When children walk through the entrance gates at Paul Bunyan Land and see the 26-foot high statue of Paul — who has a boot size of 80 and a belt size that is 12 1/2 feet long, with a 500-pound ax — they are already giddy and full of excitement.
But when Paul opens his mouth and says, “Hello, Bobbie” or “Hi, Suzy,” the expression on the child’s face is priceless. This memory is one that the child and the parents or grandparents will treasure forever. It’s a magical moment.
The owners of This Old Farm Pioneer Village and Paul Bunyan Land, located six miles east of Brainerd on Highway 18, cherished these memories that were instilled in them when they were little.
Owners Lois Smude and Alan Rademacher, who are siblings, remember going to Paul Bunyan Land as kids with their parents, Dick and Marian Rademacher, when the park was located at the Highway 210-371 junction in Baxter. The two never thought they’d own the famous Paul Bunyan Land, home to Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox.
They purchased Paul eight years ago with no intention of buying the amusement park. When Don McFarland put Paul Bunyan Land up for sale, Rademacher approached McFarland wanting to purchase the log house only to use as a showcase in his father’s This Old Farm Pioneer Village, an antique farm equipment museum that has been in existence for 33 years.
“It snowballed from there,” said Rademacher. “By the time I walked out of there I had purchased the whole park.”
The family had the space for the amusement park in what was previously a corn field. And the park was a nice addition to the Pioneer Village. The family’s biggest challenge was letting the world know that Paul Bunyan Land still exists in the Brainerd lakes area.
“We’ve done everything in marketing to get the word out, but we still get calls from people all over wondering if we are the real Paul Bunyan Land,” said Smude. “People thought the park was closed after it sold, but we moved everything out of there and onto our property.”
Smude and Rademacher both have full-time jobs so having the park was an undertaking, but one they don’t regret and one they now cannot fathom of not having. Smude said the amusement park sees about 2,000 customers a week and they are often thanked for keeping the park and all the history that goes with it alive in the Brainerd area.
In order to run the amusement park from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily from Memorial Day to Labor Day weekend they have 50-60 part-time employees and four full-time managers.
Most of the employees are high school and college students, but there also are other age groups working at the park.
Smude said the employees all have a good bond with each other and they all consider themselves family. Employees even call Dick and Marion Rademacher, who are at the park often, Grandma and Grandpa.
Smude and Rademacher have a theory that “if you treat them (employees) right, they’ll treat you right,” and that has instilled a good, working relationship with everyone involved.
“They know that they have a job to do and they know our expectations,” said Smude. “We make sure we’re all on the same page. We want a safe and clean park and they (employees) are proud to work here.”
Smude said jobs at the amusement park consist of operating the 17 rides, taking admission at the entrance and running the candy and gift stores and the petting zoo. Smude said most of the shifts average about six hours so the employees don’t get burnt out.
Paul Bunyan Land includes “Old Tyme Photo,” where three employees are trained to take photographs in a scene from the past as customers dress up in clothing ranging from gangster to a cowgirl costume with a variety of vintage backgrounds.
There are about 17-20 rides operating per day and they can operate up to two rides at a time if they are next to each other.
Smude said workers who are under age 18 who operate the rides must fill out a state permit because rides are considered machinery. Employees must be at least 16 to operate the rides. Smude said the employee fills out a form for the permit and they and their parents/guardian must sign it. The employees also have to go through job training to learn how to operate the ride safely.
“We make sure the employee feels safe and comfortable operating the ride,” said Smude. “If they don’t feel comfortable with one ride they may feel comfortable operating another ride.”
Dave Hays is a full-time manager of the park and he oversees the ride operators. Hays said he also inspects the rides daily.
“I know every click and clank of every ride and if it doesn’t sound right I know there’s something wrong with it,” said Hays. “They (employees who operate the rides) come to me whenever they think there may be something wrong with a ride.”
Hays said he has worked at the park for four years. Before coming to the park he worked in retail.
“I love this job,” he said. “It’s fun and I love the history of this place. Hearing the stories over and over again, it’s why families come here. People are coming with their kids because they remember the old Paul Bunyan Land and people love it here with all the vegetation.”
Kailey Westvig, 18, has worked at the park for four years and has done most everything one can do there. She has done concessions, worked on the rides, learned to do the photographs and done maintenance in the Pioneer Village.
“I got this job because I needed a job and my dad knew Al,” said Westvig. “I was always here, I feel like family. I hope I can come back next year.
“When I have kids I’ll tell them that I worked at Paul Bunyan Land and they’ll be like, ‘Wow.’”
John Hartwig of Brainerd took the job for the first time this summer. He said he needed a job since he was unemployed. Hartwig does two main jobs: He’s one of the several voices of Paul Bunyan and he operates the rides.
“I took this job for two reasons. One is I love kids and the second is I love the great outdoors,” said Hartwig. “This is a very people job and I like working with people who want to enjoy themselves.”
Braydee Turner, 17, worked at the entrance taking admissions from customers in her first summer working at Paul Bunyan Land. Turner admitted that she didn’t know much about the amusement park until after she got the job.
“I like it,” she said. “The employees are really close, we’re good friends.”
Shania Villnow, 15, works at the petting zoo. Villnow takes care of the 18 animals at the park and helps customers make rope.
“I like animals, I grew up on a farm,” said Villnow. “This is my first job and it’s going great.”
Andrew Ladoucer, 18, has worked at the park for two summers and operates the rides.
“It’s nice here,” said Ladoucer. “I like to be outside and this place is close to where I live so it’s easy on gas. It’s a good environment. The best part of the job is the other employees, we all work together and have fun.”
Ladoucer said he plans to help out the family in the fall with the corn maze and the haunted house. The family runs the Haunted Corn Maze that opens Fridays and Saturdays during four weekends in October. The family also has the Enchanted Holiday Village that consists of more than 40 holiday and winter scenes that is open Fridays and Saturdays Nov. 26 through mid December.
Rademacher said 80 percent of the employees return to work season after season because they enjoy the job. A lot of the employees who can’t come back to work will come back just to visit because they feel like they’re family.
Rademacher said he feels that the admission price is reasonable: $14.95 for children age 17 and under; $12.95 for 18 and older; $11.95 for senior citizens; and free to age 2 and under. He said a family of four can spend the day for less than $100 and he feels that is reasonable.
For one admission price a person can go into the amusement park, which includes the rides, a haunted house and the magnetic mine They also have access to order off the menu in the Lumberjack Cafe, visit the Old Fashion Candy store, Paul’s Arcade and the “Old Tyme Photo & Tattoo Shop,” shop in the Souvenir Shop; and send a letter or postcard to someone from “Paul’s Mail Box” which can be accessed by walking up a ladder.
The admission fee also gives people free access to the Pioneer Village, which includes a barn, blacksmith shop, Birch Ridge Depot, a doctor’s office that includes equipment from the early 1900s, a 1948 filling station used for repair and servicing of cars, a granary, log house, Paul’s pocket watch that once was in downtown Brainerd, a post office, print shop, a “Red Shed,” saloon, school house, “Sweet Shoppe,” trading post, church, boutique, music box and “Rads Sport Shop.”
The family is looking to expand the park and the village in the future, but they have put their park plans on hold because of the poor economy. They hope the economy will turn around and then they can do some additions to the park.
JENNIFER STOCKINGER may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5851.