When I was a youngster visiting Lincoln Park in Dartmouth, Massachusetts, everything seemed larger than life. There was an enormous head looming over kiddieland as you can see in the photo below. He was the giant from Jack And The Beanstock – one of many displays created in the park by artist-in-residence Dom Spadolla.
As you can see above, there was a giant totem pole as well, and even the Fun House figures, although intended to be life-size, were at least seven-feet tall.
And at first glance by a pair of young eyes, Lincoln Park’s Tonnerville Trolley ride looked like an oversized hut on wheels.
Believed to have debuted at Lincoln Park in the 1950s, the Trolley was the creation of the Pretzel Amusement Ride Company of Bridgeton, New Jersey. In 1928, Pretzel invented the single-rail dark ride. The Trolley ride was inspired by and patented on Fontaine Fox’s comic strip that ran from 1908 to 1955. The Trolley employed the same undercarriage, track and electrical pickup as a standard Pretzel dark ride car like this one.
In July 2004, my laffinthedark.com colleague Bill Luca and I had the honor of visiting William Cassidy who directed the Pretzel company at the time of the Trolley’s creation. Mr. Cassidy told us that the Trolley usually ran on 200-feet of track, and that the coach, which held 12 children, was brightly painted in waterproof enamels. He added that the first installation was in Wildwood, NJ, as seen below.
Mr. Cassidy informed us that he was very fond of the Trolley and was proud to pitch it amusement parks throughout the country.
Like a Pretzel dark ride, the Trolley zig-zagged throughout its course. But unlike a dark ride, the Trolley ran in broad daylight and presented nothing frightening for youngsters, well, on the surface anyway. The one and only time I rode one — Lincoln Park’s to be exact – was in 1960 at age six. As you probably know by now, I’d already ridden my share of thrilling and frightening dark rides, fun houses and roller coasters by then, so I saw this as an easy gig. Little did I know… Right off the bat, I was perturbed that somebody, probably Dom, had transformed the plywood cutout conductor figure to Woody Woodpecker! I despised that bird and his cartoons, seeing him as the ultimate instigator — like the kid at school who put bubble gum in your hair!
My hatred for Woody aside, I politely scooted over to the end of the bench (closest to Woody, ugh) as requested by the elderly ride operator. I’m certain that the Trolley boarded the maximum 12 small passengers who gleefully looked out the windows and waved to their parents standing behind the fence in the loading area. The ride op instructed us to sit tight, and with a slight jerking motion, off we went, rattling our way over a metal track mounted over plywood. I actually enjoyed the jostling the ride offered and thought perhaps it was going to be more fun than I anticipated. That was until a little girl started crying, setting off a chain reaction of hysterical kids. I didn’t get it — I was totally confused by this sudden sorrow. But something kicked in — I’m not why or what — but suddenly I started pointing to Plywood Woody and announced to my weeping passengers, “Hey, look who’s driving the car! It’s Woody Woodpecker! Nothing’s going to happen to us with Woody in charge!” And worst yet, I started singing the cartoon’s theme song, “A-ha-ha-ha-ha! It’s the Woody Woodpecker Show!” as the other kids joined in.
So, when we returned to the station, the new Woody Woodpecker fans no longer had their beaks out of joint, and seemingly forgot the calamity that transpired one minute earlier. This was not lost on the ride operator who came over to shake my hand.
“Thanks kid,” he beamed, “I thought for sure I was going to have to stop the Trolley out there and run over and unload those kids. I hate doing that, and the parents… they always get upset and start running into the infield too. But you saved the day!”
My grandmother also saw the whole thing, and said she was proud of me.
“I think you should be a school teacher when you grow up,” she piped.
So as we left Lincoln Park that summer afternoon, I started thinking that Woody Woodpecker might not be so bad after all.
On second thought….
To read more about the inventors of the Tonnerville Trolley ride, go to: