Throwback Thursday: Gaslight Square

At one point in Silver Dollar City’s history, the creative minds behind the development of the park had a wild notion: what if the city stayed exactly 100 years in the past? Instead of keeping the static theme of the mid-1800′s mining town of Marmaros, the city would grow and develop through continually evolving themes following the Victorian era, the boom and bust of the 1920′s, and so on.

In 1989 this idea was put into action with the creation of Gaslight Square, a Victorian experience on Silver Dollar City’s main square. Character interactions were the highlights of this area, including barbershop quartets, pennyfarthing riders, and women in extravagant Victorian dresses. The shops on the square were transformed to include period wares as well, such as dolls, baskets, flower, and furnishings. True to it’s name, Gaslight Square also included actual gas lanterns which were lit each evening.

While Gaslight Square was certainly quaint, it was not enthusiastically received by Silver Dollar City’s patrons. The Victorian era aesthetic didn’t seem to fit the otherwise famously Ozark hillbilly town, and many guests noted that there were plenty of other places throughout Missouri that celebrated that time period. The reliance on a multitude of street performers and the pressure put on them to be constantly entertaining did not make the employees very happy. I am not absolutely certain, but I don’t believe Gaslight Square returned at all in 1990.

1989 was a pivotal time in Silver Dollar City’s history. Gaslight Square was certainly the most visible effort to take Silver Dollar City down a completely new path in order to better compete with other theme parks and attractions in the area. While it was certainly a creative and immersive effort, I think nearly all fans are grateful that the feedback was listened to and that Silver Dollar City remains a celebration of the long-lost 1880′s mining town of Marmaros.

 

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Throwback Thursday: Runaway-Ore-Carts

The Runaway-Ore-Carts was Silver Dollar City’s original kiddie roller coaster. The coaster stood from 1989 to 2005 in the Huck Finn’s Hideaway section of the park next to the corkscrew pass in what is now just an open smoking area overlooking River Blast. RCDB indicates that it was a typical Molina and Sons’s oval layout kiddie coaster, the kind that used to be produced in mass by several companies with extremely similar designs.

There’s not much to say about the ride experience on this little coaster. Based purely on my (often faulty) memory, I believe the experience included: a small lift hill of about 15 ft in height, at the top of which the track careened into a left hand curved drop followed by two small hops and a small turnaround that itself included a small hop as it rounded back into the station. I seem to recall we were given three cycles with each ride.

I don’t recall much adornment of this attraction, which was unique for this park. The ride was completely exposed, with only a small open platform for loading and unloading. The only thing that stood out was a cable brace that was added at some point underneath the lift hill. This brace was used to support the treehouse across the train tracks from the coaster when it first started experiencing small structural issues. The brace is still there, and will be there until the park finally removes the now empty and unused treehouse.

The Runaway-Ore-Carts was taken out just before the introduction of the Grand Exposition Coaster within the new Grand Exposition area which included a total of ten new rides mostly oriented towards young kids. By the time of it’s demise, the Runaway-Ore-Carts were quite bumpy and rough, almost dangerously so. I remember bashing my head against the back of the cars as it rounded the curve into the station. The Grand Expo addition provided the perfect opportunity to replace the tiny coaster with a modern equivalent that embodies much the same experience. Nothing has filled the void left behind by the ride. It is now just empty space just outside the Corkskrew pass overlooking River Blast. Perhaps someday soon we’ll see the city find a new use for this prime plot of real estate, but for now it is simply a quiet smoking area.

I don’t actually have any of my own photos of The Runaway-Ore-Carts to share as I didn’t get in the habit of taking photos until just after it’s demise. If you have any you’d like to add to our public collection, please email them to steve@sdcfans.com.

Throwback Thursday: Shanty Town

[Editor's Note: Thanks to Junior for a number of corrections in the dates that I had listed formerly]

This week’s Throwback concerns a long-gone section of the park that is often referenced, but rarely talked about in detail. As with most other Throwback Thursday posts on topics before my time, I’m going to write out what I’ve pieced together about this area and I hope others will come along and correct or extend my info.

Shanty Town was a small children’s play area on the lake front that featured a large play structure and eventually several miscellaneous kid’s rides and attractions in the immediate area. I am told Shanty Town opened in 1984, but I’ve now been told a few conflicting dates here. The area was a small extension of the “deep-woods” addition to the park, which included Rube Dugan’s Diving bell and the pathway that goes through the landing down to the lake front. The area was apparently a successor to the similar Tom Sawyer’s Landing play area which opened in it’s initial form in 1980.

Shanty Town’s play structure was located approximately where the line to Lost River of the Ozarks currently begins. The structure was on stilts over the edge of the lake, and featured a number of kid-sized buildings connected by narrow platforms. You can take a look at it for yourself in the first minute and a half of this video. If anyone has any more detailed information on what the actual Shanty Town contained, shoot me a message or post about it on our forums.

The area around Shanty Town included several other little kid’s rides and attractions. The Gandy Dancer, as discussed in a previous TBT post, was originally located where the Toy Shop (originally a basket shop) is now, but was moved to Tom Sawyer’s Landing when that was built. Greedy Brother’s Excursions was a short-lived boat ride on Lake Silver that docked next to Shanty Town (that’ll be discussed in a future TBT post). I have also been told of a water maze and a few early game booths.

Shanty Town was the second in a long line of similar concept areas for kids within Silver Dollar City. The previously mentioned Tom Sawyer’s Landing opened in 1980 with rope towers and a carousel (and was later rebuilt/remodeled a couple of times including adding several more rides in 1989). Then came Geyser Gulch in 1997, which had a number of direct Shanty Town elements such as little rooms with various play things connected by slanted walkways. Then in 2011 the park debuted Half Dollar Holler, which features a kiddie ropes maze suspended between neat little tree houses plus the original Carousel. In 2015 SDC will continue the tradition with Fireman’s Landing, featuring a new interactive play house within a new area that includes a half-dozen kid’s rides and attractions.

The Shanty Town area was slowly taken apart and/or modified throughout its existence as the area evolved rapidly and newer attractions like TS’s Landing took over the Shanty Town functions. I believe the play structure was taken out in mid 90′s.

That’s the little I know about Shanty Town, if anyone knows any more about it or has any photos please post about it on our forums! I get the impression that this little area was much loved, but it didn’t capture enough attention at the time to be documented very well. Given the number of children’s/play areas that HFEC built at SDC and DW building on the successes of Shanty Town, this was one of the more influential additions the company ever constructed – so it’s worth digging into!

 

Throwback Thursday: Jim Owens’ Float Trip

jim_owens_small

In the early days of Branson tourism, one of the prime attractions were the float trips offered by the legendary Jim Owens. Though these float trips were brought to an end with the damming of the White River to create Table Rock Lake, Jim Owens found other ways to make a name for himself in Branson. He opened the Owens theatre in downtown Branson, which became popular with many famous movie stars of the time. Eventually he even became Branson’s mayor.

In 1969, Silver Dollar City honored Jim Owen by recreating his float trip experience as one of the city’s first major ride attractions. SDC’s version of the float trip involved a long narrow channel similar to today’s flume rides on which elongated flat boats with several rows of bench seats slowly traversed.

One of our resident SDC historians who goes by the handle “Junior” on our forums has summed up some of the ride experience for us:

Some of the scenes you would view on the float trip included “Echo Rock,” (A microphone was hidden and when you hollered out, amplified sound would “echo” back at you.) There was an outhouse on the edge of a low bluff, and when your boat approached the outhouse appeared as if it was going to fall on your boat. There were some hogs slurping out of a moonshine still, and there was a “river gang clubhouse” where the members were fishing and swimming. You passed a river camp, where a river rat had been treed by a bear, an animal haven that had live prairie dogs, goats, or other animals, a swirling whirlpool, and then a dark cave where “ghosts” danced in a hidden underground saloon, and a barrel dump poured a waterfall of water along your boat. On the way back around to the dock, a couple of water geysers almost squirted  your boat. It was a gentle, family friendly ride. The theme changed a little bit over the years…at first Jim Owens’ “ghost” talked to you about the river, later a woman looked for her husband and no good friend, and the last few years, the cave had gnomes in it.

 

Jim Owens Float Trip was replaced with The Great American Plunge, an Arrow log flume, in 1981. However, much of the original float trip ride was either re-used for the plunge, or left in place. The tunnel and pre-lift portion of the plunge are original from Jim Owens’, and the rest of the old float channel can be easily observed from Wildfire’s overflow queue line and the path leading up to it.

 

Further Reading:

Some old photos of the original Jim Owens attraction in Branson

A video about the original Jim Owens

Tell us your memories of the ride here on our forums

 

Photos:

Throwback Thursday: The Gandy Dancer

100_3651OldGandyDancerTrack

For this Throwback Thursday, I’ve been trying to dig up some info on a little-referenced unique kiddie ride that was known as Gandy Dancer. This ride was a fairly unique kid-powered railway featuring little single-seat cars designed for small children with a little lever that could be pumped up and down to move the car along the track.

As far as I can tell, the Gandy Dancer debuted sometime in the early 80’s in an area of the park that was known as “Shanty Town”, which was located along the lake front. Early photos submitted to our forums show the ride situated along the lakefront near where the entrance to Lost River is currently located. This iteration of the ride featured Greedy Bros. theming.

At some point later on the ride was moved across the pathway into the woods next to the River Front Playhouse. I assume this coincided with the creation of Tom Sawyer’s Landing and many have involved retheming the ride to Huckleberry Finn. I’m not sure when the Gandy Dancer ceased operations, but when I first heard about this ride in 2008 it was sitting abandoned in the woods in ruinous condition. During the construction of RiverBlast the remnants were finally cleared out, though nothing currently occupies the area.

Who can fill us in on more of the Gandy Dancer’s history? Let’s use this thread to thresh it out.
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Throwback Thursday: The Green Parking Trams

Silver Dollar City’s original parking lot trams, referred to as simply ‘the green trams’, became another sentimental piece of SDC nostalgia over their long years of service beginning from at least 1970 until 2009. The green trams must have seemed to be a garish departure from the world famous charm of SDC at first, but over the years they developed a distinct charm of their own that made them special to the city.

I seem to have no remaining photos of the green trams in my personal collection, but facebook users can check out this page for a few photos of the trams being decommissioned.

It’s tough to describe to those who never experienced the famous green trams why SDC nostalgics wax fondly on them whenever the topic arises. Perhaps it was the butane smell that many of us will now always associate with the excitement of starting a day at SDC. Perhaps it was the fun-loving conductors and drivers that made a ride on the trams feel almost as exciting as a ride on the train. Perhaps it was because they were in service to SDC so long that they too began to look and feel like something out of the 1880’s. In any case, the green trams had a unique, almost undefinable quality about them that has not yet been restored with SDC’s new fleet of larger white trams.

I have yet to nail down exactly when the green trams made their debut at SDC, but one guest mentioned to me that he remembers them being there in 1970. If anyone recalls exactly when they were introduced, please update me! The green trams were originally gasoline powered, but at some point were converted to run on butane to be more environmentally friendly, and perhaps more cost-effective at the time.

Of course, the green trams weren’t the only vehicles to service SDC’s parking lots over the years. For at least a couple decades the park also utilized open air buses that were styled to look like old fashioned trolleys. These trolleys primarily serviced the parking lots on the other side of the road which required travel up and down a steep slope that the green trams could not handle. For busy days when SDC satellite parking lots way down the road had to be used, the park utilized old school busses, which have now mostly been phased out in favor of modern and comfortable touring-style busses.

The green trams were ultimately forced to be done away with for a variety of reasons. They did not meet modern access requirements, the ceilings were too low and bumped many heads, and perhaps most importantly the engines simply weren’t powerful enough to climb the new grade of SDC’s expanded and reconfigured parking lot with its new tram route. Their replacements are a set of larger, more powerful white trams. The new trams are not as long and quaint, but they certainly do have a lot more room to spread out in, and they are marginally easier to handle for guests with access issues. I’m still not sure why the trolleys were also retired at this time, but the fleet of modern trams and busses seems to be able to handle the job adequately. At least one of the old green trams lives on in Harrison, AR as the ‘Harrison Goblins Tram’ which shuttles guests to the highschool football stadium.

Even though the nostalgia of the green trams has faded into memory, there’s still one aspect of SDC’s parking lot that still makes it unique and special among prominent theme parks: most of the parking is still FREE! Considering most Six Flags parks are now charging upwards of $20 just to park, SDC’s free parking and tram service certainly helps make it an even more attractive and affordable vacation destination.

 

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