Cathy and I had never heard of Branson, Missouri where we now live until 1975 when we had a conversation with Uncle Harry Gosling from St. Louis, MO. Uncle Harry and Aunt Ruth were favorites of ours, and in the early 1970’s were lamenting the fact we seldom got to see them. Uncle Harry said, “Why don’t we meet in Branson, Missouri which is about half-way between El Dorado and St. Louis? My band plays at a real nice motel on the lake and we could all stay there.” We said, “That sounds like great fun, but where in the world is Branson?” We found Branson on the map and began making plans to go there in the summer of the same year. The motel was the Rock Lane Lodge on Indian Point which is on Table Rock Lake, a large man-made lake created by damming up the White River.
For those who are unfamiliar with Branson Indian Point is located about seven miles west of Branson off Highway 76 and at the end of Indian Point Road. As one turns off Highway 76 toward Indian Point he must drive past Silver Dollar City, one of mid-America’s best theme parks. It was founded in 1960, and is an 1880’s theme park which is family friendly and attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors to the area each year.
When we discovered the Branson area and subsequently the Rock Lane Lodge we were introduced to the traffic jams of the area which seemed unusual for a place with such a small year-round population. Highway 76 which is affectionately known as “The Strip” is also known as the world’s largest parking lot because of the continuous flow of traffic at a very slow pace. Much to our delight we discovered the road from Silver Dollar City to the Rock Lane Lodge has very little traffic, so whenever we wanted to visit SDC we didn’t have to face the traffic jams. We seemingly had the best of both worlds.
The Rock Lane Lodge is located right on Table Rock Lake which is unusual because the Corps of Engineers which built the lake does not allow many commercial properties to be located directly on the lake. In those days the lodge was very nice but rustic, and thus was ideal for families. In addition to the boat docks with rentals for fishing and skiing there were swimming pools, tennis courts, volley ball and shuffle-board courts and a video game area for the teens. The restaurant was full service and offered wonderful meals at reasonable prices. Our family still talks about some of the dishes regularly served such as their breakfast grits which were “the best we ever had.”
We met Uncle Harry and Aunt Ruth on our first visit to Branson and the Rock Lane Lodge, and spent the next five days with them seeing as many attractions as possible. We spent two of those days visiting Silver Dollar City which was our favorite activity by far. I especially enjoyed all the food venues, and the funnel cakes which I had never eaten before. I know I had eaten salt water taffy previously, but it was especially fun watching all the different flavors being crafted, and they just seemed to taste better there.
In those early days of the City two of the better attractions were “Fire in the Hole” and “Rube Dugan’s Diving Bell.” The waiting lines were relatively short, and we rode each one two or three times each day. Like all the other tourists at the City we purchased a lot of things we normally wouldn’t buy and in most cases didn’t need. Among the list were things like lye soap, hand crafted baseball bats, walking sticks, toy pop guns, Ozark Mountain toys and train whistles. I was always intrigued at the vast number of craftsmen throughout the park who were demonstrating their skills and selling their products. As a surgeon I spent more time watching the wood-carvers and would always leave the park thinking about purchasing a set of carving tools and learning this particular hobby. I am sorry now I never acted on either impulse.
On our first visit to the City we discovered the Tintype Studio, where 1880-vintage photos were made and had our first of many annual photos taken. In the photo above I was dressed as a stern-faced preacher-father, ruling over his flock with the Bible and a long-barreled pistol. Cathy was the beautiful, well dressed matriarch surrounded by her dutiful daughters and slightly rebellious son toting his jug of moonshine. The collection of photos made through the years are treasures to all of us, and occasionally when we’re together will bring out the photos and have a good laugh. The grandchildren seem to be amused at the sight of their parents in funny costumes.
In visiting Silver Dollar City today one finds a number of new attractions including at least four world-class rides which make me queasy just watching. If those had been available when our children were younger I feel certain they would have wanted to ride them multiple times. I suppose we would have had to take some additional older family member to accompany them, because under no circumstance would Cathy nor I have voluntarily gotten on even one of them. Despite the expansion the City has not lost the charm of its’ early days and is a credit to the foresight of the Herschend Family Entertainment Corporation who own and manage the attraction. It is still a fun family park!
An interesting conversation I had one morning with one of the managers of the Rock Lane Lodge involved health care. I asked him, “If one of our family had a health issue, would you recommend using the local hospital (Skaggs Hospital)?” He replied, “If you have a cold or need a few stitches I would let them take care of it at Skaggs. If it is more serious illness or injury, I would recommend bypassing them and going to Springfield.” I had no idea thirty-five years later I would be a staff member of Skaggs Regional Medical Center which offered full service treatment, and what I consider excellent medical care. The hospital was bought by the Cox Health System and is now call Cox South Branson.
There are many reasons for our gratitude God moved us to Branson in 2005. We have been close to our Branson kids, Mary Kay and Dave Janke and our two granddaughters, Becca and Sara Beth. We have a wonderful church family at First Baptist Church. We have been part of a wonderful ministry at The Free Medical Clinic of the Ozarks, and to top it all off, we still love going to Silver Dollar City for the crafts and the funnel cakes. Forget about all those scary rides!!