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My hometown was not Vinton, but rather in a cold northern desolate place not known for its success on the football field.

No, it was not as far north as Minnesota, although the frequency with which the school band there played the Minnesota Fight Song still leaves me unwilling to sing along. (We will address the Wisconsin Fight Song issue in a later column.)

Yet because we had several relatives who lived in Vinton, many of my childhood memories and favorite places took place in our town. There were the many summers at the Benton County Fair, helping our grandparents clean the buildings late at night and riding the rides during those hot July days. Vinton’s restaurants also held many memories: Family dinners at the Viking Galley, lunch with Grandpa at Café 218, the night he learned at Pizza Hut that he would be a great-grandpa.

There were walks with Grandma Luella Biram to the Bowden store on C Avenue. (A link to a very interesting story about the history Bowden's and Bolenbaugh's and those other local stores is at the end of this column.)

Others remember sledding excursions to Minne Estema. And for dirt track fans, Vinton, at that time had what seemed to be the only unique “figure 8” stock car track in the area, which featured the unique risk of collisions that young boys found quite entertaining.

But yet, the favorite place for many, stood tall among the swings and slides at the top of the hill at Riverside Park.

The Bell.

Those who have never participated in that unique – and uniquely dangerous – activity do not know what fun they missed.

The bell was just that – a bell. You would stand on a circular wooden platform and move your weight so the bell swung up and down. At its highest (and lowest) point, the metal bars inside the platform would hit the supporting metal pole, causing the entire device to ring and all of its riders to share in the vibrations.

The bell was located near what is now the rest room building near "The Castle."

It was, to use two very tired words, epic and awesome.

Just how popular was that bell?

Here’s a hint: When Vinton native Susan Hansen, who now lives in Arizona, posted a photo of the bell on the Vinton Today Facebook page earlier this week, it got twice as much attention as our posts about the local man arrested for murder.

Susan said the photographer was her mother, Colleen Stufflebeam, and the children in the 1979 photo were students Mrs. Stufflebeam taught at the Iowa Braille and Sight-Saving School.

Almost everyone loved that bell, and remembers it quite fondly.

But because it was dangerous, city leaders chose to have it removed.

“As much as we loved that piece of equipment more kids suffered broken knees and legs on it than any other piece of playground equipment,” said one resident, who worked on a playground safety committee.

Yet, says that woman, like almost any other child who saw such a playground device, could not resist its excitement.

“Many many years ago, we used to sit on one where your legs could even go inside that low railing, in fifth grade, and sing rock and roll music. I remember ‘Lipstick on Your Collar, told a tale on you-ooo...’ and a few owies, including tongues on metal in the cold weather... we ALL had to try that at least once,” she wrote in a comment on the Vinton Today Facebook page.

Vinton resident Mark Pingenot said he knows of a place where a friend maintains a bell, which people still use. And yes, says Mark, it is just as fun now as Vinton natives (and visitors from northern places) remember so clearly decades later.

Maybe someday, some playground safety engineer can find a way to make a playground device as similar to the bell as possible, while taking away the dangers it often presented to children.

If so, you can bet there will be a large number of Vinton natives taking their children and grandchildren to the park – and probably joining them in seeing how loudly they can make it ring.

Grocery stores remembered

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Comments (4)

Loved the bell! I remember the game of jumping in and out of the middle while it was moving. Looking back it was a very dumb thing to do and thankfully nobody, including myself, didn't get their head crushed but it did get the heart pumping!
By: David Condry on January 29th 11:44am
Where in the world was I in all that time??? I practically grew up in that park in the 1950s, and life guarded at the pool down the hill for five years. I have no recollection whatsoever of this "bell."

Jerry...WHAT?????? It was there in the 70's maybe it arrived after your time????? Anyone? -Val
By: Jerry Easter on January 30th 1:31pm
I remember the most dangerous/memorable playground items in Vinton as being...

Riverside: The Bell and the 20ft metal slide that you could cook bake on on in the summer sun

Kiwanis: The chain bridge when it actually moved.

East School: The 100 MPH Merry-Go-Round on the north side and the 'Spider' on the south.

How did we ever survive?
By: Paul Williams on January 30th 11:45pm
Bert Bowman Had the Grocery Store on C Ave. at 11 th St. My three children loved to go there for Bert Liked children, and they always came home with a Piece of Candy.
By: Marlyn Duncan on January 31st 9:28pm

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