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Archive for the ‘Dante’s Inferno / William’s Grove Amusement Park’ Category

Dante’s Inferno / William’s Grove

Thursday, November 24th, 2011 02:45 pm GMT -5

This outside project had a profound effect on the project and myself. Only now am I full understanding the depth of it.

As I posted in the original “Dark Ride Blog” – during our dark-ride design project, we found out the William’s Grove amusement park had on of the Haunted House systems we intended on using… and they were less than a 30 minute drive away! How lucky could we be? There were only a handful of these rides still in operation – and one of them was right in my backyard!

We started going there frequently enough that we got to know the owner and manager of the park. (Note: Taking close-up pictures of the same ride week after week can attract attention! *smile*).

We were cautions about sharing too much information about what we were building because we were met with a LOT of push-back from people in the local “Haunt Business” and didn’t want to earn any more enemies. But these people we’re different.

The owner, Mr. Hughes was more than a business man – he was a true lover of amusement parks. ( God rest his soul. I just found out that he passed away some years ago.)  He truly was interested in my love for the old Haunted House rides. He wanted to know everything about the project and wanted to see the things I had built. (I don’t think he knew what the Internet was till that day when I showed him my lap-top!)

Mr Hughes took the time to give me a tour of his park, and told me the stories behind each of the rides he rescued from other parks that were closed or failing. He was thrilled to know I had the same passion he had for the classic rides. He let me go anywhere and everywhere I wanted to in he park. I felt like a friend.

One day we were talking about my project when I mentioned to him that I couldn’t help but notice his Haunted House ride was in need of some serious repairs. The ride was a mess. Nothing inside worked, the roof leaked, the lights had burnt out years ago, the props were vandalized… and it made me sad to see such a great ride in such deplorable condition. So I offered to help. Mr. Hughes was thrilled I offered and asked me to meet him in a week. It was winter and he wanted to get things moving so when the park opened in the spring, the ride would be ready.

The next time we met, I had a list of things I thought I would run by him- I had maps drawen of the building and track… I was prepared to give my best “Sinister Shadows” sales pitch!

 The meeting was the shortest meeting I ever had in my life, and the most surprising. He didn’t want to go over my plans, he didn’t want to hear about them. Instead, the meeting was him tossing me a set of keys to the amustment park – and him walking me around and telling me how to turn on everything.

I was given my own set of keys to an amusement park… He didn’t need to know what I was going to do to his ride…. He just said “Do it right!”… He trusted me THAT much. I remember thinking that his trust in me made me what to do even better than I originally planned.

And so it begins:

As I said – it was a mess in the building…

Decades of neglect and understaffing had turned the haunted house into a “two minutes in a dark room” ride. Floors were rotted, cieling was leaking, not one prop was working. All I could think was “What an awesome opprotunity!”

I ended up buring all my vacation time I saved up (four weeks… it was two from one year and then I flipped over to the new year.) to rebuild what we could of the haunted house. My wife and kids were not just moral support – they were hired (unpaid!) help that were right there with me. The building was damp, and unheated – so conditions were miserable…. but we were all too into the project to realise it! Weeks became months, and slowly we could start to see changes in the ride…

Here are a few “before and after” pictures I came across….

 This is a pop-out prop as we found it.

The “body” was supposed to lunge at you as the car went by.




 This is her rebuilt…





 and what she looked like in the dark.






A guy getting sawed in half….and after…


More than just the props we changed – there were some ares of the ride where you could see the other people in the ride, and what was farther down the track. This not only ruined the experiance, but incouraged interaction between riders.

This is the ride in the light prior to rebuild…

And then after the rebuild… we built a wall (plywood carved and painted to look like block) down the middle of the ride….

More prop changes…. This poor prop smashed its body against the wall for so long it fell apart. It was made to spin to face you as the car drove by….

And then after… complete new body. Note the bride’s head in his hand… we we’re trying for a theme. (We didn’t have too much time to be picky or creative!)

I love crank ghosts – so I had to put one of them in!

Some props were just things I wanted to try for the first time… this is a “portal” I built using a mirror on the wall and had ghosts flying out in all directions by means of a few bike wheels and rope…

The artwork in the place was amazing.  Most of it was covered with mold and moss! We cleaned down the walls after the roof was fixed and repainted over some of the original art to repair the damage as best as we could….

Here is a “stunt” that WAS actually working! Someone cut out two holes in the mural and installed flashing red lights on the breasts of the woman. I don’t understand who would have thought this was a good idea… hell, I love boobs as much as the next guy does! But it had no place in a family ride!

After I gaver her “pasties” I repainted her robe…

There’s nothing more awesome than to be able to pull up to an amusement park gate, open it up… and drive in down the midway!

There were props that you could barley see due to the crazy amound of chicken wire that was installed all over place.

The reason for the chicken wire was the amount of damage people would do in the ride. This was for a few reasons (we guessed..) 1) The openness of the ride which we fixed by putting walls up all over the place, 2) There was not enough stuff happening to keep people engaged int he ride, so they “had” to do stuff to entertain themselves, and 3) They KNEW that no one was watching….

The first two problems were easy to fix as that was part of the rebuild to begin with! The second part is something I wanted to try to see if it would work… We installed infrared video cameras throughout the ride and a DVR system that people could see while they waited in line. We made sure they knew we were watching, and they were being recorded…


This was the “first step” of my idea. The second step (which I never got to try) was to put televisions in the ride line so people could see their friend going through the ride.,.. AND have buttons that people in line could use to activate things like air cannons or horn effects to scare people inside the ride. I wish I could have tried that… but time was running out.

As opening day approached, we worked sun up to sun down to make sure that THIS ride was THE ride that people would remember. We installed new HO black lights, replaced the sound system and installed a digital system that gave the ride an actual soundtrack. But that still was not enough for me…

When I realized that there was no way the ride was going to be up to my standards in time, I made a big decision… I needed more props… and I knew where to get them….

I had already been building my ride props, and had a lot completed, tested and ready to go. I asked Mr. Hughes if it would be ok with him if I would bring some of my personal equipment in and then in time, remove it and replace it with stuff he bought. He thought that was a great idea and within a few days I had two trailers full of my props in this ride.

We got finished just in time. Everything worked and I think I spend the next two days riding the ride over and over just to make sure everything was perfect!

For the first few weeks, I worked at the park in my free time. After I would get off my “real” job – I would drive to the park and work till close. I’d also work bell to bell on the weekends. I couldn’t be happier!

I kept a clip board with me and I would “interview” people as they would get off the ride. I’d ask them what the liked, didn’t like, what they would do differently… all the news was good. I didn’t get but a few negative comments. (I’ve learned since teenagers never have anything nice to say!) I learned so much that I couldn’t possible type it all here.

I had one of the best summers ever there at that park. I felt like I was part owner. I never had to pay for a thing, and could bring my friends and family there any time I liked. But, as all good things must come to an end – I needed to go back to focusing on my “real” job and my own haunted house project.

I trained a couple of people at the park how to operate and fix the ride. I showed them how everything worked and made sure they knew I was “on-call” anytime then needed help. I figured I would return at the end of the season to reclaim my equipment (as I would need it for my Halloween display!) and close the ride up for the year.

Next up…. how it all ended. 


William’s Grove… The Epilogue

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011 08:21 pm GMT -5

I don’t know where the time went… but before I knew it, the season was over and it was time to go collect my stuff and close up the ride. I was excited to see how everything help up over the few months…

I forget who I was talking to, but when I was speaking to a friend about going back to the park he said “Oh, is that ride still there? I heard everything was auctioned off after they closed.”

…….    ? ……. !    What?

What followed was some frantic phone dialing and information gathering. There was nothing good to follow.

I guess I will never know for sure what happened. There’s a lot of guessing on my part. What I do know as fact was that Mr. Hughes decided to close the park, and held an auction to sell off all the equipment he could. He wanted to sell the rides, and then sell the property for 5 million dollars.

What I don’t know is why no one contacted me. No one even tried. While I was working at the park, there was talk of the park closing in the future… and there were discussions that when it happens, that I would get “first dibbs” on the dark ride. Mr Hughes even told me several times that if the park closed – he would give me the ride before he even thought of selling it. Again… not that I expected anything for free… but if he was going to sell it, I though a call to me would be the polite thing to so. Especially since so much of my equipment was still there.

I had hoped that there was some simple answer to all of this… and tried to contact the people I knew from the park. (With no success…)

Next I went to the park directly. The good news is that my keys still worked! So there’s hope after all! I opened up the park and went inside.

When I got inside, the park just felt different. Rides were missing… weeds had already started taking over the asphalt and buildings… vandals had obviously had their way with the place. My stomach sank. I made my way to the ride…

Do you remember what it was like to be a kid and what to believe something good was going to happen when you knew it was unlikely? You hope that last lottery ticket was the big winner… you hope you get that awesome job…. you hope Santa brings you that perfect gift…  Well, I still get that hopeful feeling sometimes… this was one of those times. You know how it never works out?….

Remember those before and after pictures? Well – here are some more…



Can you believe how quickly a building can go to pot without any attention? I have no idea why someone would take the vinyl sign down I put up. I wonder if it’s hanging up in someone’s garage these days……





Well, at least I know this isn’t hanging up in someone’s garage…



So you see where this is going… the place was destroyed. Nothing was left but a few pieces of  props. Everything was gone. Not just the ride and the props – but MY props. The items I told them I would be back for. All of it sold or stolen. I was numb. Years of my work “MIA”.

I had a Halloween display to build using props for a Haunted House ride I was building… where were they?

So, to get to point – I went into what can only be called a great depression. I gave up. Someone sold all my stuff. I had nothing. I cancled putting up my annual Halloween display. I stopped working on new props. And for more than a couple of years, I did nothing but feel sorry for myself.

I always thought the stages of depression were supposed to move a little more quickly… but I guess that depends on the level of depression.

Anyhow – that was the end of this story.

The good news is that I did find some good out of all of this… it just took some time to realize it. I got some valuable experience I would not have been able to get any other way. I got to have free run of an amusement park. I had the ability to do whatever I wanted to an antique dark ride. I figured out ways to save a lot of time and money on my “real” project…

It took me a while to get the motivation to re-build all of the stuff that went missing… years. But I have grown through the whole thing and now – sitting here tonight… I can say that I woudn’t change a thing about this if I could.

A very wise person once said: “Sometimes a kick in the teeth is the best thing for you!”