Historic Kerr County photographs available!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Kerrville's Ave-Cot Water Thrill Show

A postcard featuring the Ave-Cot Water Thrill Show, late 1950s.
A poster of this image is available by clicking HERE
Click on any image to enlarge
My son and I swam in the river at Louise Hays Park this past Tuesday evening, between the bridge and the dam, where the water is deep. The river temperature was perfect, not too warm or cold. The evening sun was still quite warm, and the cypress trees along the bank cast long shadows across the water. It was a great time to swim, and that is a great place to swim.
Kerrville Louise Hays Park water skier
Skier and boats, after the turn by dam
at Louise Hays Park
After work, in the early evening, that part of the river is not too crowded. There were a lot of kids near the dam, as always. A few adults were in the water, too, including a pair of gentlemen who were testing beverage holders of their own design, made of pieces of styrofoam swimming noodles, held together with zip ties. The two prototypes I saw looked to be performing well.
A pair of teenagers were paddle boarding near us with mixed success. All was going well until the young man attempted to hop from his paddle board to the one his girlfriend was using. Both ended up in the water.
Flag Bearers, Ave-Cot Water Thrill Show
The park itself was busier than it has been in past years: the river trail brings out a lot of folks. We saw people walking dogs, riding bicycles, and in one case, a woman riding a bicycle with a dog in a bag. Both the dog and the woman seemed happy.
That part of the park and that part of the river were tranquil that evening.  Restful.
There was a time, though, when that little stretch of river was quite busy, and a crowd lined the river bank, filling up stone bleachers below the Sidney Baker Street bridge.
Though the lake made by the dam in Louise Hays Park is deep, it's also very narrow. Looking at it today, it's hard to believe this spot was once the venue for a daring water ski show.
Ski boats racing downriver, Louise Hays Park
Ski boats racing downriver,
Louise Hays Park
The Ave-Cot Water Thrill Show was produced by Cotton Eldridge and his wife, Ava, in the late 1950s. During the 1959 July Fourth celebration, hosted by the Kerrville Jaycees, the "Water Thrill Show" was performed nightly, with an advertised price of "50 cents per car," though an afternoon matinee show was free to the public.
"A crowd of about 200 people came away from a preview performance of the Ave-Cot Water Thrill Show impressed by the variety and daring of the acts," one newspaper reported.
"Cotton's jumping boats, which he takes over the ramp and jumps into a circle of fire as a grand finale, are believed to be unique in the water show field.
"Star of the show, besides Eldridge himself, is Jimmy Simmonds, who does most of the fancy jumps, works in the clown acts, and drives one of the jumping boats.
Water Ski Grandstand Louise Hays Park Kerrville
The old stone grandstand, near the
Sidney Baker Street Bridge
"The show opens with some flashy turns by the tow boats, with Eldridge driving one, and Herman Gadecke driving the other.
"Then come the flag bearers on skis. They are Mrs. Fred Bernhard, April Clover, Mrs. Clifton Mackey, and Mary Dyer. Sue Dale Simmonds and Mrs. Alton Fairchild will take turns with the flag bearers.
"Creed Blevins wowed the first nighters with a high dive off of the bridge. This will be a regular part of the show.
"Freddie Bernhard, who takes part in several acts, did a spectacular demonstration of slalom skiing, shoe skiing, and barefoot skiing. He is considered one of the outstanding slalom skiers (one ski) in the nation.
Ski boat churning the water, Louise Hays Park
Ski boat churning the water,
Louise Hays Park
"Bernhard, Simmonds, Blevins and Clifton Mackey dressed up as farmers for the clown act.
Back Swan by Sarah Johnston
and Jimmy Simmonds
"Bobby Solomon and Johnny Page, elementary school youngsters, put on an slalom skiing demonstration to show that skiing can be done at an early age.
"Taking part in the ballerina number were Irene Fischer, Mrs. Mackey, Mrs. Eldridge, and Mrs. Richard Pachall.
"One of the more daring stunts was a back swan from the shoulders of Simmonds by Sarah Jane Johnston done while he was skiing."
As I swam in the quiet water with my son this past week, I tried to picture boats and skiers and ramps and hoops of fire in that tiny spot. The turn by the dam would be very tight, even for one skier. Some of the photos show four skiers behind one boat.
I tried to imagine the noise of boat motors, the smell of exhaust, the choppy wake of speedboats, the sight of skiers skimming the water.
Kerrville's Louise Hays Park, late 1950s
Louise Hays Park, late 1950s, with Water Ski shack by river,
and the Blue Bonnet Hotel across river.
A poster of this image is available by clicking HERE
I do remember riding in my parent's boat at that same spot; I was very little. My Mom skied slalom as my Dad drove the boat. (They were not part of the Ave-Cot show. They were just a couple of twenty-somethings who liked to ski. The Louise Hays Park was convenient to the print shop.)
I remember the dam getting closer and closer as Dad drove fast toward it. I remember Mom skiing behind the boat. I'm sure I closed my eyes as we made that turn just before the dam.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who last went water skiing with his father and his son, years ago. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times July 15, 2017.







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