This site is dedicated with respect and gratitude in memory of Steve Shelton.
Steve Shelton was Mr. Tulsa Skyride. We didn’t call him that. But he was definitely Mr. Tulsa Skyride. The Tulsa Skyride was the pride and joy of his career. He started out working at Bell’s Amusement Park as a teenager. Over the years he became a Von Roll skyride specialist. His focus was on the Tulsa Skyride. But he also worked on other Von Roll skyrides in the USA with Von Roll and American Tramways.
After Bell’s Amusement Park was evicted from the Tulsa Fairgrounds, Steve stayed on to take care of the skyride. He was in charge of maintaining and operating the skyride. Steve oversaw the implementation of a number of upgrades and renovations to bring the Tulsa Skyride up to modern safety standards. His number one priority was keeping the skyride in safe operating condition.
Steve was an expert on ride safety. He also did ride safety work for Six Flags and fairs other than the Tulsa State Fair. Steve had no fear of heights. This came in handy for his work climbing around atop Six Flags ride structures hundreds of feet in the air. He was as comfortable maneuvering up there as he was just walking down the sidewalk on the ground.
More important than being a skyride and ride safety expert, Steve was a husband, father, son, brother, and friend. He was a best friend to many, including me. You couldn’t ask for a finer friend than Steve Shelton. He was a genuinely great person: kind and exceptionally generous. He always went out of his way to help people. He also had a knack for spotting talented young people to recruit for jobs running the skyride.
Steve gave me pretty much unlimited access to document the Tulsa Skyride through photography over the years. Each year that I was here for the fair we would think of new ways to photograph the ride. One year, the idea was to go up on the roof of the Pavilion. The photo included above was one of those I took from the rooftop.
Ultimately, Steve gave his life for the Tulsa Skyride. A tragic accident took him from us in September 2015. Steve and colleague Michael Record were atop tower 3 performing maintenance when the work basket they were in failed. Michael was injured but survived. Steve did not make it.
The loss of Steve was beyond devastating for his family and friends. We’ll never be the same. The way I feel about the skyride was forever changed as well. At first, I didn’t know if I’d ever want to ride it again. I knew that the skyride’s safety was not in question. The skyride was not operating at the time. They were working up top and the work basket failed. The work basket was something completely different from the passenger cabins that are used when the skyride is running.
Despite my initial hesitation, I knew that I would ride the skyride again because I knew that Steve would want everyone to keep riding it and enjoying it. Keeping that skyride safe was something that he loved doing.
I nearly missed the 2015 Tulsa State Fair, arriving barely in time for the final hours of closing night right on the tail of a 1700-mile drive from California. I went right up to the eastern skyride station. Michael Record saw me and told me to hop into a cabin with him and go for a sky ride. I didn’t have to think about it. I knew it was safe and got in.
After the accident, I could never look at the Tulsa Skyride without thinking of Steve, especially when looking at the top of tower 3. I even mainly avoided posting photos in which tower 3 is most prominent. But tower 3 wasn’t the problem. It was the work cart, which is long gone and was replaced with a new one.
One of my most cherished memories of the skyride is from 2019. One night I had the privilege of riding the skyride with Steve’s children and their aunt. We stayed on, riding back and forth through the night sky across the fairgrounds again and again. The kids were laughing and smiling and having the time of their lives on their dad’s skyride. Despite being one of the skyride’s most devoted fans, eventually I decided it was time for me to get off the ride. It was not so for the kids, however. I disembarked and they continued to ride along on their merry way with their aunt.
Now, with their dad’s skyride threatened, I thought that the least I could do would be to use some of my photos to help save it. With the encouragement and support of other friends of Steve and the skyride, I created this site to help build appreciation for the skyride and support for saving it. I made this site for Steve and I proudly dedicate it in his memory.
Later, I plan to add a full tribute to Steve to the site.
P.S. Steve’s wife and children were the first official riders on the Tulsa Skyride following the tragic accident. Please watch the embedded video below.