Turning around I noticed that Joseph’s was opening its doors. My grandfather suggested we get an early lunch, and while my stomach was in knots with excitement, I was a bit hungry. But as I walked into Joseph’s it wasn’t the menu that caught my eye, it was the sight of the Congo Cruise through the restaurant’s rear windows. The former Red Mill facade had transformed into a Congo River boat launch adorned by Tiki poles and artificial vegetation. Best of all, there was a bull elephant on top of it all.
I just stood there and stared in amazement while my grandfather ordered a mile-long hotdog and a medium Coke for me. Examining the ride like an FBI agent on a stakeout, I noticed the mill chute section which looked exactly the same as it did six years earlier. Urged by my grandfather, I took a seat at the counter, but I was still transfixed by the Congo Cruise.

Flash-forward to 1999 and I learned that the Congo Cruise was one of a dozen Mill Chute conversions installed throughout the country by dark ride genius Bill Tracy. His conversion plan was marketed as “Lost River” and in fact, the Congo Cruise was the only package not to carry the Lost River moniker.
Within minutes, a chain of wonderful events was set in motion...literally. First, the elephant began moving his trunk and ears. (This was Bill Tracy’s “Jumbo” stunt which also graced the roofs of all his Lost River rides - above: Tracy catalog image of Jumbo and in 8mm film clip at Paragon.) Within seconds of that, a huge yellow paddle wheel started spinning, pushing small waves toward the tunnel entrance. This rekindled a lost memory from my last visit. Suddenly, the air was pierced with the clicking and clanking of the chute lift hill chain, and lo and behold, a boat appeared on top of the chute, resembling an old lifeboat of sorts, the top half painted orange and the bottom half green. Garish perhaps, but perfectly appropriate for a cruise up the Congo River.
  As I inhaled my mile-long hot dog and Coke, my attention was diverted to the side window and the people trickling past it and into the park. Before I could a say a word, the restaurant manager unlocked a door which served as an entrance to his establishment from the midway. Paragon Park was open for business! Also realizing this, my grandfather paid his tab and told me to wait for him at the Congo Cruise while he purchased tickets. I ran up to the queue, a bamboo jail maze, but was blocked by a metal chain. “Please, don’t tell me the ride is broken!”
I thought out loud. This prompted a response from above: a friendly female voice from the loading platform.
It came from a pretty high school ride operator telling me she and her crew were still getting the ride prepped to open which would take about 10-minutes, but I was free to wait behind the chain if I wanted. That was a no-brainer. Given the long queue maze and the number of families starting to line up behind me I knew this was one of the park’s most popular rides and would likely be busy all day. My grandfather walked over to me with multiple ticket books, asking me if I wanted to look around the park first, but I opted to stay put, thinking this could be my first and only chance to ride the Cruise. However, while standing in line, I was able to give the park a visual tour. I noticed the castle turrets down the midway to my left, and right above me an empty train was engaged on a test run up the lift hill of the Giant Coaster.
As exciting as these visuals were, my focus was on seeing what jungle terrors lay ahead in the Congo Cruise. Soon the pretty op came down from the loading platform and opened the chain, very politely asking all of us in line to walk, not run, because both the queue maze and loading platform were slippery. We all walked military style through the maze and up a short ramp to the boarding area. What a sight that was: a bright orange platform the several protruding wooden levers; each one manned by a ride op. There were three boats stopped in the water. We were told to wait behind the white line while the crew did its final prep. And what a prep it was – a wall of undistinguishable sounds suddenly blared out of the tunnel entrance: some jungle noise, some music and some dialogue. Added to this was a familiar song playing through the overhead bullhorn speakers: it was “Civilization”, a 1948 hit by the Andrews Sisters and Danny Kaye (“So bongo, bongo, bongo, I don't wanna leave the Congo, oh no no no no no...”) that I had heard often on the car radio before the Beatles and the rock invasion.

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