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Rodeo Switchback

By far the oldest ride in the Trust’s collection is the legendary Rodeo Switchback. Believed to have been built by Savages of Kings Lynn for James Pettigrove, possibly as a Velocipede, as early as 1880, this is the last remaining Spinning Top Switchback in existence, and probably also the oldest surviving fairground ride in the country. Its early history is shrouded in mystery.

Originally a very plain machine, it later became one of the most ornate switchback rides to travel. William Wilson, who was based at The Rodeo SwitchbackRendezvous, Peckham Rye, acquired it around 1905, travelling it until his death in 1942, when it passed to his son-in-law George Studd. It remained with the family until 1947, when sold to Billy Manning. During Wilsons’ ownership, it was extensively rebuilt, with Orton & Spooner building a complete new bottom for the machine during the winter of 1926/7. A year later the steam centre engine was discarded, when the ride was permanently electrified by Allens of Oxford.

Rodeo SwitchbackThe ride was fitted with a succession of exotic cars, produced by Orton & Spooner in Burton on Trent. Initially, Wilsons had Zoological cars fitted to replace the Motors, including elephants and bears. Later more bizarre figures were fitted, including Hollywood stars from the days of the silent screen: Harold Lloyd, Jackie Coogan and Tom Mix. It is these cars which survive with the ride today.

Billy Manning did travel the switchback occasionally, including visits in 1954 to Kings Lynn Mart and NottinghamGoose Fair, but for most of the time opened it at his Clarence Pier Amusement Park in Southsea, where it remained until sold to Jimmy Williams in 1973. Williams restored the ride, and travelled it in 1974, selling it at the end of the season to the Six Flags theme park in New Jersey, USA. Sadly, it was only used for a short time, before being laid aside.

In 1982 a consortium was formed to rescue this important, historic ride, and return it to the UK before it was destroyed. This was successful, and Switchback Ventures was set up to restore and operate the ride. It made its debut at the Great Dorset Steam Fair in 1984, and continued to travel for seven years. In 1992 the decision was made to sell the ride, and in 1993 it was acquired by the FHT. They operated the ride at Hollycombe in 1994, but it has since remained in store. It is probably one of the most historically important fairground rides to have survived.

Rodeo SwitchbackNow the ride is at Dingles, a complete assessment of the structure will be needed, but early indications are that the ride is in reasonable condition, and priority will be given to making it operational at the earliest possible opportunity.

Further conservation/restoration work would continue over a longer period. At present the ride lacks an organ; Switchback Ventures unfortunately sold the original, and presented the Switchback with a loaned organ in the centre – Benny Irvin’s Marenghi when it made its debut, and more usually Arthur Thompson’s ex-Whitelegg 89 key Gavioli. The Trust are currently seeking a suitable organ for the centre – at this stage preferably on loan.