#lookback: Riverton’s C.W. Parker Carousel

A series where we take a #lookback at the stories and history of our community, brought to you by Mick Pryor, Financial Advisor with Edward Jones.


Riverton’s C.W. Parker Carousel

Just shy of 70 years ago, Thomas Knight Sr. opened the Knight Drive-In movie theater at the south end of Riverton. This state of the art outdoor theater included space for more than 500 cars, a 91-foot wide screen, and air-conditioned restrooms, and high-fidelity magnetic sound.

Knight’s amenities did not stop at the movie viewing experience. Drive-in theaters can only show movies after sunset, which in Wyoming’s summers is pretty late. To help moviegoers enjoy themselves before sunset, Knight maintained a playground that included a miniature train and a carousel, both powered by a full-size version of this working scale-model two-cylinder steam engine.

The carousel, in particular, was unique. Manufactured in 1901 by the “undisputed Amusement King,” C.W. Parker in Abilene, Kansas. Parker grew up working as a janitor in a county courthouse. He saved his money to buy a portable shooting gallery and then improved on that design.

While traveling with his gallery, he was presented with the opportunity to add a secondhand carousel to his traveling amusement company. He improved on the design and later built world-class carousels himself, which included horses that moved in a jumping motion instead of just up and down. Parker moved his carousel operation to Leavenworth, Kansas as a result of land disputes with the city of Abilene.

Tom Knight bought his carousel from Parker himself in 1959 and shipped it to Riverton where its 24 rocking horses and four carriages entertained riders of all ages for almost 20 years. By the time Knight passed away, his carousel was one of just three Parker carousels from the Abilene years still in existence.

Shortly after Tom’s death, his wife Winifred contacted the Smithsonian Institution, and they, in turn, contacted the Dickinson County, Kansas Historical Society, which preserves Parker’s carousels. The carousel clicked its heels together and went home to Kansas in 1976, where it was restored and still operates at the Heritage Center of Dickinson County in Abilene.

Next up for the Fremont County Museums

July 13th, 10 am at the Pioneer Museum, “McKinney Ranch Adventure Trek”

Wind River Visitors Council Adventure Trek Series

July 16th, 9 am at the Dubois Museum, “POW Camp Adventure Trek”

Wind River Visitors Council Adventure Trek Series

July 18th, 7 pm at the Pioneer Museum, “History of the Uranium Industry”

Wyoming Community Bank Discovery Speakers Series

July 18th, 6:30 pm at the Riverton Museum, “The Eagle & Rabbit: Predator and Prey on the Sagebrush Sea”

Wyoming Community Bank Discovery Speakers Series

July 20th, 11-2 pm at the Dubois Museum, “Dubois Museum Day”

July 20th, 1 pm at the Dubois Museum, “Draper Museum: Raptor Experience”

Wyoming Community Bank Discovery Speakers Series

The Dubois Museum, the Pioneer Museum in Lander and the Riverton Museum need your financial support. In the current economic environment, the museums are more reliant than ever on donations from the private sector to continue to provide the quality programs, collections management, exhibits and services that have become their hallmark over the last four years. Please make your tax-deductible contribution to be used specifically for the benefit of the museum of your choosing by sending a check to Fremont County Museums 450 N 2nd Rm 320 or taking it directly to the museum you choose to support.