Tucked in the middle of a little strip mall in Independence, next to a barbershop and a computer store, are the only remaining pieces of Worlds of Fun’s Orient Express, parts of the track from the Zambezi Zinger and an Octopus car.
These one-of-a-kind relics from the early days of the 42-year-old theme park will be on display at the new Roller Coaster Model Museum, starting Sunday. The exhibit was created by Jeff and Jennifer Lovesee-Mast of Independence, the husband-and-wife team behind worldsoffun.org.
The couple — former park employees who met in a Worlds of Fun chat room — have been collecting items for more than 20 years. This exhibit will be their largest to date and the first outside the park.
They say they’re just trying to keep the memories alive.
“People, especially my husband and my age, belong to the Worlds of Fun first generation. We grew up at Worlds of Fun,” said Lovesee-Mast, who is 37. Her husband is 49. “I noticed that a lot of people have unintentionally forgotten aspects of the park. But when they see it, it all comes back. You can’t bring the rides back, but you can bring the memories back.”
“Worlds of Memories: A History of Worlds of Fun” will showcase more than 140 items, including photos, a timeline of the park, blueprints, souvenir maps dating to the 1973 opening and parts of popular rides, all from the couple’s personal collection and donations. They have had to dive into trash bins and follow trucks heading to a junkyard to retrieve items. But they credit finding a majority of the items to chance, eBay and the back of pickup trucks. They have spent about $5,000 on their collection.
The display will be the first special exhibit for the 2,800-square-foot museum since its May 23 opening. Randal Strong-Wallace, owner and director of the museum, has been building roller coaster models since he was 8 and has eight of them on display there.
Some of the coasters date to the early 20th century, and two are from Worlds of Fun — the Schussboomer and the EXT. As a teenager Strong-Wallace operated the Orient Express, where he first met Jeff Mast. He can still vividly describe the sounds the Orient Express made and the people he worked with.
“Anywhere you live, people will talk about the amusement parks they went to when they were young. For a lot of people in Kansas City, there are three generations that went to Worlds of Fun,” Strong-Wallace said. “It’s something families can talk about.”
Lovesee-Mast said she plans to write a book about the theme park and hopes to find anecdotes from museum visitors. But in the meantime, she and her husband will continue to search for Worlds of Fun items.
“We want to save and find as many pieces as we can,” Lovesee-Mast said. “Because it’s cool to think about how the Octopus car we have could be the very same car I rode in when I was 10 years old.”
“Worlds of Memories: A History of Worlds of Fun” opens at noon Sunday at the Roller Coaster Model Museum, 11415 E. 23rd St. South in Independence and will be on display for about six months. Opening day admission is $5. Regular hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, with admission of $8, $7 for children 4-12 and seniors 60-99; free for those younger or older. More info call 816-656-5106 or visit rollercoastermodelmuseum.com and worldsoffun.org.