Walter and Mike Get Their Own Fun Park Pool to Play In

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  2. 62. "Down"
  3. Movies on TV this week: Sept. 'Almost Famous' and more - Los Angeles Times
  4. Alligators in a pool?! Oh, my!

Six Flags, with its reputation as a moneymaker, got behind the bond promotion, its spokesmen passing out literature and attending civic group meetings. The result: the biggest favorable bond vote in Arlington history. A grotto-style restaurant and bar, the Sea Cave, would flank the main entrance to the park. A lighthouse at the eastern extremity would camouflage machines making crushed ice for the restaurant and refreshment stands. Lush landscaping would be the final touch, adding flowers, trees, and a profusion of hanging baskets to a breathtaking scene.

Arrangements were made for the purchase of a killer whale, dolphins, sea lions, elephant seals, birds, and Oriental fish, and a search began for the unique personnel required to train, doctor, feed, and safeguard such creatures.


The roof caved in when the Penn Central Railroad, owner of Great Southwest, encountered near-fatal financial setbacks. Six Flags was ordered to pull out of the Seven Seas project immediately and its contract with the City of Arlington was cancelled through a recision agreement by both parties. A national cadre of banks attempting to salvage Penn Central installed new management in its varous companies and Angus Wynne was among those axed. With the birth and future of Seven Seas tossed rudely in their laps, city fathers remembered the glowing profits forecast by Six Flags and decided to open the park on their own.

And so the Arlington Park Corporation was formed, its members appointed by the city. But the sea animals had been bought and were on their way; their watery Texas homes had to be completed. The winter of was an expensive education for the city. With absolutely no park revenues, the creatures had to be scientifically pampered and fed, and to do the job the park had to hire trainers, scuba-diving clean-up men, water system technicians, laboratory specialists, curators, a veterinarian, and feeders.

The city was forced to finance the overage with revenue bonds. Its amateur management squad was dedicated but inexperienced. Although the thriving park at its flank now considered Seven Seas a pesky com-petitor, the city managed to talk Six Flags into a management contract for the season. Arlington was stuck with trying to retire over a million dollars in bond obligations a year, and Millay rightly guessed that he could write his own terms in operating the failing property. It was unlikely that Seven Seas could be made to turn a profit, but Millay had nothing against trying, and if it failed, he would be there ready to persuade Arlington officials to try his idea.

62. "Down"

Desperate, the city took him on. Shooting for an attendance record, he spent half a million dollars on refurbishments, and hired summer employees, mostly school kids. He gave priority to image-building and commissioned the Clinton E.

Frank agency for a broad, multi-media advertising push. Eddie Barker of Dallas was assigned the public relations duty. Millay insisted on having a PR account executive at the park full time. Barker hired me to be the press agent on the firing line, and from early spring until Labor Day I worked with Millay and his crew, hoping, as we all did, that he would be able to save the park. As marketing manager, Mil-lay hired a West Coast protege named John Seeker, who arrived carrying only a battered attache case containing cameras and a change or two of underwear.

At 28, Seeker had hunted whales and walruses in the Arctic and helped protect a captive white Beluga whale from a midnight foray by a nine-foot polar bear. He had photographed sharks tooth-to-tooth as they attacked a cage in which he perched with his camera, 60 feet beneath the sea. He had served three years as a U. Army combat photographer, with a year in Vietnam.

Movies on TV this week: Sept. 'Almost Famous' and more - Los Angeles Times

It was Seeker who taught me that the white whale, unlike the killer whale, has no dorsal Tin on its back, enabling it to glide smoothly under Arctic ice; that the seals exhibited at Seven Seas had internal ears and that all seals have difficulty moving about on land or rocks. Millay tried to keep his affection for Seeker and the others a secret, but beneath the bluster he was acutely sensitive and an extremely soft touch. Rognlie owned a farm outside San Diego and yearned to take a Texas windmill home with him. He had every Texan he met, including me, looking for a windmill.

Finally, with the help of Paul Crume, who reported the Great Windmill Search in his front page column in the Dallas News, Rognlie succeeded in acquiring not one but three windmills. Armed with cutting torches he and several Seven Seas cronies took the mills apart and hauled them to his Arlington apartment digs, where they lay in his parking stall until the park closed and he could rent a huge cattle trailer to haul them to California. He was well known about town, having helped build the park, and had friends in the police department. As Rognlie climbed into his car to start the long windmill-pull to the West Coast, two squad cars roared up.

The police frisked Rognlie, then told him he was going to jail; taking Texas windmills out-of-state was an offense more odious than transporting women for immoral purposes. Bingham exposed the charade just as Rognlie drew back a fist to bust a cop in the nose. He was last seen heading west with a scowl on his face. The Texas windmills stand on his farm today, spinning in brisk Pacific winds. Bingham deserved a laugh now and then considering that his task was a real headache for a guy from Silverton, Texas, where water can be as scarce as rattlesnake fur.

Salt water — made with pounds of salt daily — was needed for the whale, sharks, dolphins, and sea lions; fresh water filled pools for costumed mermaids and pearl divers, black swans and flamingos, koi fish and turtles. There were four water plants with 25 pumps and filters, all churning 24 hours a day.

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For the sharks, there were uncompromising chemical and mineral levels to be maintained; despite its reputation for ferocity, the shark is an extremely fragile creature. The tower is still standing, rusting but stout. And then there was Mike Verdeckberg, who supervised the seven trainers and disciplined them when jealousies erupted into fistfights. A native of San Diego, he had hung around Sea World as a kid, begging for a job, any job that brought him closer to the animals. Verdeckberg began his training career with sea lions, then advanced to dolphins and, eventually, to whales.

If Verdeckberg was king of the training crew and chief choreographer, the pound killer whale Newtka was the queen of the Seven Seas corps de ballet. Propelled by huge tail flukes and steering with her pectoral flippers, she would hurl herself effortlessly into the air, answering to the commands of her trainer, Larry Lawrence. In keeping with her center-stage role, she sulked or became fearsomely angry when crossed, but came through in Oscar-winning fashion when humored.

Her I. Lawrence, who came to Seven Seas with Newtka from Japanese Village, had what could only be termed a special relationship with the whale. Or I put my chin up to her cheek and talk to her. She sort of sits there and listens. Larry saw to it, too, that Newtka received her daily diet of pounds of fish laced with 36 vitamin pills, and he helped whenever veterinarian Dr.

Jack Brundrett who also serves the Dallas zoo visited to check her health. Brundrett drew blood samples for lab analysis. Then, after swallowing her fishy reward, she would open her saw-toothed mouth so Larry and the Doc could rub her tongue. In one of her most dazzling behaviors, Newtka rocketed vertically from the water to touch her nose to a ball suspended 20 feet above the pool. To teach her this, Lawrence hung a ball on the end of a line and touched it to her nose, simultaneously blowing a dog whistle.

Exchange Discount Summary

She was then given fish. In subsequent trials, he lifted the ball higher and higher, whistling and rewarding her only when she made contact. For this, Lawrence thumped the side of the pool with a stick.

Alligators in a pool?! Oh, my!

She learned also to carry a rider — either Lawrence or his whaleboy, Robbie Smith — on her back in sashays around the pool or in a first-ever-in-the-world jump through a flaming hoop. Summoning Newtka to stageside, Lawrence or Smith would climb aboard her back, clamping onto a circular harness around her head and, nearly prone, locking his ankles around her dorsal fin. She then dove underwater with her rider, swimming slowly at first, then gathering steam to soar through the flaming hoop and down into the water on the other side. As with astronauts, the worst part of the ride was the re-entry: The impact was so severe that it came close to knocking the rider unconscious.

As for Newtka, I remember asking Seeker whether she was afraid of fire. All of us — clerks, stenographers, bookkeepers, janitors, even cowardly PR people — were to rush to the whale pool, although what we were to do once we got there was never made quite clear. Rumor had it that there were some long poles stashed around the pool and that perhaps we should each grab one and poke at Newtka from a respectful distance to distract her while the man overboard swam to safety.

Newtka would, in fact, strike out even at Lawrence when, in the course of a performance, she goofed or was lazy and he refused to reward her. Dominic Sparano. Sondra Perry. The Adventures of Little Cara Crosspatch. Tarry Ionta.

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