March 31, 2009

It's A Miracle! Giganta And Rocket Slides Are From The Same Company

astro_city_highland_park.jpg

It's obvious now, but until a couple of minutes ago, I had no idea Giganta the scary/awesome playground robot and the biggest, awesomest rocket-shaped playground structures were both made by the same company, Miracle Equipment Company of Grinnell, Iowa.

I wanted to find out who made Giganta, so I started calling around to city parks departments where the robot slides had been sighted. Nice folks all, but no info, until I found Russ at the Holiday Park Campground on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Turns out he knew quite a bit about his robot slide, because he'd rescued it from the bulldozer at the Tastee-Freez in Denton a while back, and he still had all the Miracle Equipment literature. Did you know it takes seven yards of concrete to install the behemoth?

Anyway, Miracle Equipment. Founded by Claude Ahrens, a pioneer in playground equipment design and manufacture and a pillar of the Grinnell community. According to the Ahrens Family Foundation website, Miracle Equipment was the largest playground manufacturer in the world in the 1980's. The company continues operation today, though it has relocated to Monett, Missouri.

And what comes up most frequently in searches for Miracle Equipment, but their legendary Astro City? That's the official name of the giant Saturn V-style rocket with the elaborate ramps and slides attached. For a sense of why this thing is not manufactured anymore, just check out the angle on that spiral slide. That kid should have a parachute for re-entry.

I spoke with Bob, who's been working on playground safety at Miracle for over 25 years, and he confirmed the basics of what is obvious to anyone looking at these things with modern eyes: they were designed long before there were any common safety standards for playground equipment, and there's no way in the world to bring something like this into compliance with CPSC, ASTM, or ADA accessibility standards. So when they wear out or when municipalities get litigation-skittish, they come down.

He also echoed a sentiment that several people have left in the comments an in email: even as he remembers how much fun he had climbing on the outside of these things as a kid, there's no way he'd let his own kids near one today. It's just a whole different mindset. And how.

Though he had no idea how many rockets or robots were manufactured, much less how many are still standing, Bob did confirm that the smaller, more rounded rocket playground structures were not by Miracle, but a competitor. Also, he seems to recall that Giganta was connected to a cartoon or kid's TV show at one point, but he wasn't sure if it was called Giganta, or which came first on that.

Hmm, I wonder...

giganta_plex_ygg.jpg

[images: highlandparkbusinessclub.com and lakewoodcity.org, respectively]
Previously: 'Rocket Science' by Lauren Orchowski
Giganta the freakin-me-out Robot Slide

9 Comments

You know, the robot was looking eerily familiar to me, and until you posted the rocket it all came together. My preschool (I'm thinking c. 1968) had the exact same rocket set up - for 3-5 year olds! I remember it was the most fantastic thing ever, and made me happy to dump my mom in the parking lot to get to the rocket.

The TV series was probably Gigantor, which was on in the mid to late '60s (in NYC anyway). I remember it distinctly. Check out the description on wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gigantor
Gigantor was pretty ominous looking, I think Miracle softened his image a bit, otherwise their looming playground robots would have given kids nightmares.

if that's the case, I know how those trademarks worked out: change the eyes and a couple of letters and just go with it.

Do you know anyone who collects vintage miracle and/or playground equipment? I have some that are miracle, not sure about others. Looking to post on ebay possibly but trying first to locate possible collectors.

In the weeks since I posted about this, I haven't heard from--or of--a single one. I'd be inclined to put it on eBay and let it ride.

I AM LOOKING TO PURCHASE SOME VINTAGE PLAYGROUND EQUIPMENT. PLEASE FEEL FREE TO EMAIL ME @ GRRRR1969@PONCACITY.NET SEEING THE ROCKET BRINGS BACK MEMORIES

I really enjoyed your post here. You did some more investigation on the history of the Rocket Slide and I learned some new things - thank you! I'll bet with a few modifications (ie, enclosed, less steep slide), you could recreate this beast in a modern, acceptable form. I don't believe that you have to accept boring equipment just to satisfy boring lawyers - designers need to be bold and brave!

http://spokane.craigslist.org/bab/1191606881.html

There is a rocket slide of some sort for sale in IDAHO right now. It looks a bit different but maybe a collector will know who the make is.

I collect vintage playground! what do you have?

Dan Balser
407-433-2164

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