As many of you might know, Salisbury Beach was the springboard for the bumper car ride known as the Dodgem.
Although the ride goes back years later at Salisbury, let’s first focus on the Dodgem ride installed there in 1931. In her article The Salisbury Beach Dodgem:
A Smashing Ride (1920-1980) for Essex Institute, Salem MA, Betsy H. Woodman writes that the building façade had a neon sign whose letters were rounded in art deco fashion, “and this was replaced when the Dodgem and coaster signage was joined in a very handsome art deco scheme.”
Woodman notes that this Dodgem was located on the south side of Broadway, midway between Ocean Front South and Railroad Avenue.
“(A) new roller coaster called the “Wildcat” was built by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company for the Dodgem Corporation in 1927, and in 1931 the company built a new Dodgem ride on the west side of the coaster. A disastrous fire destroyed this Dodgem building in September 1948 and also did extensive damage to the coaster. After both rides were rebuilt, they were joined or rejoined by a long flashboard. Painted white, this horizontal band above the entrances provided a surface for the red neon “Coaster” and “Dodgem” signs crafted in the severe lettering style of the deco period. This understated but sophisticated front for a decade or more gave a stretch of Salisbury’s Broadway a handsomely coordinated art deco appearance,” Woodman reports.
Woodward credits Max Stoehrer for conceptualizing the Dodgem ride at a parking garage located on East Haverhill Street in Lawrence, near the Methuen line.
It was a garage where people paid so much a month to store cars, and Stoehrer, and a half dozen or dozen people hung out there for an hour or an hour and a half in the evenings to pass the time. A kid with a stripped-down Ford would whiz around, turn circles, and he never did hit a post. This demonstration gave Stoehrer the idea for the ride because it was fascinating to watch and it looked like fun to do. Everybody was automobile crazy then, anyway.
Stoebrer had a partner from Lowell, and one of their rides was the Whip. When Stoehrer got the idea to build the “Dodgem,” his partner wouldn’t let him try it out at Canobie Lake Park [Salem, New Hampshire], because he was afraid a new ride would be competitive with the Whip and would hurt business. Stoehrer needed capital to develop the ride, so he had to look elsewhere and that was toward Salisbury Beach. He figured that Ralph Pratt was one of the few amusement park promoter/investors in the area, so in the summer of 1920, Stoehrer took one homemade car to Salisbury Beach, and that was the first “Dodgem Car.”
Hate to admit that I never rode the Dodgems at Salisbury. Most of the New England parks I visited used Lusse Skooters, with the exception of Lincoln Park which did feature Dodgems that, by the 1960s, had evolved to this rendition.
In 1981, I returned to Salisbury Beach with some friends in hopes of finding some descent amusements. Remember that the Internet was light years away, so little if any information on local amusement parks was available unless there was a news report of an accident. Speaking of which, I was aware that the Wildcat was long gone in the wake of the 1973 fatal accident. So I knew what NOT to expect when we parked the car that July 1981 afternoon. As we entered Shaheen’s Fun-O-Rama, I was pleasantly surprised to find a Flight To Mars portable, dual-level dark ride, proudly displaying the fact that it came from the Seattle World’s Fair. “Wow, a King Kong fun house!” proclaimed one of my friends in response to the gorilla illustration.
Of course, this was far from the truth, but I didn’t want to reveal my geekness with a history lesson. And I’m not going to elaborate here either, other than to say the Flight To Mars (FTM) is a cult classic among we dark ride enthusiasts. If you want to know more about it, read this:
I was the only one interested in riding FTM as the rest of the gang seemed more excited about amusements of the edible type – pizza, burgers, subs, etc. I found this FTM very entertaining, and as expected, the outside themeing didn’t hold up inside the ride. Yet, it had plenty of cool jump scares with flashing lights, loud buzzers, and even Frankenstein’s Monster! As with all FTMs, the ascending and descending elements were added value. I also took in two other cult classics, this duo from Chance Rides of Kanas: the Skydiver and the Toboggan coaster as seen to the right of the photo below:
Since most of you have probably ridden a Skydiver wheel, no need to describe that attraction. But a Toboggan? This list from a forum post on ultimatecoaster.com best sums up my opinion:
* Claustrophobic cages for ride vehicles.
* Insanely large lap bar that crams you into said cage.
* Taller people have their heads brushing against the roof of the car.
* Completely uncomfortable riding position (legs straight out in front of you).
* No clearance between roof of ride vehicle and enclosed lift. If the car got stuck in there, it would be a rather terrifying experience.
* The ride’s main “drop” can re-align your spine if the riders are not braced
Yet, I enjoyed it! (Would not so much now, I’m sure). It was a fun day, and I wish I had brought my camera.
My next trip to Salisbury was late June 1989. My softball team had just played four straight games in hot, humid weather in a Framingham, MA tournament, and the guys were seeking the nearest beach. Some were citing Old Orchard in Maine and I quickly interjected that I believed Salisbury to be the closet one. Bear in mind that I was “held captive” since I was a passenger in my teammate’s mini-van. So while I really wasn’t certain that Salisbury was the nearest beach, I was at least familiar with it. And there was a possibility it still had rides. Riding shotgun in the van, I navigated the way from Framingham to Salisbury using a AAA map; my tired and overheated teammates trailing in the five-vehicle caravan.
We were fortunate that Salisbury Beach wasn’t crowded on this summer Sunday. It had been an overcast day, with the threat of thunderstorms. But it never rained, and the sun broke through just as we were arriving at the beach. It was the first time I swam there, and the ocean water was refreshing. Again, we had played four straight games, starting at 8 a.m. and ending around 2 p.m. That’s 28-innings of softball under humid conditions.
After some time in the ocean, we explored the amusement area. My memories of this are rather fuzzy, but I do recall the Himalaya and my teammates and their families going bonkers over it!
I was already experienced with this kind of ride, having been a veteran rider of Rocky Point’s Musik Express. But apparently, it was a first for my teammates and their families as they took a countless number of circuits, sometimes singing along to the pop songs of the day. I took one ride, and then chilled out under the nearest concession stand roof. But I enjoyed watching my friends have a ball. Again, I wished I had my camera!
My fourth and final visit to Salisbury was a memorable one. It was in the year 2003, and this time it was planned, and I brought my camera. In the next installment, you find out why this visit was one for the books.
To be continued…
The Salisbury Beach Dodgem: A Smashing Ride (1920-1980), Betsy H. Woodman
To experience the Himalaya at Salisbury Beach, go here:
To experience at Flight to Mars dark ride, go here: