In its heyday during the late 1940s and 1950s, the Wagon Wheel Park skating rink and dance hall was the “rockin’ place to be” on Saturday nights in Camas.While the venue located on Northeast Third Avenue on the banks of the Washougal River was a skating rink on the weekdays, on Friday nights it began its transformation.
Willard Carroll worked at the venue owned by his uncle, Pat Mason, and remembers climbing up a ladder and changing the individual sheet metal letters outside each week from the word “S-K-A-T-E” to “D-A-N-C-E.”
He would then head inside to help set up the 20 by 30 foot stage, and put “dance wax” on the floor to prepare for the hundreds of people who would be descending on the hall for an evening of fun the next day.
“There could be as many as 500 to 600 people there on a Saturday night,” Carroll said during a recent interview.
A variety of bands, singers and dancers entertained the crowds. And these weren’t just small-time locally known acts. According to Carroll’s daughter, Sheri Phares, some of the guest performers included the era’s top names in country music like singer and actor Tex Ritter; pianist, composer and arranger Stan Kenton; Disney composer and tuba and brass instrumentalist George Bruns; and singer Willie Nelson, who at the time had also worked as a disc jockey at KVAN radio station in Portland.