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. . . and then there was The Bobs!

THE BOBS ROLLER COASTER WAS THE HEART AND HEART-STOPPER OF RIVERVIEW. Making its debut in 1924, the Bobs was an 11-car coaster with an 85-foot drop. It was long billed as the most fearsome roller coaster in the country, as well as the fastest on record.

Souvenir and Promotional Postcard



This terrifying, wooden roller coaster was only 85 feet tall and may not have seemed initially impressive. The steeply banked turns, abrupt drops, and wicked angles of the ride, however, quickly gave it a thrilling reputation.

The Tangle of Curves and Drops that was the Bobs
Sharpshooters Productions, Inc.



Built at the cost of $80,000—an incredible sum for the ‘20s, the Bobs carried 1,200 passengers per hour and drew some 700,000 riders each season. The roller coaster remained the uncontested most popular ride at Riverview throughout its existence. It was also the park's attendance barometer; a good day for the Bobs meant a good day for the park.


The Bobs' Front Curve
Photo by Fred R. Krauss
Another View of the Front Curve
Photo by Fred R. Krauss

Whipping around the Front Curb 
Photo by Fred R. Krauss




With heart-pounding drops like this one, the Bobs was justifiably considered the scariest roller coaster at Riverview. Some believe that the Bobs was something every 12 year old had to do -- almost a "rite of passage."

"The Drop"
Sun-Times Archive Photo




“The secret of the Bobs thrill was in the engineering. It was all steel,” explains Riverview expert Chuck Wlodarczyk. “Each seat on its train weighed 900 pounds empty, and each train had 11 separate double-seater cars, coupled fore and aft to the others. At full speed, it probably topped sixty-five miles per hour.” Wlodarczyk adds that Carl Jeske, who ran the Bobs for many years, told him the coaster had gone as fast as 95 miles per hour on warm days.


Carl Jeske, Bobs Manager, 1955
Vanished Chicagoland

On account of the nature of his job, Jeske, developed one of the largest earring collections in the world, and not one of them match the other. His collection was written up in
"Ripley's Believe It or Not" and is now in the safe keeping of his son.




ABOVE: Rounding another Curve, Tribune Archive Photo

RIGHT: Bobs CloseUp, Sun-Times Archive Photo

BOTTOM: Brakemen, Photo by L. Daunis

As he says, "let's Ride again!"
Chuckman Photo on WordPress


As the photo above shows, brakemen stopped the cars with handbrakesno fancy computerized electronics in those days!  Wlodarczyk reminds us of the brakeman's words, repeated over and over to the passengers, "Let's ride again, twenty-five cents. Stand behind the red line 'til the train stops." And to the workers, "Load 'em up, two to a seat.

"A ride controller sat in above the loading platform," explains Wlodarczyk.. "He would signal when it was safe for each train to depart."


The Bobs had as many as 3 trains running at the same time so that the wait-time would not be too long. When all were running—which was most of the time—each car had to be filled and on its way in about 20 seconds.

Notice in both photos below, there is a second train in action.


Rounding the bend . . .
Chuckman Photos on WordPress


. . . and ready to go down—along with your stomach.
Photo by J. Kolber




What a thrill for these riders!

Whippin' around those curves was exhilarating, but the best was yet to come!
The Bobs was the most popular ride at the amusement park.
Robert Smitka, Tribune

. . . . . and DOWN we go!
Tribune Archive Photo



Not long ago, the Chicago Sun-Times recalled the Bobs in a feature article: “It was a mind-numbing, body-bruising, 120-second dash through twisted metal and rickety white wood; when it was over, you’d be battered and breathless.” 

Fans may agree with that accessment but would quickly point out that the sliding and bounding only involve a few inches thanks to the restraining bar and would, no doubt, add with a faraway look in their eyes that a ride on the Bobs always lived up to its reputation and hype and was like no other. 


Entrance to the Bobs Roller Coaster


Nonetheless, on that fateful day in the fall of '67, the Bobs was unwanted at the auction. Shortly thereafter, it was demolished and sold for scrap along with Riverview’s 5 other coasters—the Fireball, Wild Mouse, Silver Streak, Comet, and Greyhound. Chute the Chutes was also destroyed, as was the giant genie’s head that grimaced above the entrance to Aladdin’s Castle.



FOOTNOTE: My mom remembers going to Riverview with a date and another couple. After riding the Bobs, both of the guys—to their embarrassment and shame—deposited the contents of their stomachs on the coaster's platform. She would gleefully add, "The other girl and I were fine!"

Some people were just meant to be watchers of the Bobs rather
than riders -- I was one of those people.

Souvenier Postcard






I invite you to share your memories -- good or bad -- of Riverview. Just hit the "Contact Us" button at the top of this page and type in your comments. Or, send them to me via email at mckwd@aol.com. 



Chuck Wlodarczyk
Author of Laugh Your Troubles Away

The clack-clack-clacking of the chain drive silenced as we crested the hill, ominously portending the imminent two-and-a-half G forces on our bodies as we hurled down the 85 foot high downhill and then swooped into the banked bottom curve at sixty-plus miles per hour, air pulsing past faces busy emitting screams and screeches of terror and fervor. I was slammed against the left side of the car and immediately catapulted upwards and to the right as we top a small hill and twisted the other direction, followed instantly by an opposite curve and resultant slide across the car and screwed into the seat as the next hill is scaled.

As a youngster, I developed an early affinity for the roller coasters. There were seven at Riverview, but I was only allowed on the tamer ones until I grew older. Large signs proclaimed that riders should remove their eyeglasses on the coasters so I did. I would put mine in a glasses case and place it between my legs, but once on the Wild Mouse I exited the ride and discovered they were missing. Fortunately, a helpful attendant walked the track’s path at ground level and found them for me. It turned out he did that often. From then on my glasses case was tucked firmly into one of my socks.



Rick Reeder

Reeder, a Skokie resident who grew up in Rogers Park of the '50s and '60s, has his own memories of the Bobs. "Oh yes, I went on the Bobs andthrew up," he says. For the adolescents of Chicago, he believes, the Bobs was something every 12-year-old had to do, a "ride of passage."




Fred R. Krauss
Photographer & Rider

And then there was the Bobs. That was the last of the Riverview coasters that I tried. It was also the greatest. But for us young guys, you had to work up the nerve. It stood there as a symbol of approaching 'manhood' for us. It wasn't something an eight or nine year old should be dealing with. Once on it, though, I couldn't get enough. Younger people with their steel coasters that whip around, over, under, twisting, and upside down will never really understand it, but the Bobs was truly the greatest roller coaster ever built. It was an all wood coaster, with back curves and turns that were never duplicated in another "woody". It was rumored that when the weather was hot, the humidity up, and the grease on the wheels thin and fast, then the Bobs could reach an easy ninety miles an hour. Whether it ever reached that speed or not, there has never been a coaster built that can match it.

Another thing that made the Bob's great was that you weren't locked into your seat with those "gawd-awful" over the shoulder safety bars. They were open cars with nothing more than a hand bar that locked in place over your lap. In fact, this was true of all the coasters. The Silver Flash, the Blue Streak, and the Comet all had "cages" enclosing each car, but they allowed much more freedom of movement and excitement than any of the newer rides. The "cages' were designed more for esthetic value, to make them look more like miniature trains, than they were for safety.




Frank Lurz
Bobs' Rideman, 1958 - 1959

The Bobs was, without a doubt, the premier ride of Riverview Park. It was also the most notorious and young kids growing up in Chicago looked forward with a mixture of eager anticipation and secret fear to the day they would be old enough to prove themselves by boldly facing the sheer terror of the legendary ride.

Located at the rear of the park, next to the Hot Rods, the Bobs was a classic wooden roller coaster comprised of 17 hills, the first of which was 87 feet high. [Editor's note: The blueprints say it was just under 57 feet.] The first turn was steeply banked and one of its hills descended to within mere feet of the midway. Park goers would often stand behind the iron fence that separated the coaster from the midway and wait to see the trains up close as they came thundering by.

The ticket booth and entry way to the Bobs was situated between two tall, white columns, resembling those one might imagine seeing in the ruins of a Greek temple, standing next to beautiful beds of deep green grass and brightly colored flowers that were always well tended. A steep ramp extended from the ticket booth that allowed riders to reach the boarding platform. For a kid riding the Bobs for the first time, the walk up felt like the march of the condemned up the infamous 13 steps of the hangman's scaffold. I remember how, as a young kid, my knees wobbled as I ascended that ramp for my first ride.

Housed under a large roof, the boarding platform was similar to that of a railroad station. On the floor was painted a line behind which the public was to wait until the trains (we called them trains) arrived for boarding. It was often a difficult job because people were so eager to get their "favorite" seats. Usually cooperative, they sometimes jumped the gun and tried to get into the cars before the trains had come to a full stop.


Like all the park's rides, the Bobs had a new cadre of ridemen each season, save for the few regulars who worked at Riverview Park year after year. One of these, the ride's manager, was Carl Jeske, a man of immense proportions who daily took his place on a chair situated in a position that allowed him to see everything that was going on. He was a man of humor, sometimes a bit on the crude side, who was easy to work for.

One of the crew, and a protégé of Carl's, was a kid named Arnie, who had the bluest eyes and blondest hair I've ever seen. Seldom working the boarding platform, Arnie spent most of his time either on break, or working in the "crow's nest," a little wooden box positioned in the air directly over the tracks that passed through the boarding area. It was from the crow's nest that the ride was operated.


While I wouldn't use the word "violent," the Bobs was certainly a rugged ride that would hit its tightly banked turns with such speed that the centrifugal forces generated would quite abruptly throw its riders from side to side, alternately pinning them, one against the other. Often, loose change, wallets, keys, glasses, and other items carried in one's trouser or shirt pockets were often worked loose. When a train reached the end of the ride its giddy passengers would often disembark, dizzy, breathless, and still excited, unwittingly leaving their lost possessions behind them. Of course, Bobs ridemen knew only too well what was likely to be found wedged in the train's seats or loose on its floor, so as the empty train was allowed to roll forward to the boarding area for its next run, they would quickly inspect each car for "loot." I used to think of the loose change I found as "tips."

Of the many sorts of items lost on a daily basis, one of the most interesting was earrings. Carl, the ride's manager, began saving them, and over the years had eventually acquired literally thousands, of which no two were alike. His collection eventually became so huge and so unique that it appeared in a feature of "Ripley's Believe It Or Not."

Loose change and earrings were not the only things lost on the Bobs. On some occasions passengers whose stomachs were unable to tolerate the wild ride also "lost their lunch." If the unfortunate individual was situated at the front end of the train, the rapid stream of air generated as the train rushed along carried his or her "lunch" along to everyone behind him. It was not a pretty sight. Of course, when the train pulled in, it was up to us ridemen to clean up the mess.

When the volume of passengers was fairly low, the load was easy enough to handle, but as the crowd grew it eventually became necessary to run out another train which was stored in a small shed at the rear of the platform where riders disembarked. As long as the volume wasn't too high, riders were encouraged to take a "second ride" at a reduced fare, by an announcement delivered over a public address system operated by the man in the crow's nest.

"Second riders" would remain in their seats after the others had disembarked and wrestle the money out of their pockets. A rideman with a coin changer mounted on his belt would then move among them collecting the fares, making change for patrons who didn't have the exact amount. I recall being told, most likely by a ride manager or another rideman, of a certain breed of park employees known as "spotters." I never met one, but it was said that their job was to surreptitiously observe the ride to keep track of the number of second riders, and then compare their count with what was actually collected by the rideman who collected the money.

When operating at peak load, the Bobs could run three trains at a time. When we did, the pace was so fast that second rides couldn't be allowed. The routine was to release a freshly loaded train as soon as the one immediately behind it was emptied of its passengers and ready to roll forward for fresh loading. While this was going on a third train was already out on the course, somewhere in the middle of its run. As the freshly loaded train was released onto the course, the emptied train in the debarkation area behind rolled forward for loading with a new set of passengers. Within a few moments, the train that had been out on the course came in right behind for unloading. It was a wonderfully choreographed ballet that required considerable nerve and very close timing.


If some unforeseen event disrupted the careful timing of the Bobs' operation, something had to be done to prevent the trains from crashing into one another. In anticipation of such an occurrence, at strategic points along level sections of the course the tracks had been built with a braking mechanism, operated by the man in the crow's nest, that could bring a train to a full stop. It's been so long since those halcyon days that I can no longer recall exactly how many of these brakes there were on the Bobs; my best guess is around three. Of course, safety demanded that the brakes always be in good working order, so each Thursday morning a team of ridemen would assemble at the "Silver Flash," the coaster to the immediate right of the main gate, and begin conducting a "brake test."

After we had boarded, train would climb its initial hill and then plunge into its run, racing along until brought to a dead stop by the first brake. High in the air, the ridemen would then climb out of their seats onto the narrow catwalk bordering one side of the tracks and begin pushing the train toward the descending slope. The train was quite massive and demanded a good deal of strength to get it moving again. As soon as it would begin to roll forward of its own accord the ridemen would then have to hurry to jump back into their seats before the train picked up so much speed that it left them stranded. It would then thunder along to the next brake, and the process would be repeated.

Once finished, we would then move on to the next coaster until all the roller coasters in the park, including the Bobs, had been tested. At the young age of 16, I found that part of the work at Riverview very exciting, and great fun. It was by far and away the best overtime I ever clocked on any job I ever had. God, how I miss the Bobs!





Let's Take Another Ride on the Bobs!

Thanks to the magic of YouTube and
our classmate Bob Banhid