Capital Region Scrapbook: Innovative ride at Saratoga Lake in summer of 1963 gave youngsters safe introduction to water skiing

A Van Antwerp Road resident showed off his new invention in the summer of 1963 on Saratoga Lake.
Carl Nielsen stands at the controls of his “water ski ride†at Brown’s Beach on Saratoga Lake during the summer of 1963.
Carl Nielsen stands at the controls of his “water ski ride†at Brown’s Beach on Saratoga Lake during the summer of 1963.

People couldn’t catch a painted pony on Carl Nielsen’s spinning wheel ride.

They might have caught a sea horse: Nielsen’s giant merry-go-round was built for water and designed to teach people how to ski.

The Van Antwerp Road resident showed off his invention at Brown’s Beach on Saratoga Lake during the summer of 1963. The idea had hit him like a cannonball in 1960. He had seen a young girl hit the water — time after time — as she tried to rise on skies behind a speed boat.

Nielsen thought a better way was the “water ski ride.” He built a seven-foot diameter model in the basement of his home and then began on the super-sized version. The project cost Nielsen one year and $12,000, but he knew what he was doing. He had been a construction superintendent for 25 years.

The ride, which could be dismantled and packed into a truck, began full-time operation around Memorial Day.

Simple design

The metal wheel measured 70 feet in diameter and could provide brisk and breezy rides over the waves for up to 12 people. Nielsen’s design was simple. He placed a 165-horsepower engine in the center of the wheel. Metal bars radiated from the motor, and people ready for a spin worked in about two feet of water.

Skis were roped to bars at the water level, and rested on the machine’s wooden floor. Novice skiers began from a standing position, and were pulled in a circular motion at speeds that could hit 35 mph during a four-minute ride.

Adults were also among the curious.

“It’s the same fun as skiing behind a boat,” said Frank Brown of Latham, adding that Nielsen’s way of skiing was easier on the legs.

Kids as young as 6 years old had received lessons by 1963.

“It’s very dangerous to learn with a boat,” Nielsen told Schenectady Gazette reporter George Miller. “Here, the youngsters gain confidence and experience, then they’re ready to go behind a boat.”

Nielsen was not getting rich at Saratoga Lake. He charged 35 cents for adult riders and 25 cents for kids. He could have ridden for free — but he didn’t.

“I’ve never had a chance,” he told Miller, “because there’s no one else to operate it.”

Categories: Life and Arts

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