It may have not been in your top five list of favorite rides at Rocky Point Park, but your experience on the bumper cars had to be one of the most memorable. Where else could you purposely slam into another motorist and not see a claim filed against your insurer? It’s certain that much of folks’ real life frustrations were exorcised among the flying sparks and grinding sheet metal in a Rocky Point bumper car pavilion.
Rocky Point’s first bumper cars, the Dodgems, came as early as 1922 as seen, circled in red, on this map.
Below are two rare photos of Rocky Point’s Dodgem in the early 1920s.
The genesis of bumper cars is a contested issue. Some claim that Victor Levand from General Electric insisted that it was his brainchild, while others state that it was Max and Harold Stoehrer of Massachusetts. The original patent, for the Dodgems did come from the Stoehrer Brothers in December 1920 making Rocky Point’s one of the earlier Dodgem installations.
In it’s February 2017 article, The History of Bumper Cars: A Bumpy Road, Charleton Fun Park writes, “As is often the case, these cars were not the embodiment of safe fun that they are now. The cars were originally made of tin and came apart almost as often as they were used. Considered “unmanageable” by Scientific American, bumper cars were swiftly given a few upgrades to improve its poor reputation of safety.”
There are no known interior photos of Rocky Point’s Dodgem ride prior the park’s 1938 hurricane-forced closure. However this graphic shows you how Dodgems evolved over that time period.
When Rocky Point officially reopened in 1948 after a ten-year hiatus, it debuted with another brand of bumper cars: the Lusse Auto-Skooters.
In his November 1997 article, “A Short History of Bumper Cars: Going Bump In The Night”, Seth Gussow describes the Skooters emergence on the scene.
This success attracted the attention of cousins Joseph C. and Robert J. (known as Ray) Lusse, who ran the Lusse Brothers machine shop in Philadelphia supplying roller coaster parts to Philadelphia Toboggan. Ray Lusse understood that not only did people want to bang into one another, they wanted to choose who it was they collided with. Even Dodgem admitted that with their cars, “until you have learned how, you go somewhere, but you don’t go where you intend going.”
The motor, instead of being positioned under the seat as it had been since the Dodgem, was mounted vertically in the front of the car. Power was transmitted through two couplings to a ring-and-pinion assembly that had a small wheel and tire keyed to each end of the output shaft, like the BMW Isetta. The whole final drive was mounted on bearings and could be aimed in any direction by turning the steering wheel.
These 1966 interior photos of Rocky Point’s Skooters show a mix of 1947 and 1953 model Skooters — look at the difference in the grills.
The Skooters were housed in a pavilion designed by Jack Ray, featuring Art Deco trimmings.
During the 1970s, Rocky Point added another bumper car pavilion, this one with Italian imports, to its midway.
The new building was destroyed by the Blizzard of 1978, but the cars survived and were moved to the older pavillion to replace the larger Skooters…or were they the same? That’s where some clariforcation is needed. The cars in the newer pavilion received their electricity from the floor, while the replacements in the Skooter building tapped both the ceiling grid and the floor for current as seen in the photo below.
So where they the same cars, or where they modified when they were moved?
In words of Seth Gussow:
In 1989 Ray Lusse, Jr., got in trouble with the IRS, but he lasted until 1994 when, in the words of an associate, “he spent all his money and died.” Rights to the Auto-Skooter design were sold to Designs International in Dallas, and the remaining parts inventory was sold piecemeal by the Lusses’ last landlord in Montgomeryville, Pennsylvania. Majestic Manufacturing of New Waterford, Ohio, still makes both trailer-mounted and permanent rides, but the cars now all come from Italy.
A closer look at the cars in the above photo shows the word “Skooter”. So were these cars the later rendition Skookers? Below are two 1972 model Skooters that appear to be the same models in the photo above.
As Rocky Point moved into the 1990s, the original Skooter pavilion was stripped of its Art Deco trimmings.
And sadly, the pavilion was destroyed by this June 2001 three-alarm fire.
A restored 1953 model Skooter from Rocky Point is on display at the Metro Honda dealorship in Johnston, RI. Below are three photos I shot.
If you’re looking to ride an authentic Lusse Auto-Skooter, look no further than Knoebel’s Amusement Resort in Elysburg, PA. The park has an amazingly-maintained ride with a great mix of Lusse models produced over the decades. It’s a demolition derby back in time!
So that’s your three-point turn back into Rocky Point’s bumper car history. Again, clarification on the post 1978 Blizzard installation is welcome. Please respond in the comments below.
To mark the former site of this legal road rage, here’s my proposed interpretive sign for Rocky Point State Park.