Here's to all the creative, eccentric dreamers out there. If it weren't for them, much of what we love and take for granted as simple summer pleasures might never have existed. So thank you, W. Atlee Burpee, for our backyard gardens overrun with sweet corn and plump tomatoes, and thank you, Herbert Sellner, for the Tilt-A-Whirl. Thanks for drive-by soft-serve, and thanks for a round of mini golf, and for craft beer in a can.
When mountaineer Lloyd Anderson couldn't find an ice ax, he and his wife, Mary, decided to start an outdoor gear co-op to supply Seattle's climbing community. That was back in 1938. REI, in Kent, Washington, is still run as a consumer co-op, returning profits to its four million active members through an annual refund.
Tom Morey was a math major at the University of Southern California when he started to rethink the surfboard. Morey's Boogie Board (named for his love of music), trademarked in 1973, was eventually bought by Wham-O. His latest venture, TomMorey.com, in San Clemente, California, is at work on a new kind of paddleboard.
Hold On! Here We Go!
Inventor Gordon Holcombe once worked in the commercial aircraft evacuation business. When the first DC-10 jumbo jet came out in 1971, he realized the curved slides used for emergency exits could be adapted to make river rafts. He founded raftmaker Maravia, which subsequent owner Doug Tims moved from California to Boise, Idaho, in 1985.
The Black Hills Central Railroad travels through the mountains of western South Dakota. The Warder family bought the railroad in 1990 and refurbished a Baldwin Mallet locomotive. Trains run from Hill City to Keystone on a route that once served the region's mining boom.
When the Sun Goes Down...
Tulsa's Admiral Twin drive-in opened in 1951 as the Modernaire. The theater proved so popular, its owners added a second, rear screen a year later. Francis Ford Coppola filmed his cult classic The Outsiders there in 1982. Run since 2000 by Blake Smith, owner of local chain Select Cinemas, the 26-acre drive-in attracts 100,000 moviegoers each summer.
Oskar Blues Brewery, in Lyons, Colorado, was the first craft brewer to begin selling its beer in cans, back in 2002. Founder Dale Katechis used a tabletop machine that sealed one can of his namesake brew, Dale's Pale Ale, at a time. This year, the company will sell more than 11 million cans.
Home of the Tilt-A-Whirl
Woodworker Herbert W. Sellner's Tilt-A-Whirl was the hit of the Minnesota State Fair in 1927, one year after its debut. Since then, the carnival ride has thrilled and nauseated countless riders around the world, and it is still a bestseller for fourth-generation family-owned Sellner Manufacturing Company, in Faribault, Minnesota.
Grillin' and Chillin'
The year was 1952, and George Stephen Sr. had an idea: Why not use one of the metal buoys he was welding for the Coast Guard as a barbecue grill? He slapped on some legs and a handle, and the Weber grill was born. Today, Weber-Stephen Products, in Palatine, Illinois, is the largest grill manufacturer in the U.S.
The Best in Texas
Kerry Bexley works as a facilities operator at a coal plant and "Miss Tootsie" Tomanetz is a custodian at a local school district, but on Saturdays they run Snow's BBQ, in Lexington, Texas, which is ranked No. 1 in the state by Texas Monthly. Fans start lining up at 8 a.m., and Snow's usually sells out by noon.
Ride 'Em, Cowboy
When you're out on the range or just poolside at a dude ranch, you'll need a hat. John B. Stetson launched the Stetson Hat Company in 1865 with $100. Today, the Stetson factory in Garland, Texas, produces hundreds of styles a year, including the original Hat of the West.
How do you make perfect lobster rolls? Practice, practice, practice. Try serving 10,000 of them, as Shaw's Fish & Lobster Wharf, in New Harbor, Maine, does every summer.
As High as an Elephant's Eye
Vegetable gardeners can thank 19th-century entrepreneur W. Atlee Burpee for their fresh corn on the cob and juicy homegrown tomatoes. Young Atlee's father wanted him to be a doctor. But Burpee was drawn to the fledgling science of genetics. In 1876, at 18, he founded a mail-order-catalog and seed business, the W. Atlee Burpee Company, in Warminster, Pennsylvania.
Heaven on Wheels
In 1956, James and William Conway drove the first Mister Softee truck through the streets of South Philly, where they grew up. Today, their sons, James and John, run the franchiser, based in Runnemede, New Jersey. Some 750 trucks, each playing the instantly recognizable Mister Softee jingle, cover 18 states.
What makes Hawaiian Rumble, in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, worthy of hosting the Masters of mini golf? A 40-foot volcano that shoots 15-foot flames. "It rumbles so loud, it shakes the ground," says owner Robert Detwiler, who also started the U.S. ProMiniGolf Association.