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Farewell, Mrs. Neff

Posted by Mick on March 24, 2010 – 10:55 pm

Sad news in my in-box today.  Hazel Neff, of San Angelo, Texas, passed away this weekend.  She was 95.

Hazel Neff

If you grew up in or near San Angelo, you probably have some idea of whom I am speaking.  Hazel, along with her late husband Roy, owned and operated Neff’s Amusement Park, the happiest place on the Concho River.  At least that’s how I always saw it.

Neff’s was small, as Amusement Parks go, but it had something the bigger places never will.  It had heart.  Neff’s was family owned and family operated for 50 years, a labor of love for Roy and Hazel.

I remember going to the park as a child, and riding the train that went out of the park, down the river, back into the park via a tunnel, completing a giant loop that only took 5 or 10 minutes but to a child seemed like forever.  And I remember thinking that the kid who drove that train had the best job in the world.  I knew that someday, somehow, I was going to drive that train.  I’ll end the suspense right now by telling you that I did, in fact, get to drive the train.

Hazel and Roy ran their park utilizing the questionable talents and skill sets of an ever changing group of teenagers.  They paid what today might be termed “slave wages” (when I started working there in 1976 they had just raised the wage to 70 cents an hour), but they would give you a job at 14.  Not just any job, either.  Driving an actual twin engine gasoline powered train, running a Ferris Wheel, a roller coaster, a vintage 1906 Carousel . . . to me, it was like being given keys to a candy store.

Neff’s was more than a job to me, though.  Neff’s was a family.  Roy and Hazel functioned as supplemental parent figures to a rag-tag bunch of misfits and ne’er-do-wells, and the kids who worked there became brothers and sisters.  During the summer, we worked 7 days a week, 6 hours a day on weekdays, 14 hours a day on weekends.  And we worked hard.  Roy, or “Windy” as we called him, might let you get away with a little bit of slack, but Mrs. Neff would not stand for it.  She would remind you, very quickly and very sternly, that you were there to work, and if you didn’t want to work you were free to punch out and go home.  Your work was also going to be inspected when you were finished, and there were only two possible results- It was either done right, or it was done again.

Hazel and Roy taught me, and most of their “kids”, how to work.  To this day, every time I go into a place of business and see an employee doing a half-arsed job, I’m reminded of the lessons I learned at Neff’s Amusement Park.  Hazel Neff taught me a lesson I’ve carried with me into every job I’ve had since then- do the job right, do the best job you can, or go home.  There’s no room for workers who don’t work.  Every job in the park is every one’s responsibility.  See that trash?  Pick it up.  I don’t care who’s supposed to be picking up trash, you’re there, the trash is there, pick it up.

This is just the first engine. I sat in the second engine. And that's Roy.

I got to drive the train.  I got to run the Giant Slide.  Giant is a relative term, but at 14 years old, 5 stories is pretty high.  I got to run the Tilt-A-Whirl.

SIDE NOTE: This Tilt-A-Whirl was not your average Tilt-A-Whirl.  I had a throttle.  I  could speed it up, I could slow it down, I could give it the tiniest little nudge at just the right moment and make you spin like you’ve never spun before.  I could pick a car and make it spin continuously, or I could pick a car and make it hang on the outside, never spinning at all.  It was an art, and it was my favorite job in the park.

I ran the Ferris Wheel, although ours was actually called an Eli Wheel for reasons I don’t remember.  I do remember the first day I worked the Wheel.  I learned a valuable lesson about balancing weights on a wheel.  If you put too many heavy people on one side of the wheel . . . it stops going up and comes back down backwards.  Then you have to unload people, move the wheel, and reload them with a better distribution of weight.  You only make that mistake once.

I also got to work the Flying Cages.  A ride that will most likely never be seen again.  3 tickets to your own personal injury lawsuit.  Sometimes, after closing, Mr. Neff would let us ride them.  But that’s another story for another day.  Remind me about it, it will blow your mind.

Farewell, Mrs. Neff.  I hope you knew how much you touched my life, as I’m sure you touched the lives of countless other boys and girls in San Angelo.  You taught me how to work.  You gave me 2 years of memories that I will never forget.  I’m a better person for having known you.

Dear readers, be good to each other.  Do it because Hazel would have liked it.

The above pictures were originally published in the San Angelo Standard Times.


This post is under “Uncategorized” and has 5 respond so far.
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  1. 1. Randy Pena Said:

    Great post. I will read your posts frequently. Added you to the RSS reader.

  2. 2. David Mair Said:

    Good job, nice post. Thanks!
    I’m sure there are a million stories about this place. Here is a a short version of mine.
    I worked from 71-75 during the bumper car building addition era. I drove allot of nails in that thing and was first to get to ride (test it out). I still think of those days when I smell creosote, say standing next to a phone poll. I suggested the name “Bumpem” for the sign and was rewarded by having to wire the sign, install it and overhaul all the cars. The cars were old when we started. Roy and I moved the train tunnel, RR track and roller coaster the winter prior to make room.
    I started at $.25/ hr age 14 and was the highest paid at the time when I left making a whopping $1.00 an hour. I enjoyed every minute.
    I was out of state for many years, (80’s 90’s) and learned of Roy’s (Windy’s) passing many years to late. It shocked me deeply.
    I stopped by the park while on a business trip to S A after Roy’s death and found myself repairing the Tilt for Hazel. I could not let her pay me, I considered it a privilege.The two of them were like family.
    I made another trip some years later to S A and was shocked to see only some remnants remaining of the park. I went to Hazels house… someone else now lived there.
    I had lost contact with Hazel. I later found her while on a business trip to Amarillo in ‘06. I remembered Roy and Hazel’s family had an amusement park there. I took a chance that someone there might still know them.
    It was a sad day for me when I learned of the closing of Neffs. It still puts a knot in my throat. I had lots of found memories there.
    I went to see Hazel a year or so ago, she just grinned the hole time and talked about “her boys” and her “girls”
    I miss them both.

  3. 3. kay Said:

    Thanks Mick!!! It brings both a smile and an ache to my heart!

  4. 4. Mick Said:

    You’re welcome! So many memories, and every year they get a bit more dear. I wish I could have said it all to Mrs. Neff.

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