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...