I graduated High School in 1978. During that summer, I worked at WILD WEST CITY in Netcong, New Jersey.
Believe it or not, WILD WEST CITY is still in business after all this time, and recently celebrated their 50th Anniversary! That made me think back to one particular experience I had there.
But before I tell my story, let me explain what WILD WEST CITY is all about.
(The following is quoted from their web site:)
"WILD WEST CITY is a western heritage theme park that brings the old west back to life through portrayals of real-life western characters, legendary events and a frontier town re-creation. Featuring twenty-two (22) different live action shows throughout the course of the day, Wild West City offers the visitor the chance to “live” in the old west! In addition to the shows, we offer a 24-gauge miniature train ride, stagecoach and pony rides. Guests can browse our shops and museums along Main Street, visit and talk with our many knowledgeable townsfolk portraying early western life as historic figures or trades people. Pan for gold, visit our barnyard zoo or play miniature golf. Our Chapel is quietly nestled beyond the town alongside our authentic 1880’s Schoolhouse. A large picnic grove is available or you may purchase refreshments at the Silver Dollar Saloon, Franks Pizza or at the Golden Nugget Saloon. You can also enjoy live western music at the Golden Nugget Saloon each day. In addition to our regular programs, a variety of weekend special events are planned throughout the season."
Now let me set this up for you: Main Street in WILD WEST CITY is a very wide dirt road in the center of the park, and features wooden hitching posts in front of the buildings that line either side of the street.
The buildings are all amazingly authentic-looking; from the Blacksmith's shop where they sell horse shoe nail rings to the General Store where they sell penny candy from big wooden barrels.
They have a barbershop, a bank, a Marshall's Office with a real 'hoosegow' (jail cell), and of course, a saloon complete with Can-Can dancers and a Piano Player! Way back when I worked there, "Uncle Floyd" Vivino would be tickling the ivories and crooning old cowboy songs.
Before every outdoor performance, the public address system would play a fanfare, and a pre-recorded announcement would instruct all visitors to WILD WEST CITY to clear Main Street and stand behind the Hitching Posts. Once the street was clear of people, the live action shows would begin.
Each skit featured music and narration, so if anything went awry - "The Show Must Go On!" as the old saying goes.
OK, Pardner, now it's time for me to tell you MY story...
Nelson was a Tennessee Walker; a gorgeous horse that was my best buddy that summer. I kept a pocket filled with jawbreaker candies, and he always nuzzled my pockets for a treat every time he saw me. Nelson was a show horse, who was trained to carry 'Jesse James' into the center of town to rob the bank.
Every day, the pre-recorded music and narration would play, and Nelson would run down Main Street with Jesse James on his back. They would stop in front of the bank and Jesse would dismount and run inside of the bank to hold it up.
The narration would feature gun shots and dialogue, and Jesse James would run out of the bank into the street holding a bag of money, still shooting his gun back into the bank as he ran. He would leap onto the back of his trusty steed and together they would gallop back up Main Street into the sunset as the fanfare signaled the end of the skit.
My job was taking "Old Tyme Photos" of children sitting on ponies with a painted WILD WEST CITY backdrop. My 'studio' was located at the very end of Main Street; my back faced the shows when I was photographing customers.
I worked with one of those old cameras mounted on a tri-pod with the black cloth you toss over your head while you take the photographs. (It was actually a modern-day Polaroid camera, jazzed up to look like an antique.)
One afternoon, I was working with two young boys sitting together on a pair of ponies. They were both wearing cowboy hats and holding cap guns, and giving me their biggest smiles as their parents proudly looked on.
Behind me, Nelson and Jesse James had just arrived to rob the bank on Main Street.
Nelson spotted me as I ducked underneath the black cloth to take the photograph of the two young cowboys.
Nelson broke 'character' and left his post outside of the bank, galloping at full speed down Main Street toward me to get a jawbreaker!
I was ready to click the bulb to activate the camera shutter, and through the view-finder I realized the two little boys looked absolutely horrified!
A second later, Nelson's huge head nudged my back, nearly knocking me (and the camera) over!
He nuzzled my pockets looking for a treat, as Jesse James ran out of the bank, holding the sack of money and shooting his gun! He stopped short, looked up and down Main Street for his missing horse, and had to 'gallop' up Main Street into the sunset all by himself to the pre-recorded narration. The crowd went wild with laughter as Nelson munched on his jawbreaker.
The photograph of the two boys I managed to snap was absolutely priceless! Their eyes were bulging out of their sockets, their mouths were both wide open in horror, and even the ponies they were sitting on looked terrified! hee hee! The photograph was hilarious!
Below is Nelson and me... every time I look at this snapshot, I fondly remember that day at WILD WEST CITY.
Check out their web site at www.WildWestCity.com, and pay them a visit the next time you are in New Jersey!
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