Frank and Eric’s Jumbo was a big hit with seaside visitors to Morecambe
A family outing to Manchester’s Belle Vue Zoo and Amusement Park in 1947 gave rise to one of Morecambe’s odder attractions though one still remembered with affection - Jumbo the Mechanical Elephant.
The making of Jumbo was an engineering project shared by father and son, Frank and Eric Smith. They had seen a real life elephant giving rides for children at Belle Vue and wondered whether Morecambe could do something similar.
Frank Smith was an amateur engineer, forever conjuring up rides for the Winter Gardens Fairground.
Eric, too, was drawn to the world of fairground, working for a time for One-Eyed Jack who was supposed to have lost an arm on the Wall of Death.So Frank and Eric set to work on the mechanical marvel. A chassis and engine from an old Austin 7 were the basis, disguised with odds and ends. Seashells became elephant toe nails, a fabric covering came from an old barrage balloon while a windscreen wiper motor brought Jumbo to life, making his eyes roll and his ears flap.
At 6d a go, there were always long queues waiting for their go. Jumbo even had his own number plate! Eventually the Smiths sold their idea and the original Jumbo retired. In its place they ran a miniature railway.
Looking back Eric reckoned they stepped down at the right time - Jumbo and Morecambe were beginning to look a bit tired and a bit old fashioned.
Eric was a regular visitor to Morecambe’s Heritage Centre, often dropping by to watch film footage of Jumbo in action or to look at pictures of himself as a boy on board the miniature railway.Eric always looked back with fond memories.
As he commented to Sarah Freeman for her 2015 book Beside the Sea - Britain’s Lost Seaside Heritage, ‘I know when you look back you tend only to remember the good times and ignore the bad, but there was always a sense of fun about Morecambe. It didn’t take itself too seriously.’
Thanks to Peter Wade for this article.