Returning to Work at Funand 36 Years After My Last Shift

By Chris Lindsley (

Working at Funland the summers of 1980 through 1985 was one of the best experiences in my life. Not only did I get to live and work at the beach all summer – which is hard to beat when you are in high school and college – but I learned so many life lessons from the Fasnacht family that has owned Funland since 1962, and in particular family patriarch Al, who is now 92.

Funland is the job I compare all others to, and Al the boss. I had long thought it would be fun to return to work at Funland for a couple of shifts, to relive the memories of my youth. So when the Fasnacht family reached out to former Funland employees in June asking if they were interested in working to help with a labor shortage, I responded immediately.

I have been around the park and the Fasnacht family every year since last working at Funland in 1985. My family vacations in Dewey Beach every year, and my kids, Graham, 24, and Olivia, 21, enjoyed Funland from a very early age as I got to experience the park through their eyes.

I learned much more about Funland and the fourth-generation family that runs it while writing a history/memoir of Funland, called Land of Fun: The Story of an Old-Fashioned Amusement for the Ages, which I self-published in 2019. The book was the No. 1 seller at Browseabout Books in 2019, and has sold almost 4,000 copies.

In talking with Chris Darr, Funland’s personnel manager, we decided I would work two Sunday nights in August, the 8th and the 15th. He asked me where I would like to work, and I said the derby horse racing game on the boardwalk, where I had worked quite a bit when I last worked at the park in the 1980s.

Once working again became official, I had all kinds of thoughts: memories of nights spent working that game, excitement at getting the chance to do it again 36 years later and curiosity as to how everything would go and if I were up to the challenge. When Funland celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2011, I had advocated for alumni to get to work a “reunion weekend,” so here was my chance to put my money where my mouth was.

I arrived at work on August 8 at 6:15 for my 6:30 pm shift. I filled out some paperwork, was given a red Funland shirt like the one I wore last in 1985, and 10 minutes of orientation by Darr on a game I once knew inside and out and trained others on in the mid-80s.

My shift started with a bang, as one of the players in my first game used two balls – his and the one in the empty spot next to him – which is against the rules and an unfair advantage. Fortunately, that was the last time that happened over my shift, which ran until 10:45.

The game operation was virtually the same as it has been since Funland purchased it in 1983 from the manufacturer in England, when it instantly became the park’s most popular game, a title it still holds today. Basically, you “turn on” the lane of all paying customers, collect the money – it is $2 a game – either before or during the game, watch to make sure there are no problems during the game and then give the winner a choice of prizes – usually a plush pig or owl.

That’s a lot for games “or races” that can end in less than a minute – although some take longer. Derby works by rolling a ball toward a series of colored holes in the shape of a triangle. Getting your ball in the red moves you horse three lengths, the blue two, and yellow one.

One thing I remembered right away was that the last time I worked derby there were two employees working the game, which made collecting the money much easier than doing it solo. But the labor shortage made that impossible, so I spent much of the night strategizing the best way to do this as quickly as possible to eliminate as much downtime between games as I could.

Most challenging was when you saw a lot of $10s and $20s on the plastic area above where you roll the ball where players pay for the game. You knew you’d have to make a lot of change, and also figure out how many people that bill was paying for, and which ones – I had people who paid for as many as five players – as quickly as you can.

Often I would just finish collecting and putting the money in the three-pocketed apron all Funlanders wear when operating the games before the race was over. Sometimes, though, the race would end before I had collected all the money. I then had to collect the rest, give the winner a choice of prizes and get ready to start the next game.

It's funny how your memory of working a game like this focuses on the excitement of the winners, the great vantage point we have in working this game, being able to see the beach, ocean and boardwalk and just the general hustle and bustle associated with Funland’s most popular game.

Once I caught my breath, I felt all of my 57 years, moving rapidly back and forth on the 12-lane platform to collect money, award prizes, give people change, trade in prizes for a larger one and take an occasional drink of water. I would also explain the game to newcomers, who were attracted by the crowd that was often two or three people deep but sat down as the jockey of one of the 12 horses without knowing how to advance their horse.

Time went by very quickly, as it is wont to do when you have little time to think about it, and before I knew it my shift was two hours old. That felt very familiar, as did the rush of adrenaline you get knowing you still have half your shift to go and a lot of people waiting, and wanting, to play.

The last two hours sped by as rapidly as the first two, and seeing the raw emotion and excitement on the faces of winners of all ages never gets old. As we announced it was the final game of the night around 10:45, I felt a sense of accomplishment. While I had certainly made some mistakes, and was not as quick at turning around games as I was at 21, I had done it. More than that, I enjoyed it, was grateful to the Fasnacht family for the opportunity and I felt like a Funlander again.

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