Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Derby Race Carousel-Type Rides

As I promised in my last post, Hang on for Steeplechase Rides, this month I'm going to show you carousel rides that feature a derby race as part of the rotation. 

As a refresher, on the right is a 1926 image taken at Calgary, Alberta and shows a young girl on an ordinary carousel. While the deer itself is different, the animals have the usual pole fixed to the top supports, as well as to the carousel floor. Any movement will only be up and down, in time with the music. 

As most people know, however, horses don't move up and down in real life...they run forward.

I was curious to see if I could find an old video of horse racing and was surprised when I found, Race Horse First Film Ever 1878 Eadweard Muybridge. (Edward Maybridge)  Mr. Muybridge's motion photography was one of the earliest forms of videography and showed the action of a horse in motion proving that all four hooves do indeed leave the ground at one time.

I also found footage of 1897 Horse Racing at Sheepshead Bay, and although the quality isn't the best and there's no sound, it was filmed by the Thomas Edison Company with the copyright of Thomas A Edison, July 31, 1897 ...

Unlike steeplechase rides, derby races ran on rotating platforms with operating chains that moved the horses moved forward and back as well as up and down to simulate the movement of real horses in a derby. 

If you look at this 1910 image, the pole of each horse goes down into a long slot on the floor. During the course of the race, each horse moves forward and back in random order, and whoever is farthest ahead at the end of the race is the winner. 

People Riding on a Carousel, about 1910. Courtesy of
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
According to the Carousel History website, Derbies were used to teach riding skills to untrained World War I soldiers. The next two photos show a publicity photo shot at the Great American Racing Derby at Ocean Park.

World War I Soldiers mount up for photo shot at Ocean Park Great American Racing Derby. Courtesy of

If you read the original caption on the above photo, it mentions the Looff carousel in the center of the derby. Apparently, the idea was for the children to ride the 4-row Looff carousel, while their parents rode the faster, and more thrilling, derby. Apparently, the Derby rides rotated three times faster than the speed of a carousel.

World War I Soldiers publicity photo taken at Ocean Park Derby. Courtesy of

To get a sense of what it's like to ride in a derby, check out this video, which was filmed using a Go-Pro at CedarPoint in Sandusky, OH.

If the horses look familiar, it's probably because it's the same derby used in the publicity shot above when it was called The Great American Racing Derby. In 1969, it was sold to Cedar Point and now races under the name of Cedar Downs.

If you look closely at images of carousels today, you'll see that some of them started out as derby races, but the racing mechanism has been disengaged and the slot boarded up so that only one hole for the pole remains as in this photo: 

The Prior & Church Racing Derby at Playland, Rye, NY, c2014. Courtesy of 

The Carousel History website is the best place for information on this subject. Included on the page for Derby Racers is a first hand account about riding Playland's Derby, including this statement, "...Most riders do want to sit on the outside…the best thrill. You cannot be weak, you have to hold on. My arms were tired after the ride.”

The chains that operate the racing mechanism on the derby rides are still in operation at only one amusement park - Cedar Downs, Cedar Point, Ohio. 
To get a sense of a derby ride without the chains in operation, here's a Derby Racer video uploaded in 2011 from Blackpool, Pleasure Beach, UK. Note that the poles are not lined up side-by-side so it looks like they are racing, but they no longer move. 

I have never had the opportunity to ride in a Derby Racer. Have you?


Anita Mae Draper's historical romances are woven under the western skies of the Saskatchewan prairie where her love of research and genealogy yields fascinating truths that layer her stories with rich historical details.  Anita's short story, Here We Come A-Wassailing, was a finalist for the Word Guild's 2015 Word Awards. Her novellas are included in Austen in Austin Volume 1, and The American Heiress Brides Collection. Readers can check out Anita's Pinterest boards for a visual idea of her stories to enrich their reading experience.  Discover more at:


  1. I didn't even really know about the Derby racers until I read your post. I love that the soldiers trained on them...those pictures are priceless. My knowledge goes as far as a simple merry-go-round. Thanks for sharing.

    1. You're very welcome. That photo of the soldiers is one of the reasons I divided derby races and steeplechase rides into 2 posts. However, I believe the soldiers would have had better training if they'd tried the steeplechase where they actually went around bends, and up and down hills, except I couldn't find a record of it.

      Thanks for dropping by. :)

  2. You always find such interesting photos, Anita. What an interesting, informative post. Thank you!

    1. You're welcome, Susie. And your posts on the 3rd of each month are quite fascinating as well. :)

  3. Fun videos! I didn't know about the Derby Racers either. I attended the State Fair this week and was telling my youngest son about the amusement park that was once on the same property. It had pony rides where you rode ponies around a fenced path. You actually guided the ponies and steered them and didn't just go in a circle.

    1. That's the best kind, isn't it Vickie. I wonder if they stopped that kind of pony ride because it was easier to watch the kids and keep them safer when they go in a circle. It seems that everyone is child-proofing childhood these days and then sending the kids out into a adult world. It doesn't make much sense to me.