THE HAUNTING OF

By WILLIAM RUTLEDGE III

SANDY LAKE PARK

   I was on a mission. Every amusement park junkie knows how I felt barreling down the highway in giddy anticipation of what was to come. I was on my way to my first visit to a park that I had heard about for a long time. Only one question remained in my mind: "Would the park have a dark ride?" Normally I would have attempted to find the answer to that question before embarking on a trip, but this was a family owned park and in the age of mega-parks with multi-million dollar attractions, the traditional small amusement parks have become increasingly scarce. So, dark ride or no, I was not going to let an visit to a shrinking piece of Americana pass me by!                                                           
             

 That Saturday afternoon was a perfect day for a trip to an amusement park of yesteryear. The sky was powder blue spotted with cotton ball clouds complimented by a warm friendly sun. As I turned off onto the classic white rock entrance drive, the entry booth sporting a sign with "Sandy Lake Amusement Park" printed in classic colors came into view. Oh yes, all was right with the world! The moment I left my car in the lot, I was transported to a world of blissful leisure. Heading towards the midway, I could see and hear happy patrons splashing around in the large, but quaint swimming pool. Walking ahead with the parks old-fashioned miniature golf course and arcade on my left, the midway began to unfold before me. Oh, the laughter and the sounds of pleasant traffic jams emanated from the bumper cars as the miniature railroad train came huffing and puffing around the bend loaded with pint sized adventurers  who had just returned from the wild world beyond. The Spider ride spun and crawled in place like a giant terror on the loose releasing dizzy passengers onto the midway hungry for more. The Carousel was piping away with candyland music contributing to an atmosphere where you can eat more goodies than usual, chores are forgotten, and bedtime is a light-year away. Following the scent of popcorn, I stopped at the little concession stand for a cold drink and a cone of that grand old pink confection of spun sugar that only tastes good in this world where clowns hide behind trees and the smell of axle grease blends with the aroma of funnel cakes. As I made my way through kiddy-land, the small kiddy-coaster caught my eye, I had to check this out! After exploring this classic little coaster, I looked back over the midway and felt a little sting of disappointment> I had had a great time, but a dark ride would have really made the trip complete. Having been spun around, propelled over hills of angle iron, and satisfying my sweet tooth, I decided to head back to the car. As the miniature golf course came back into view, a solitary structure on my left partially shaded by trees caught my eye. A tinge of excitement raced through my body to my head! As I approached slowly, I saw a little car detailed with yellow pretzels bang through the exit doors. My head was buzzing with a delicious current of thrills. As I mounted the steps to the platform, my excitement turned into that  peculiar mixture of dread and anticipation. Taking my seat, the operator smiles with an expression of mischievous glee that to the little kid in me says "Boy are YOU in for it!" The little car lurches forward tickling the butterflies dancing in my  stomach. As I round the little bend and head into the bang doors, I think to myself, "This is what I LIVE FOR!"

              
 With the first set of bang doors closing behind me, the summer world of popsicles, swimming and weenie roasts vanishes and now I am trapped in their world. I must prepare myself. Lead on little car, my fate is in your hands. I bang through the second set of bang doors into total darkness temporarily blinded by the absence of light. My hands are sweating and my mouth is a bit dry as the little car grinds around the first bend.                           

 A little red light comes on and a cowboy lurches forward as a buzzer sounds. "Okay, that's not so bad", I tell myself as the car spins away and I am enveloped in darkness once again. A few seconds later a ghostly apparition appears through a window as if to mock me in my doom. Zigzagging along I can make out some rumbling groans and growls. No, that is not a soundtrack, I have disturbed a creature who is roaming loose in this dungeon and he is coming for me. Hurry little car, hurry! All of a sudden I can feel a large snake hiss in my ear. Rounding another bend, I can see I am going to run into another car! Oh, that was my reflection in a mirror. With nervous laughter, my little car spins and a classic black box appears in which a hideous mask detailed in day glow paint leers at me as I pass by underneath. Making my way around another turn, a gangster behind a counter appears and fires his Tommy gun. Turning away from this humorous scene, darkness once again welcomes me into its arms. Oh No! That groaning is louder than it was before! That monster must be gaining on me! I can almost hear him lurking behind my car! All of a sudden a bat appears over my head!My instincts tell me to duck as I turn into the great black unknown. A grinning skull ghost appears and raises his arms to grab at me as my little car spins and rams a pair of bang doors. As these doors slam shut, I can see a small crack of daylight appear in front of me. My car crashes out into the daylight and I can hear the bang doors rumble behind me trapping the beast inside for the next victim! I barely made it!                     

             

 With my faithful little car transporting me back to the safety of the warm summer afternoon, I approach the ride operator. He is a nice older gentleman who enjoys operating the Pretzel ride. Through my conversations with him and park staff I learn that this ride is an original Pretzel dark ride built by Leon Cassidy. The ride is thought to have been originally located at a small park in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The ride was bought to Sandy Lake sometime in the late seventies to early eighties. Some of the stunts in the ride are original such as the black box display containing the fierce day glow mask. Behind this mask in the box are some original drawings. These appear to be a werewolf playing a guitar and a banshee/ghoul creature. Not much is known about the history of some of these stunts, as they were acquired through auctions, tradeshows or other small parks. What makes the Pretzel ride so special is not only the unique combination of old and newer stunts, but the authenticity of the car and track system, which is the classic 12 pound railroad rail equipped with an insulated bus bar for power. It is fascinating to examine this ride and realize that it was pioneered by some amusement industry legends. I had the pleasure of fabricating the monster head and hands for the ride's exterior. It was quite an awesome experience working on an attraction that the famous Pretzel Ride Company produced!  The park has informed me that they do plan to make some modifications to the ride. Some stunts might be added and others changed, but dark ride fans can rest assured that the vintage Pretzel ride at Sandy Lake Amusement Park will not lose its classic style.

 After leaving the ride, I made my way back to the parking lot. The sun was setting and the pool was silent. I suddenly realized that I was nearly the last person to leave that day. As I drove through the exit booth and turned onto the main road, I had a clear view of the Pretzel ride in my rearview mirror. Then I saw IT! Through the crack of the bang doors an eye was leering at me. A pale green hand gripping the edge of a door. I turned to look but nothing was there! Driving away, i know the creature was loose and waiting to stalk to next rider- or me again on my next visit. Oh yes, I'll be back!

Sandy Lake Amusement Park is located in Carrollton, a suburb of Dallas TX.

                                                                  
                   

Article "C 2001" by William Rutledge III and used with permission. All photos "C 2001" by William Rutledge and used with permission. Laff In The Dark is Not associated in any way with the Amusement Parks mentioned here. Article layout and design by Bret Malone and Allen House at Mad-O-Rama Studios. Special Thanks to Bill Luca, Sandy Lake Park and the kind Dark Ride Operator. Entire article "C 2001" by The Dark Ride and Fun House Historical Society. William Rutledge is the proud owner of  Raven Hill Productions.  You may contact the author through the website.
www.laffinthedark.com