assets were auctioned off, but the coaster was left, standing but not operating. It was already 40 years old at the time of the park’s closure. And there it sat. Reportedly, the jackknifed coaster car stayed in place on the track well into the 90s.

Well, come the mid-2000s, Merrick and Klompmaker investigated the coaster and its components, now up for sale after the lift hill collapsed in 2005. The wood from the track was obviously in poor shape, unsurprising considering it had been unmaintained in the elements for almost another two decades since the park’s closure. Despite the coaster’s somewhat grim ending, they ended up purchasing the trains from the Comet, as well as the blueprints for the ride. Reportedly, one train is in decent shape while the other (probably our jackknifed friend) needs significant work.

Lincoln Park’s “Comet” coaster, before it was demolished. Image: Flopes Photo / Flickr, CCBYND 2.0.

Ultimately, the plan is to refurbish the original trains, and then to use new lumber to build a copy of the Comet at Little Amerricka. (For the interested, here is an archived page detailing the structural components of the Comet.) This is obviously a huge plan for a little park, and there is no expected timetable for this to occur at this time. But what an eventual tribute to two longstanding wooden coasters this will be when it’s completed!

The Comet’s remaining wooden structure was demolished in 2012. The land is now condominiums. A company named Marion Millworks reportedly was given salvage rights for the former coaster’s lumber, and is said to have created unique outdoor furniture and other items with the wood.

Log Flume at Little Amerricka?

Not only are they planning on a larger coaster. They also have plans for a water ride, too.

Klompmaker and Merrick had been on the trail of a log flume for the park for years. They passed on a poor-quality flume at the auction for the Old Indiana theme park; they never heard back about their offer on the log flume from Miracle Strip Amusement Park in FL. Ultimately, they purchased a log flume called the “Log Jammer” from Kiddieland in Melrose Park, IL, which opened in 1995 and closed in 2009. (You might remember me mentioning Kiddieland in Melrose Park a few minutes ago – it was the original home of the sister to the Meteor coaster.) The pieces to the log flume have sat in a field at Little Amerricka for years, maintained but not yet assembled, visible from the monorail. Eventually, the log flume will be installed at Little Amerricka. One blog reports that the estimated concrete costs alone are up around $1M, so it is not expected that this flume will open anytime soon.

Whiskey River Railway at Little Amerricka

We talked about the train at the beginning of the episode, but I haven’t really made it clear that this park has a fairly legit railroad. Little Amerricka operates three different steam trains. Their first was the Atlantic, nicknamed The Little Engine That Could, was built in 1969 and came from the Sanford Zoo in FL. This engine was a 16” gauge, which is why the Whiskey River Railway is made to 16” and not the more common 15”.

Little Amerricka 2019: train, parachute jumper, ferris wheel, monorail, Meteor. Image by the author.

The next train to come was the Oakland Acorn, built in 1949 by George Reddington and Robert Blecha in Oakland Park in California. It has a sister, the Gene Autry Melody Ranch Special, “Daylight”. These two trains are actually identical, just “dressed” differently. 

Here’s a great video showcasing the WRR; it includes a video interview with Lee Merrick before he passed.

The track itself covers a great distance, about 2.5 miles, and takes about 20 minutes to traverse. There are grade crossings, a tunnel, and a roundhouse. Trains can reportedly hold around 150 people at a time, and the train is actually the park’s most expensive ride. 

The train starts out by looping through most of the park; it then meanders through outbuildings before moving into farmland and fields. There are farm animals, including sheep and llamas. A fairly recent addition is a second stop at the Whistle Stop Campground, the new accomodations adjacent to the park. 

Whiskey River Railway. Source: Slambo, CCBYSA 4.0.

Ups and Downs for Little Amerricka

Things haven’t been perfect for Little Amerricka over the years..

A fire in 2000 caused over $200k in damages, and ruined a train machine shop. Said Merrick to the paper: “I don’t believe in insurance.” And in 2018, a ride operator was fired for seemingly nodding off while operating a kiddie ride.

Reportedly, Merrick “never made a nickel” on the park, at least during his lifetime. He died in 2011. Klompmaker continues to run the park, per Merrick’s wishes. 

In an interview online, Klompmaker describes the park as filling a void. This is a small, quaint, classic kiddie park, a dying breed, a working collector’s museum. The park allows parents and grandparents an inexpensive place to take kids and grandkids, standing out in the area, in a sea of over-the-top thrills at other massive parks. 

Little Amerricka is rough and tumble. There’s essentially no theming, the rides’ mechanisms are laid bare for all to see, fences are a suggestion at best. A ride operator was fired for seemingly falling asleep while operating a kiddie carousel. The whole place does seem like it’s waiting for a massive public outcry. 

At the same time, it’s a hobby park, like a real-life museum. It “personifies old-fashioned amusement traditions.” The rides are meticulously maintained and painted. History is an important part of Little Amerricka. Klompmaker is quoted as saying “we try to keep the nostalgia alive.”

Did I mention all of Little Amerricka’s borders? Main street, on one side. The parking lot, on another. The railroad tracks, on another.

And the town cemetery, on the other. 

Little Dipper and cemetery views at Little Amerricka. Source: Jeremy Thompson, via Flickr. CC BY SA 2.0.

Yes, as your children spin in endless circles on the vintage car carousel or the Pinto Brothers 1940s fire truck ride, you the adult get to stare out at Marshall’s town cemetery and contemplate the similarly endless cycle of life and death. 

“Buy the ticket, take the ride,” said Hunter S. Thompson, and the contrast between the flower-bedecked headstones and the regular whoosh of the Little Dipper invites you and your children to do just that.

Little Amerricka is real, authentic, fun. It’s a great place to visit.

Little Amerricka 2019: views across the park from the monorail platform. Image by the author.

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  2. Whiskey River Railway / Marshall, Wisconsin / (16″gauge) – Photos. Accessed September 16, 2019.
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