Friday, April 16, 2010

Carnival Urban Cowboys

The best was the Bucking Bronco—the hand-operated mechanical bull. This was one of the coolest, most profitable and most devilish of rides ever designed for Carnegie Mellon University’s Spring Carnival. The creation was broached in the dining room of our fraternity—think Animal House but dirtier.
We all said “What?” as our ATO fraternity brother Jim “Camper” Camp gave his slightly maniacal grin.
“A manually operated mechanical bull,” he said with that sick grin still fixed on his face.
Camper was not tall, but solidly built and a little crazy for a quarterback. He had short blonde hair that was spiked on top (in the style of some footballers at the time) and a ruddy, Irish-looking face, with the droll expression to match. Many of us in ATO (which was ousted from the campus years ago) were football players and we knew this crazy Ohio guy’s intensity, so we listened.
“You get an old oil drum, drill some holes in it and attach ropes on the corners, though they’re not really corners,” he explained, pulling out a crudely drawn illustration he’d made of the device. Essentially the drum would be connected from the ropes and pulleys to a wooden frame.
“You slap a saddle on the drum, put a brother on each of the ropes and have them pull on it to give the bucking motion… it’ll be great!” he said, looking more excited as he talked.
Joe “Boltzie” Boltz stood up and arched his eyebrows, comprehending the idea. His girth, goatee and overall impishness gave him the look of a skinnier Dom Delouise. He scanned Camper’s drawing and declared, “This is a great idea,” almost under his breath
It wasn’t long before several brothers were working to make the thing happen. In no time they had the thing up and running, but we had to have brothers manning the thing at all times, and it really was a 5-brother per shift ride (you needed a caller, too), which took a lot of manpower. The thing was all set up with mattresses for cushioning when people would fall off, but it still looked dubious until we saw it in action.
It didn’t seem too enticing to work the ropes on the Bucking Bronc ride before we did our first shifts, but once we experienced the thrill of operating the ride, we were hooked.
Guys lined up and gladly paid their $5 and accepted our disclaimer that if they got hurt it was on them, doing their best to be Urban Cowboys on the parking lot of Skibo Hall on a Spring evening. I won’t lie; some of them limped away from the ride.
We even got a few hayseed types, with cowboy boots, hats and belt buckles, ready to take us on. ATO won every time. We also made a ton of money for charity.
That was Back When The House Was Good, as they used to say. But maybe it should now just be, Back When The House Was.
I bring this all up because Spring Carnival is happening right now and I am hoping some crazy fratheads came up with some cockamamie idea like Camper’s Bucking Bronc, because that’s what it’s all about at CMU. If Andy Carnegie engendered anything, it was innovation, right?