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Lou Hammerl, 91, founded amusement ride company

Feb. 17, 1927 – April 30, 2018

Buffalo firefighter Lou Hammerl was looking for a second job to earn extra money for his growing family in 1960 when he bought a truck.

Mounted on the back of it was a Whip Ride, which ran small cars along a track and thrilled passengers with sharp turns around corners. Kids loved it. Wherever he went, they lined up for a spin with Mr. Hammerl seated at the controls.

“He would drive around the streets of Buffalo and the suburbs and he would charge 10 cents a ride,” said his daughter, Lynn M. Ritchie. “Sometimes we’d be out at restaurants and people would come up and put a dime in front of him.”

Children line up to take a spin as Lou Hammerl operates the Whip Ride

Hammerl Amusements grew to include dozens of rides and games which enliven everything from church carnivals to county fairs between Buffalo and Rochester. Lynn now is president, assisted by her husband, Frank.

Mr. Hammerl turned over the company to his children in 1991, but continued to lend a hand into his 80s.

“He wouldn’t stay away,” his daughter said. “He would stop by and work the merry-go-round. He always dismissed the operator. He’d say, ‘Take a break and put that music back on.’”

He died April 30 in his home in Clarence after a short illness. He was 91.

Born in Buffalo, Louis E. Hammerl was the sixth of seven children and a graduate of East High School.

When he began working for Niagara Frontier Transit, now NFTA, in 1950, he was one of the last streetcar operators, then became a bus driver. One of his routes was along Kenmore Avenue, where he and his wife, the former Amy Szczepanski, operated a deli, Amy and Louie’s, after they were married in 1953.

He joined the Buffalo Fire Department in 1960 and, after he retired in 1979, devoted full time to Hammerl Amusements. He provided midway rides for Williamsville’s Old Home Days since it began.

“He would close every deal with a handshake,” his daughter said. “We don’t do it that way these days, but he rarely had contracts.”

His wife died in 1981 and he was remarried a year ago to the former Joanne Colangelo, who was secretary to his brother, the late Monsignor Leo E. Hammerl, parochial school superintendent for the Diocese of Buffalo.

“When he was ill, the two of them took care of him,” his daughter said. “That’s how they became friends.”

He was honored as Showman of the Year in 2006 by the New York State Showpeople’s Association. He also collected clown and carnival memorabilia.

He and childhood friends organized the Walden Bailey Athletic Club, which played baseball, formed bowling leagues and organized family picnics for more than 70 years.

A member of St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church and its Holy Name Society, he did volunteer maintenance work for the church.

Survivors also include four sons, Mark, Michael, Peter and Gregory; a sister, Anna Mazur; 14 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

A Mass of Christian Burial was offered May 4 in Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church, 10950 Main St., Clarence.

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