Crunch time at Rocky Point Park!

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.

Dodge3
1922 Sanborn map of Rocky Point from the John Hay Library at Brown University, through the research of Tim Forsberg.

Below are two rare photos of Rocky Point’s Dodgem in the early 1920s.

Dodge1
Photo credit: John Carothers
Dodge2
Photo credit: Jake Tasho

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 The cars were originally made of tin and came apart almost as often as they were used.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.

Dodgem_layout_fpo_hi_res

When Rocky Point officially reopened in 1948 after a ten-year hiatus, it debuted with another brand of bumper cars: the Lusse Auto-Skooters.

Skooter1
Rocky Point Skooters in 1954. Photo credit: John Barchi

 

Skooter Ad

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.

Jake2
Courtesy of Jake Tasho

 

Jake1
Courtesy of Jake Tasho
Jake3
Courtesy of Jake Tasho
1947
1947 Skooter
1953
1953 Skooter

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Skooters were housed in a pavilion designed by Jack Ray, featuring Art Deco trimmings.

Skooter2
Photo credit: Anita Cerri Ferla and the You Must Be this Tall movie collection.
Skooter Facade
Providence Journal photo

 

During the 1970s,  Rocky Point added another bumper car pavilion, this one with Italian imports, to its midway.

 

Italy
Photo by Mark Thompson
New Scooter
Photo by Mark Thompson
Imports
Promotional brochure photo

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.

Creelman Skooter
Photo by Marilyn Creeman

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.

1972 Two

1972

As Rocky Point moved into the 1990s, the original Skooter pavilion was stripped of its Art Deco trimmings.

1996

 

And sadly, the pavilion was destroyed by this June 2001 three-alarm fire.

Dan Paquette
Photo credit: Dan Paquette

 

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.

Skooter Met Skooter MetroSkooter Met 4

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!

knoebels-2015-scooters-9
Photo by Negative G
Knoebels-2004-Scooter-3
Photo by Negative G

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.

Sign

 

 

 

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One thought on “Crunch time at Rocky Point Park!

  1. Hi George – great article on the bumper cars history at Rocky Poin.! And I have learned something new today! I always thought that since the new building was destroyed in the Blizzard of ’78 and the old building received new cars at approximately the same time, that they were simply moved down the midway to replace the older Lusse skooter vehicles. But if you look closely at the cars while in both buildings as shown in the pics above, it’s clear that they are different models altogether. The cars in the new building had rectangular headlights and defined lines sculpted into the hoods, while the newer replacements in the old building had neither – but did have the distinctive medallion on the hood. These photos show that these were two very different vehicles, and there goes my theory of the recycled Italian Skooter cars.

    Liked by 1 person

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