Where did our fountain go?

Applause Fountain construction

Long, long ago … before the town of Santa Claus was even named … a giant meteor crashed into one of the town’s hillsides, leaving behind a huge crater for folks from miles around to come and see.

It was amazing.

A shooting star came to rest in this town. And it happened on Christmas Eve. What does this mean? A holiday miracle perhaps?

The reason I present this as fact and not legend is because I know it’s true.

Mr. Koch told me.

In fact, he knew the guy who dug the crater


I thought of this story the other day when another Christmas Crater appeared in town.

Applause Fountain construction

No it’s not a sinkhole. It’s the remains of the Christmas Fountain.

Here one day. Gone the next.

All that remains now is a big hole in the concrete. Sigh!

Here’s the backstory

In late 2003, we were named as one of the three finalists for the highly coveted Applause Award.

Normally, I wouldn’t use a word like “coveted.” Sounds trite, and a bit sinful.

But let there be no misunderstanding, our Will Koch coveted the Applause Award!

To be a finalist for this international award the first time we were nominated was a coup in itself. It suddenly hit us that we had a chance to win this thing. And we’d be the smallest park ever to win.

“If we win,” Will pledged in staff meeting, “we’re putting those hands in the fountain.” We all chuckled.

The Applause Award is a work of art. It’s a pair of hands, applauding. Will talked about having a large version made and added to the fountain.

After hosting the international Board of Governors for the Applause Awards last summer we knew we had a shot. So did the other two parks, both magnificent European parks.

Well … we won.

Will Koch holding the Applause Award

Not long after, Will distributed our Capital Improvement Budget for 2005.

As I scanned the long list of line items, I blurted out:

“Oh! You really meant it about the fountain!”

All those months, I’d thought Will was joking (he jokes a lot; he’s a jovial guy).


Yes, he really meant it. We’re getting a new fountain. Same size, but with a bunch of bubblers, jumping jets, and colored lights. And, rising proudly from the center of the waters, a pair of applauding hands, eight feet tall.

The giant hands are being hand-crafted for us, so it may be a while before they’re ready. Meanwhile, bronze plaques will be installed along the perimeter, naming the other parks that have won this coveted award in the past. It’s our way of starting a hearty round of applause for all the people who developed, worked at, and visited these parks over the years.

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A taxing topic

About 18 months ago, I got a new computer here at work. One of the fussy little set-up chores is to go through and choose all the “Options” in Outlook.

I send my emails HTML. I sort my Contacts by Address Cards (but not Detailed Address Cards). And I prefer my Icons small and in a list, thankyouverymuch.

Next, it was time to sort out my Calendar.

One option presented is “show holidays.”

Rather a no-brainer, don’t you think? If you work at Holiday World, being aware of the nation’s holidays is a good thing. On the appointed day, up pops the announcement of the holiday. Ground Hog Day. St. Patrick’s Day. Columbus Day. Tax Day.

Tax Day?!

Who in the world declared today a holiday? Was this the work of a federal agency? Or some mischievous software designer who claims an extra three dependents each year and gets a fat check back from the IRS?

Could there possibly be a method to this madness?

Once in a while, just for fun, we toss around ideas for a new themed section. But no one has ever suggested Tax Day.

Think of it, though, for just a minute…what joy a Tax Day section could bring to families:

  • Shake You Down Go-Round, the world’s first inverted merry-go-round
  • The Taxman Cometh dark ride, complete with laser pointers for scratching out errors
  • The Bean Counter Carousel, sponsored by H&R Block
  • a musical show called Evasion Jubilation
  • a dunking booth with – you guessed it – simulated IRS agents; and finally…
  • The Taxinator roller coaster, which only goes uphill.

Thanks to my Cousin Jeff in St. Louis for helping me with these ideas. I tried calling our corporate controller first but was told he has taken the day off.

Huh. I guess, for some, today is a holiday.

The Queen of Clean strikes again

Mrs. Koch and her broom

Rachel came back from the main office this afternoon with the following story about our resident Queen of Clean:

As I was looking for more letterhead over at the main office today, I heard a big sigh come through the door first … then Will.

Mrs. Koch and her broomI chuckled and Will said, “I asked Marlene if she had seen Mom, and she said, ‘The last time I saw her she was headed out with a broom.’”

Will laughed and said loudly, “AND IT’S JUST APRIL!”

As I was leaving the office I noticed Will had found Mrs. Koch. I thought, “Oh that’s nice, they are going to lunch together.”

But wait, she was just showing him the door leading out of the main office. She was so proud … she cleaned all the metal on the door and it was shining beautifully.

That door had been bothering her all winter.

Will and I just stood there for a moment and Mrs. Koch said, “You don’t remember what it looked like before do you?”

Nope, we sure didn’t.

She went on to explain it had a lot of black grimy stuff on it and was disgusting. But now, it gleamed like new.

Will shook his head.

“Oh, great! Now we have to paint the door.”

… but somebody’s got to do it

Raven station

The call came out on the two-way radio first thing this morning:

All units, we need 24 bodies for The Raven!

Training is a particularly rough time around here. We have to ride roller coasters over and over. We have sample new food items day after day.


Rachel and I trudged dutifully out to the station. There were two seats left for us in the new Raven train.

We were both a bit alarmed as the seats felt a bit … um … cozy.

We decided it wasn’t because we were wider, but because the train is brand new. Gotta break in those new seats. You know, like a new pair of shoes.

Sure, that’s it.

What a relief to find out we were correct!

It’s funny to have 24 fellow employees together in a train. Lots of different departments were represented; picnics in front of us, warehouse and shops immediately behind. Really good people; jovial teasing and laughter in anticipation of the first ride of the day.

On a side note, we now have a Transfer Track Storage Building adjacent to the Raven station. It’ll be handy for the maintenance staff and will provide storage for the second train on slow days. It’s an extra tunnel at the very start of the ride.

Raven station

Now that we have two trains, the lift-hill chain will go slower. In essence, it will make the ride experience a longer one.


I think it’s more fun to take your time heading up the hill. Gives you time to look around. Check things out.

Hey, Vanessa! Your shop windows need cleaning!

At the top of the hill, we crested and down we flew. I’m a screamer, remember? The guys up ahead seemed to find that amusing.

Rachel just peeped out an occasional, “Oh!” Up and down the hills. Over the lake. And that wild ending back to the station.

Whew! Great ride. Who needs caffeine?

Let’s go again!

It amazes me how some people can ride over and over and never tire of it. Me? I definitely have my limits. On the third ride around (which I was promised would be my last ride of the day), they practiced stopping the train on the lift hill. (Training, remember?) Didn’t like that one bit. No, sir. Going up, up, up, is okay. Stopping on the hill, for me, goes against nature. Vanessa and Dee Ann, farther back in the train, felt the same way.

I tried getting everyone to sing “Kumbaya” but found it far more soothing to holler, “I’m freaking out!”

How embarrassing.

We made it back to the station and hopped out.

Thank you for riding Raven Air!

Sure. Happy to help. Call anytime. Glad to be a team player. Whatever it takes.

Okay, so where else are they training today? Funnel cakes or the fudge shop?
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Praise from Paris

Happy Kellems at Santa Claus Land

… Illinois, that is. Here’s what an email from Mike had to say:

I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoy reading the articles you post on the HoliBlog site.

I have visited Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari every year since 1979 when my grandparents would bring myself, my brother, and cousins every summer. Now I have made it a family tradition of my own and bring my child every year. I could probably walk through the park with my eyes closed and know exactly where I was just by the sounds of the rides. Keep up the good work and tell Mrs. Koch I think she looks as good in person as she does on TV. Every time I have visited the park I always see her greeting guests and helping to keep the park clean. You all deserve a huge round of applause for providing such an enjoyable experience to everyone, young and old. I look forward to another wonderful visit in July of this year.

Sincerely, Mike   Paris, Illinois

PS – I was just curious, I believe back in the early ’80s, prior to the Hoosier Celebration Theater, there was another theater behind Mrs. Klaus’ Kitchen. There was also a play area with I believe a rocket-shaped slide. Has all this been removed? I always try to peak through the fence to catch a glimpse but have never been able to see anything.

I forwarded Mike’s email to Will Koch, who remembers that area well.

Here’s Will’s reply:

Happy Kellems at Santa Claus Land

He is correct. The theater was called the Showboat Theatre. (It was originally built for the Santa Claus Land Children’s Choir.) That was where Happy Kellems (the clown) and Gene Smith (the tap dancing magician) performed. There was also a country show there in some years. The theater was where the pole building that houses the carpenters’ shop supplies is now. There was also a rocket-shaped kid’s slide that was located literally right where I now park my car.

Happy Kellems (that’s his wife and partner, Lillian, bonking him on the head) was a popular clown at Santa Claus Land. We’ll have to talk more about him in the coming months and years. During his long career, Happy performed for presidents, with Gene Autry and Roy Rogers, and for families at Santa Claus Land.

For now, here’s a Happy quote from a 1979 newspaper article:

“The most important this is to bring as much laughter and happiness as you can to a tired world that needs laughter.”

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A story from the 1940s

1956 Bill Koch with parents

Mrs. Koch just called and told me this little story; she asked me to add it to our HoliBlog:

On Sunday, there was a knock at her door. It was an elderly gentleman, who asked if she knew the whereabouts of L.J. Koch, Jr., an old friend.

She explained that he had passed away; he was her brother-in-law.

He asked if her family was the one which owned the “tin shop” in Evansville. Indeed, Mrs. Koch’s father-in-law, Louis J. Koch, Sr., was one of the “sons” of George Koch Sons (now a subsidiary of Koch Enterprises Inc.).

The visitor asked which Koch she married, and she told him about Bill.

The octogenarian remembered meeting Bill Koch back in the 1940s

… during a visit to the town of Santa Claus. The gentleman was helping the VFW bring a group of underprivileged children to the town of Santa Claus to visit the park. (Not Santa Claus Land, but the park around the bend which included the huge Santa statue.)

The children were so disappointed when it was discovered that the park had closed and they would not be able to enjoy their day as planned. At this point, Bill Koch entered the picture. (Here’s a 1956 photo of Mr. Koch at Santa Claus Land with his parents.)

1956 Bill Koch with parents

A Navy veteran of World War II, Mr. Koch didn’t want the VFW’s group of children to leave the town disappointed. So he invited the entire group over for a day at Santa Claus Land, his treat.

The man finished his story with a smile and, turning to leave, added: “Can I give you a compliment? You really do take care of yourself!”

Mrs. Koch chuckled with laughter over the compliment. “I was ready to go out, so I was all dressed up. I wonder what he would have said if he’d seen me 30 minutes earlier?!”
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P.A.S.S. me that extinguisher

Fire extinguisher training

Anyone driving by Holiday World at lunchtime today probably wondered what sort of tribal ritual we were performing.

A tall man with a flaming torch lit a fire a pan of gasoline and water in the Raven Parking Lot. And we were all lined up (in a circle, actually) so that one by one we could put the fire out with an extinguisher.

Fire extinguisher training


It isn’t exactly on the top of my list of WhatIWantToAccomplishInMyLifeBeforeI’mEighty … but I must admit I’ve always wanted to try out a fire extinguisher.

How convenient to be able to do it without the requisite raging fire, scalding heat, and collapsing buildings.

I was always the obnoxious kid at school who volunteered to go first in Speech Class. So, why change now? (Plus it was starting to rain.)

The key, my friends, is P.A.S.S.:

P = Pull. Pull the pin out. (Don’t squeeze the handle yet, though.)
A = Aim. Easy enough. Aim at the base of the fire.
S = Squeeze. The squeezing part was much easier than I’d expected.
S = Sweep. No, they’re not telling you to sweep up the cinders; it’s the motion of your arm as you move the direction of the hose to quickly extinguish the fire.

Our controller, Matt, heckled me, “Hey, Paula! Is this HoliBloggable?”

Yes, Matt; it is. But please don’t ever say HoliBloggable again!
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Up, up and away!

Unpainted water tower

It’s noisier than usual this spring.

There’s a giant contraption being assembled right across the street in our Legend parking lot.

And it looks like a hot-air balloon:

Unpainted water tower

Actually, it’s a new water tower. Our very own.

That massive sphere will hold half a million gallons. That a lot of H-2-O!

Will Koch likes to refer to the water tower as our “insurance policy.” If a water main in the area would break, we would be able to use our own reserve. Wouldn’t have to close the park and hang up a “Sorry, No Water Today” sign.

This isn’t, of course, a new ride.

But we’re all still pretty excited about our water tower

Meanwhile, a special crew works daily at assembling that monstrosity. If you look closely, you’ll see a welder at work.

Once in a while, we hear a sudden “BOOM!” that has a movie-like echoing sound to it. Each time, I can’t help but glance out the window to make sure the orb-a-plenty hasn’t pulled loose of its moorings and is heading our way.

The pieces, over the next month, will be painted the happy Holiday World colors. Then two huge cranes will lift the “ball” into place.

I just may post from home that day.
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First flight

Second Raven train

The second train at The Raven is feeling right at home.

Second Raven train

You guessed it — Raven Red!

Originally (back in 1994), I was in favor of a black train, since ravens are that color. But the red is so stunning, especially once the trees leaf out; it was definitely the right choice.

Four more weeks till Opening Day.

For all of us, they’ll just fly by!
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Raven sighting

Just pulled into my parking space and saw, off in the woods, The Raven flying by. It’s roller-coaster testing time.

The train is empty, of course.

But still, what a glorious sight! And the click-click-click sound as the train ascends the lift hill is music to my ears!

We’re adding a second train to The Raven this season. I’m not sure if it’s here yet, but I’ll find out and will let you know.

With the addition of the second train, all sorts of safety contraptions have been added. That’s what they’re deep into roller-coaster testing. In a nutshell, there will always be a set of brakes between the trains. It’s a good system.

We had quite a discussion regarding whether the second train should be “Raven Red” or a different color.

I’ll wait to tell you until I can show you the new train.