The Tumble Bug was once a staple of the amusement park midway. A classic flat ride, there were two variations that many parks had. One featured a sort of stubby “face” that looked like a bug, hence the Tumble Bug name. The other variation looked like a turtle and that ride is often referred to as the Turtle Ride. However, both operated exactly the same.
According to the Ride Zone website, these rides were built by Traver Engineering of Beaver Falls, PA. Although Traver is often given credit for the ride’s design it was actually designed by Hyla Maynes, who also invented the Caterpillar. Traver had a license to produce the Tumble Bug ride but a royalty was paid to Maynes by the purchaser.
Traver Engineering produced the Tumble Bug into the early 1930s when the factory was taken over by one of Traver’s employees and began operating under the name R.E. Chambers. The factory continued producing the Bugs as well as spare parts for the rides.
In 1927, a 48 passenger (6 car), 100-foot diameter, Tumble Bug ride cost $12,500. The rides with 3 or 4 cars cost less.
The Bug traveled around a circular undulating track, usually in a counter-clockwise rotation. The track has changes in elevation and the cars are each attached to a rod on a central pivot point. The cars are connected and are propelled around the track via motors between the cars.
Now, here is the bad news.
Only three Tumble Bugs still stand here in the United States and only two still operate. The two that operate are the Turtle at Kennywood Park in Pittsburgh and the Tumble Bug at Conneaut Lake Park near Meadeville. The third is at Chippewea Lake Park in Medina, Ohio but has been abandoned for more than 40 years.
I feel lucky enough to have seen and/or ridden all of them.
Kennywood Park’s The Turtle
Its been a couple of years since I’ve been to Kennywood Park so unfortunately I don’t have any updated pictures of the Turtle Ride, but I’m hoping to get some soon.
Kennywood’s model is a six-car model and features skirting around the cars, turtle feet, a turtle tail, and a turtle head. It is also painted in a turtle motif.
Conneaut Lake Park
It’s not a secret that Conneaut Lake Park has had a rough go of it. It’s also not a secret that I’m rooting for the park if only just because of their number of history rides. The fact that they have the last functioning Tumble Bug model in the United States doesn’t hurt either. I was at Conneaut in 2019 was able to ride the Tumble Bug. I was impressed that they did a lot to clean up the ride, including giving the Bug a fresh coat of paint.
Conneaut’s Tumble Bug is a 5-car model and was installed in 1925. It now features a blue, red, and silver paint job with the signature stubby face and eyes. At one point, light bulbs filled the eye sockets to light up the eyes.
Chippewa Lake Park
There is one other Tumble Bug that is still standing, although its days of being operational are long over. Deep in the woods of Ohio lie the remains of Chippewa Lake Park and its Tumble Bug.
This was a four-car model and up until just a few years ago the cars were still on the track and connected to their central pivot point.
Recently, the cars were removed from the track. One of the cars was moved to a small museum outside the gate of the former park while the remaining three are still in the woods alongside the ride. It is reported that Medina County has bought the former park and plans to preserve the remnants of the former rides. Let’s hope that happens because this ride is too unique to lose.
Kiddie Turtle Ride
There is only a miniature children’s version of the ride. These miniature versions are much more common and look almost exactly like the large version of the Turtle Ride which can be found at Kennywood Park. Some examples of these rides can be found at Idlewild Park as well as Conneaut Lake Park.
There were several Turtle/Tumble Bug rides in the Western Pennsylvania area in the amusement park heyday. Some of the parks that had these rides included West View Park and Cascade Park.
If you find yourself in the vicinity of Conneaut Lake Park or Kennywood Park and have the opportunity to ride the Tumble Bug or the Turtle Ride, I highly suggest doing so before they someday disappear.