Vaszin Rode Roller Coasters, Trains to Success

The following article appeared in the Dayton Business Journal, October 18, 1996

©1996. Dayton Business Journal. All Rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.


Vaszin rode roller coasters, trains to success

By Curt Dalton

 

When nineteen-year-old Aurel Vaszin came to the United States from Romania in 1912, he only had $9.50 in his pocket. He had never gotten past sixth grade, nor did he have any formal education in engineering. As a boy he had worked as an apprentice cabinet-maker. His first job was for an amusement park in New Haven, Conn. as the carpenter of the roller coaster.

Aurel first came to Dayton to help engineer the Lakeside Amusement Park at Lakeside Drive and Gettysburg Road in 1913. He went back to Connecticut after the job was finished, but returned to Dayton in 1919 after saving $2,500 to start his own business. Mr. Vaszin opened the National Amusement Device Co. on 139 S. Hatfield St. in 1920 and began by engineering and building roller coaster rides. By 1945, the Dayton Daily News reported that 75 percent of the roller coasters in the country had been manufactured in Vaszin's Dayton plant.

By 1959, the Dayton company had built more than 400 roller coasters. They were also known for fun houses, comic mirrors, Ferris wheels and merry-go-round chariots. The company was responsible for an entire exposition in Wellington, New Zealand in the 1950's. In 1964 Aurel designed and built what was then the largest roller coaster in the world, a 110 foot high and 5,000 feet long giant called the "Russian Mountain," in Mexico City. It cost $600,000. He was also responsible for one in Guatemala, where workers had to dig 38 feet out of the side of a mountain to get the right grade.

National Amusement Device manufactured the first steel roller coaster in the world in 1968. The use of steel instead of wood created a framework much less likely to collapse from the weight of the cars and passengers.

The plant also manufactured miniature trains, which were used in Busch Gardens and the Cincinnati Zoo. In 1963 the company sold a full-size reproduction of an 1860 Union-Pacific railroad locomotive No. 58, a tender and four cars to Le Sourdesville Lake Park, which was put to use the following year. The train held more than 50 passengers and wound its way over 4,400 feet of track. As it made its way through the woods, the passengers would pull into a western town where shoot-outs would occur. 

That same year two locomotives and twenty cars were shipped to an amusement park in Mexico City. The two trains were placed on 7,000 feet of track, with half of the ride being underground. Replications of the Union Pacific carried tourists through historical parts of the United States, such as "Old Tucson," Tucson, Ariz. and North Pole, Colorado Springs, Colo. The Tucson train appeared in several films.

In 1963 the Louisiana State University began to have problems with parking at their campus. While other schools restricted student parking, LSU sought a different approach. Called the Tiger Trains, two trackless trains shuttled students around campus. It was the first such intracampus transportation to be used in the country. Two large tigers were painted on the front grill of the engine, while the words Louisiana State University graced its sides. The locomotives were built on the frames of gasoline tractors. Instead of tracks, the trains rode on rubber wheels. Each car carried 18 students.

National Amusement's trains were to become known world-wide, being sent to Caracas, Venezuela where they were used in shopping centers; Canada, where they were used during the Canadian exposition at Toronto, and large amusement parks in Brazil, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, France, Belgium and England.

Aurel Vaszin sold the company in 1973 to a Toledo firm, which renamed it the International Amusement Device Inc.