Sixty years ago, Paul Roads had a dream. If he built an amusement park, the children would come. But his main problem was where to build it? His vision took him not to a cornfield, but to an ugly, barren hill. In their search for the perfect site, Paul and his wife, Alethea, traveled from San Angelo to a bleak stretch of land in Amarillo’s Thompson Park.
It seemed the dream would die right there, for lack of water. “There were no trees, just scrub grass and sand burrs.” Mrs. Roads remembered. “It was pitiful.” So pitiful that Mr. and Mrs. Roads headed home to San Angelo. Mrs. Roads laughed, “We only got so far as Canyon, when we decided to give the location a second look.”
With the promise of transplanted trees and grading to level the area, Mark Miles, the then city’s Parks and Recreation director, convinced the Roads to give Amarillo a try.
On August 12, 1951, Kiddie Land opened. The park opened with only three rides: the Hershell kiddie boat ride, the Lil’ Dipper roller coaster, and a kiddie car ride built by Mr. Roads. With these three children’s rides and a make shift ticket booth made out of a crate in which one of the rides was shipped, Kiddie Land was an instant hit. However, it was not profitable enough to support the Roads and their two children, Paula and Danny.
During the next ten years, Mr. Roads continued to work a day job, as a fabricator at the Amarillo Air Force Base, and spent his nights and weekends working at the park. Finally, he reached a crossroads and had to choose between the park and his day job. He chose the park and never regretted his decision.
In 1969, after the addition of the Bumper Cars and other rides with wide appeal to all ages, a name change became a necessity. The Roads chose Wonderland, inspired by Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking Glass.” Although the Wonderland of today bears little resemblance to the Kiddie Land of 60 years ago, many of the seeds of today’s park were sown then. The commitment to family values, safety, and cleanliness has always been a part of the park’s history. Mrs. Roads commented, “We’ve always wanted this to be a park where you could bring your kids. When we started, the parks weren’t clean; they were more like carnivals. We didn’t want that then, and we still don’t.”
The importance of family has had a profound influence on the history of Wonderland. In the beginning when the park was still struggling, the Roads received some needed help from Mrs. Roads’ parents, Robert and Ruth Mikesell. The Mikesells moved to Amarillo when they retired. Mrs. Mikesell operated the miniature golf course until she was nearly 90 years old.
For more than 40 years, the Roads’ daughter, Paula, and her husband, Paul Borchardt (also known as P.D.) have been an integral part of Wonderland Park’s operations. After Paul finished a stint in the Navy, the Borchardt’s relocated to Amarillo and never left. While they had many options, they decided to make fun their life’s work.
Today, Paul and Paula are President and Vice President of Wonderland. With a triple major in naval science, marketing, and accounting, and an MBA in accounting, Paul brought a business acumen to the park that helped it evolve from special to spectacular… from Kiddie Land to Wonderland, the third largest amusement park in Texas.
Wonderland Park today is a major attraction with more than 200,000 visitors each year. One reason is the Roads’ and Borchardts’ commitment to add new attractions and constantly invest in maintenance and improvements.
Over the years, many spectacular rides have been added. Some are purchased from manufacturers or other parks, while others are built specifically for Wonderland. One good example is the world famous Texas Tornado. The Texas Tornado is a double loop, steel roller coaster, which attracts roller coaster enthusiasts from all over the world. Also, the first of its kind in the United States, is the 12 passenger Shoot the Chute. The Shoot the Chute is an unique and innovative water ride, added to the park in the summer of 2000.
Wonderland worked with O.D. Hopkins from New Hampshire, the world’s largest water ride manufacturer, to prototype new rides for the amusement industry. The rides Wonderland prototyped with O.D. Hopkins are: The Texas Tornado, the Shoot the Chute, the Big Splash Log Flume, The Sky Rider Monorail, the Rattlesnake River Raft Ride, The Thunder Jet Racer, and The Pipeline Plunge Water Slide.
Some attractions, such as the Fantastic Journey and the Miniature Golf Course, have been built from ideas and photographs of other parks. Mr. Roads designed and built both the Fantastic Journey and the Miniature Golf Course. The Fantastic Journey, “the dark house,” as Mr. Roads called it, took nine months to build. He spent so much time in it one summer, the season’s newly-hired help didn’t know who he was. Mr. Roads said of the summer many times “Those kids would keep coming into the office to ask my wife, “Who’s that white-haired old man who keeps coming in and out of that building over there?”
Recently, three new rides and a new section of the park were added. The 200 ft Drop of Fear, the Fiesta Swing, and the Hornet roller coaster were opened in the new West End in June 2009.
Mr. Roads passed away in May 2003, but Mrs. Roads is still active in day to day operations. Mr. and Mrs. Roads have been honored by the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions with The 2003 Lifetime Service Award. Mrs. Roads received the Amarillo Women’s Network 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award.
Today the third generation carries on the family legacy at Wonderland Park. Paul and Paula’s eldest daughter, Rebecca Parker, made the park her career in 1995. A CPA with an MBA, Rebecca is the park’s Controller. Rebecca said, ”I can’t imagine working anywhere else. The park is part of our family and is in our blood. As kids, my three sisters and I, always were the testers of anything our parents and grandparents wanted to add to the park. Whether it was a new ride, a new hot dog, a new game, whatever, we were there and ready to try it out. Also, all our family vacations took us out of school, as they had to take place in the off season. Those vacations were to many interesting places around the United States as they had to be educational and include visits to other parks and park conventions.”
Rebecca also stated for herself and her sisters ”We always worked at the park, and we knew there would be hardly a day off from when the season started til it ended, but it was always worth it. We had a great time making sure the customers enjoyed themselves and that they loved Wonderland as much as we did and still do.”
“Our family understands our lifestyle.” Paul said. “We work while everyone else plays and we work while everyone else works.” He’s only half kidding. The Roads and Borchardts work hard to make Wonderland Park fun for their guests…and doing so gives them satisfaction.
“They say the man with the most toys wins. I think it’s the guy who has the most fun. I win hands down.” Said Paul Borchardt.