What a Pennsylvania County Fair Was Like in 1990

After watching season 3 of Stranger Things and discussing on our recent TRN Roundtable Review podcast, my memories of visiting the local county fair have flooded back. While so much focus was on the Starcourt Mall (which was so well executed in the show,) the fair scenes inside the fun house and Gravitron ride really connected with my childhood experience.

I grew up in Clearfield, PA which hosts the Clearfield County Fair each year for the surrounding, rural community. There were several other pop-up carnivals each year in nearby towns but the county fair was by far the largest annual attraction. Events included concerts from popular country and rock acts, tractor and truck pulls, horse racing, and all the amenities you’d expect from a carnival. As a kid, the food vendors, rides, and games were what got me the most excited during the week-long experience.

I’m now two weeks removed from finishing Stranger Things and I’m still pining to bring back those fair memories. Luckily, I managed to stumble onto a YouTube video that shows footage from atop the ferris wheel at the 1990 Clearfield County Fair. While this is 5 years later than the 1985 setting in Stranger Things, it still has some of the same rides featured in the show.

I was 13 in 1990 so that about matches the age of the Stranger Things kids. Watch the video and join me as I walkthrough the fair and try to identify as many midway rides as I can.

Gravitron and Tilt-A-Whirl

The Gravitron was always one of my favorite rides. This was the ride I wanted to see in this video, mainly because it was predominately featured in Stranger Things 3. The Tilt-A-Whirl was another one I never missed riding just for the fact that you could somewhat control how fast you spun the car.

 

Raging Seas

The Raging Seas was a calmer version of the Himalaya but with the same up-and-down motion. The boat cars were a nice touch to the theme and was thinking they might have had bells you could ring while riding

Super Loops

Super Loops or a similar ride was at the fair almost every year. While it was simple, the ride was usually the closest thing we had to a roller coaster. Plus, it was always fun when the operator would stop the ride at the very top for about 10 seconds.

 

Sea Dragon and Cobra

Every large county fair or carnival seemed to have a “pirate ship” ride. In 1990, ours was the Sea Dragon but I know it there were similar pirate ship rides over the years that were branded slightly different. The Cobra was like an aerial version of The Scrambler. I typically stayed away from it after eating because the only thing worse than getting stuck on a ride is throwing up your Italian sausage sandwich on one.

Zero Gravity and Zipper

I remember seeing Zero Gravity and Zipper most years at our fair as they were common among large carnivals nationwide. I rode Zero Gravity more as it was wide open and a consistent motion versus the chaotic spinning of the Zipper.

 

Ghost Gallery

Most carnivals had a ride-through haunted house ride and in this case, ours was called Ghost Gallery. I remember they mostly felt like riding through a human pizza oven with all of the dark rooms trapping in the heat.

 

Flying Bobs

The Flying Bobs also had a similar setup to the Himalaya but the individual cars swung outward with the G force. Apparently, it also had a deejay booth like the Himalaya as you can hear the rocking sounds of Van Halen in the fair video.

 

Funhouse

A time-honored experience at most carnivals and fairs, the Funhouse was still fun to walk-through despite all of the hand prints on the glass/mirror maze. The fight scene in Stranger Things 3 on the top floor of the funhouse was a great environment to film.

What are some other rides you remember from Stranger Things 3 or your own childhood county fair or carnival?

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About Jason Gross 307 Articles
'80s Kid, '90s Grad, and '00s Dad. I've been writing and podcasting about 1980s pop culture since 2011 at my Rediscoverthe80s.com website. I collect vinyl, cassingles, '80s comics, Batman memorabilia, and all things Mobile Armored Strike Kommand.