The day Rocky Point’s Tumble Bug rolled into Supreme Court!

If you are of a certain age, you probably remember riding the Tumble Bug at Rocky Point before it was removed in the late 1970s.  The Tumble Bug (sometimes known as The Bug) dated back to 1927, and was moved to Rocky Point for the 1928 season.  It survived the 1938 hurricane, thanks in part to its high ground location and the fact that important components were in storage in West Warwick.  After a 10-year hiatus, the Bug reopened with the park in 1948 as seen in the photo below, bottom right corner.
But while the Bug lay dormant in the park for ten long years prior to park’s reopening,  legalities were swarming around it. And on February 19, 1954, the ride had “its day” in Rhode Island Supreme Court.

Rather than paraphrase the proceedings of  MOSS v. ROCKY POINT PARK, Inc.,  I’ll  give you the actual court’s ruling.  And you’ll be pleased to know, there’s not a lot of legal mumbo-jumbo in the text below.  It’s a great read with fascinating facts.

See you in the hallway when court adjourns.  Read on!

103 A.2d 72 (1954)


Ex. No. 9399.

Supreme Court of Rhode Island.

February 19, 1954.

*73 Haslam, Arnold, Anderson & Mullen, Stephen F. Mullen, Providence, for plaintiff.

Zietz & Sonkin, Providence, for defendant.

FLYNN, Chief Justice.

This action of trover and conversion was tried to a jury in the superior court and a verdict was returned for the plaintiff in the sum of $3,500. Thereafter the trial justice denied the motion of the defendant corporation for a new trial, and the case is here on its exception to that decision and to other rulings made during the trial.

The plaintiff, who was a resident of the state of Ohio, filed a declaration in two counts alleging in substance that he was sole owner and entitled to the possession of a Tumblebug ride which was located on the premises of Rocky Point amusement park in the city of Warwick in this state; that defendant, a Rhode Island corporation, was the owner and operator of said park on November 17, 1947; and that on or about that date defendant converted the Tumblebug ride by selling it to a third party for $9,000. The defendant filed pleas of the general issue and also special pleas setting up respectively plaintiff’s abandonment of the ride, laches, adverse possession, the statute of limitations, estoppel, and that the ride was not personal property but had become a part of the realty purchased by defendant.

The following facts appear in evidence and are sufficient for an understanding of the controversy and rulings. The plaintiff purchased the Tumblebug ride in 1927 from a Pennsylvania manufacturer for $13,500, and had paid for it in full before this action was brought. In 1928, after having operated it for a brief time on Long Island, New York, plaintiff brought it to Rocky Point amusement park. There it was set up and operated for several years by plaintiff and his partner, doing business as Gowell Amusement Company, under an agreement whereby the owner or operator of the park accepted 25 per cent of the gross receipts as rental for permission to operate it.

The ride itself consisted of a metal center spindle and steel arms radiating therefrom to a single rail on which six cars of steel were rotated or propelled by central motors *74 and machinery. It could be manually assembled and dismantled by the use of nuts and bolts. The center spindle was anchored in a cement block or pier which was sunk 10 feet into the ground and the steel radiating arms rested upon some thirty or forty smaller piers sunk only two feet into the ground at strategic places. The area covered was 300 feet in circumference.

In 1938 the ride was sold by the city of Warwick for accrued and unpaid personal property taxes assessed against the Gowell Amusement Company and it was purchased by plaintiff. He continued individually to operate the ride on said rental basis until 1942 when because of war conditions the park ceased to open and operate. The plaintiff then stored the motors with R. L. Derouin, doing business as West Warwick Machine Company, who had done plaintiff’s electrical maintenance work, and by permission of the then owner left the ride itself on the park grounds.

Apparently in 1942 the park was sold and conveyed by deed of Randall A. Harrington to Studley Land Company. The plaintiff, who had kept in touch with general conditions affecting the ride and park, personally came from Ohio in 1946 to investigate the possibility of the park being reopened, at which time he inspected the ride and patched up some loose boards to prevent possible accidents to children. From such inspection and his experience with the purchase and operation of the ride, he estimated that to get it into operation would require an expenditure of $1,200 to $1,500, specifying different items that required parts and repairs. He further testified that if the park were reopened and doing a good business, the value of the ride as thus repaired would be $7,000 or $8,000. On the other hand there was testimony for defendant to the effect that at the time it was worth only $500.

Thereafter, by deed of August 6, 1947, Studley Land Company conveyed the park to the defendant corporation. The latter deed, which is in evidence, purported to convey by description the land known as Rocky Point amusement park, “Together with all the buildings and improvements thereon,” excepting therefrom certain designated stands or concessions. That list of exceptions did not include the Tumblebug.

After such purchase plaintiff was notified by defendant to take the ride out of the park. Following this notice, plaintiff and his Ohio attorney negotiated by letters, telegrams and telephone calls with defendant through its president Fred Hilton concerning plans for reopening the park, the operation of the ride by plaintiff, and the rental defendant would accept. In these negotiations defendant asked for a flat rental of $3,000 annually, while plaintiff offered to pay 25 per cent of the gross receipts as previously agreed to by the former owner and operator. After failing to agree on the terms of rental, defendant for the first time claimed ownership thereof by virtue of its purchase and deed of the land together with the buildings and improvements thereon.

Thereafter, according to defendant, it caused certain repairs to be made on the ride as testified to by its agent Joseph Trillo. These included expenditures for materials and parts, painting, carpentry work, construction and repair of fences, storage for the motors, electrical work, and designing, amounting in all to approximately $5,000. This sum included the price of $300 which defendant admittedly had paid to plaintiff after negotiating for the purchase of the motors stored at the West Warwick Machine Company, and after plaintiff and his agent Derouin had made clear to defendant that plaintiff was selling only the motors and not the ride itself.

On or about November 17, 1947 the ride as thus repaired was sold by defendant for $9,000 to Louis Covinsky, who also agreed to pay a minimum of $3,000 annually for permission to operate it in the park. When it appeared that two of the six cars were not in usable condition, an allowance of $500 was made by defendant so that the ride actually was sold for $8,500, which was paid to defendant by Covinsky. The latter testified in substance that he was inexperienced *75 at that time in operating a Tumblebug; that defendant had offered to sell it to him for $3,000 to $3,500 as it was, he to do his own repairing; and that because he desired to acquire the ride in operating condition from a responsible person who understood its repairs, he preferred and agreed to buy it for $9,000 after it was repaired. This offer to sell the ride “as it was” for the above price was denied by defendant, but admittedly in accordance with their agreement defendant repaired and sold the ride to Covinsky for $9,000, which was adjusted to $8,500. He operated it in the park on defendant’s terms of a minimum rental until he sold it to another person.

So there you have it!  Another captivating chapter in the storied Rocky Point Park.  Now a little history about the Tumble Bug, seen below at Rocky Point in the 1960s.


The Tumble Bug was built by Traver Engineering of Beaver Falls, PA, starting in 1927.   After Traver’s factory went bankrupt in 1933, it was acquired by his chief engineer Ralph E. Chambers. Operating under the new name of Ralph E. Chambers Engineering Company, it continued to produce the Bug as well as spare parts for the ride.

While credit is often given to Traver for the Tumble Bug’s design, it was actually designed by Hyla Maynes, the same inventor who designed the adult caterpillar and a host of other rides. Traver only had a license to produce them and a fee was paid to Maynes by the purchaser.

To add to the mix, at some point Chambers began offering parks a new retrofit: tubs shaped like Turtles, to replace the Bugs.  Some parks such as Playland Park in Rye, NY, accepted Chamber’s offer as did Kennywood, near Pittsburgh, PA.  Playland renamed its Bug the Turtle Chase while Kennywood just went with Turtles.  Below is a photo I shot of Kennywood’s Turtles in 1997.

George Turtle

A Turtles upgrade was offered to Rocky Point by Chambers when the park reopened, but it declined.  And can you blame the Rocky Point.  The ride rode like a Tumble Bug, not a Turtle, right?

But the Rocky Bug story doesn’t end here.  Now pay attention boys and girls: At some point the circa 1952 Comet Junior coaster was renamed Blue Streak.  But when the coaster closed, the sign was moved to the Tumble Bug and the tubs were painted in a blue motif.  So while the Tumble Bug never became the Turtle, it did finish out its life at Rocky Point as the Blue Streak.   Are you still dizzy!


Today, there are only two operating Tumble Bugs in the world: Kennywood’s Turtle and the Tumble Bug at Conneaut Lake Park, also in Pennsylvania.  After Rocky Point shuttered its Bug,  the closest suich ride was at Whalom Park in Luneburg, Massachusetts.  That park closed after the 2000 season.  Below is a photo I took of Whalom’s in 1999.


So now you can tell your friends all about the legendary Rocky Point Park’s Tumble Bug…as long as you don’t Bug them about it!

(Court transcript:

(Photo credits: Anita Cerri Ferla, You Must Be This Tall, Providence Journal, Bill Luca, George LaCross)



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