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Theater owners hope for sponsors
Riley and Vickie Cooke look over one of the children's rides at their Amusement Park Drive-in on Tuesday morning. The Cookes are adding several rides to the park in addition to a new large roller coaster.

Riley Cooke is ramping up the carnival rides at his Amusement Park Drive-In east of Laurel with yet another novel idea - adopt a ride.

Boosting the amusement park side of the popular drive-in has been part of the plan for Riley and his wife, Vickie, since they opened in 2004.

After closing their bargain movie house, The Funhouse Theater, in July, the Bridger couple began putting more energy into purchasing carnival rides and moving them to their land on Mossman Drive east of Laurel. The park will host 15 rides in all, some geared to big kids and some for the wee ones. Plans are to open the drive-in this March and the improved amusement park in early May.

To help him renovate the rides and keep costs down, Cooke decided to allow businesses or individuals to paint the merry-go-round ponies. If you paint a pony, you can put your name or logo on it.

"I would love for the community to get involved," Cooke said. "How cool would it be for a family to paint a pony and then put their name on it, call it 'The Johnson Stallion'?"

Cooke is also interested in talking to businesses wanting to co-sponsor the amusement park by buying naming rights.

"We want to make it affordable for families. You can ride all the rides for one price, and we're trying to keep it half what you pay at the fair. So many people can't afford to get to Disneyland. We hope to keep the price for the rides $1 or $2 and the wristband in the neighborhood of $12."

Cooke said he was born to be in the entertainment business. His dad, Oscar Cooke, founded Oscar's Dreamland, and he traveled with a carnival for 18 years before settling in Bridger to raise his family, which includes two daughters.

The drive-in already offered some rides, including the big slide and a small Ferris wheel. By May, there will be seven kiddie rides, including the Outlaw Car ride, Sky Fighter and Wet Boats.

The rides for older kids and adults will include the existing 100-foot slide, in addition to a swing ride Cooke acquired from Italy, a Scrambler-type ride, a Tilt-a-Whirl and two roller coasters. One of the roller coasters will go around the drive-in screens, perhaps the only ride to do that in the U.S. The other roller coaster boasts a 30-foot drop. The amusement park will also have an old-fashioned 18-hole miniature golf course. Several of the rides came from an amusement park in New Mexico, and others were hauled up from Wyoming.

"It's time for people to feel good again," Riley said. "This will give them reason to."

Contact Jaci Webb at jwebb@billingsgazette.com or 657-1359.

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