June 13, 2013 • 09:25:59 a.m.

Donley’s offers kids fun without tech, devices

By JAMI KUNZER – jkunzer@shawmedia.com

(Photo provided)

Donley’s Wild West Town

WHEN: Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. May 18-19; daily May 25 through Aug. 23; weekends, Aug. 24 through Oct. 27

WHERE: 8512 S. Union Road, Union

INFO: $16 for adults; children 2 and younger are free. Information: 815-923-9000 or visit www.wildwesttown.com

Children won’t be playing with their thumbs at Donley’s Wild West Town, unless they have a sling shot or rope in their hands.

No hand-held game devices necessary. 

“What we find is when they come here, it is all forgotten, the technology and everything,” said Randy Donley, who runs the business along with his brother, Mike, and parents, Larry and Helene. “They get right into it.”

“It” includes gold panning, slingshot shooting, cowboy-style roping lessons, kid-powered handcars, venture canoeing, a live action Wild West Show, a vintage carousel from 1951, the Runaway Mine Cars roller coaster, pony rides, a petting zoo and the C.P. Huntington Train, among other attractions.

“The most important thing we try to highlight is this is a park for kids,” Donley said. “They always get lost in the big parks and intimidated. ... The little kids absolutely love it here. They find this enjoyable and fascinating. I hear all the time when parents are taking their kids out of the park, ‘No, we want to stay. We want to go back on the train.’ ”

Now open for the season, Donley’s has been entertaining families, especially children younger than age 12, since 1974 when Larry and Helene Donley first opened the park as an outgrowth of their love for antiques.

As their collections grew, they built the Wild West Town, the Old West Saloon and Steakhouse and the Village Hall Banquets, which provides a rustic wedding venue and McHenry County’s largest dance floor.

The amusement park draws visitors from all over, with the Donleys promoting it as a day or weekend trip, especially for those living within a 60-mile radius. 

“There’s plenty to do here for several hours, have lunch or dinner and they’re on their way,” Donley said.

Or they could take in other attractions, such as the nearby Illinois Railway Museum and the McHenry County Historical Society Museum.

Children often come dressed in cowboy and cowgirl costumes, prompting the park to host daily costume contests this season, Randy Donley said. Kids’ karaoke in the saloon became so popular last season, he’s considering ways to expand it this season.

“I would never have believed that kids, 6, 7, 10 years old get a microphone in front of people and start singing,” he said. “Some really good talent comes out of it. How I’m going to build on that this year, I don’t know. That’s yet to be seen.”

Also part of Donley Auction Services are the collections featured at Donley’s museum. They are rated as among the finest in the country, and include a variety of cowboy memorabilia, such as wooly chaps, gun belts, guns, spurs lariats and boots. 

Other antiques include death masks created years ago before photography was invented out of dead outlaws’ faces, gold and silver mining tools, Civil War weapons and Larry Donley’s personal antique and music box collection. 

To highlight that collection, the Wild West Town hosts its 38th annual Phonograph and Music Box Show, drawing hundreds of antique phonographs, music boxes, vintage radios and rare records from the 1890s to the 1950s.

“There was never a show before it anywhere in the country,” Donley said. “It is not only the first, it is the largest anywhere in the world. Antique shows are dying on the vine all over. Antique collecting is kind of going by the wayside ... for whatever reason, sound and audio has kept in vogue with collecting.”

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