Pleasure Island Attractions
September 20, 1959 Photo from Judy Clark of Stoneham
Picture from 1963 brochure

Chisolm Trail as I remember the ride:

The car was a Horseless Carriage and as it entered the ride Western music was in the background. The first area is vague but I think it was an open range scene. As the car moved on you came across an angry Long Horn which made a noise. The next turn you went by some buildings as if to be entering a town. One of the first buildings on the right is where the spotter could sit and watch for trouble.

Now you entered the town and there was a scene of a hanging on the left next to the jail. As the car passed you heard a "Boing" and the body of the dummy hanging would drop with the neck stretched (late 60's only the sound worked). The car would now turn right and you would enter the Bar Room. The Piano Player starts playing (again late 60's he didn't move) and there is a Gunfighter in the corner. As you get closer the Gunfighter would raise his gun and shoot at you (gun sound and red light in end of gun). In the late 60's the arm was held up but the sound and light worked. Finally you would exit the ride.

My favorite place when I was a spotter was in jail and as the cars came by reaching out at the people. I remember one day myself and another operator (don't remember who) stood still by the Hangman and would jump at the cars as they passed. Well one car had a boy in it that didn't like the ride at all and as we jumped out he started to scream. Then he jumped out of the car and ran backwards through the ride "yelling the dummies are coming alive." We both had to run and grab him before he was hit by the next car. We were more careful after that not to scare people too much.

Richard Krol


As told by Bill Bell...

I graduated from Reading High in 1962, applied for, and got a job at Pleasure Island. The pay was a resounding $1.10 an hour. What I didn't realize at the time was that many of the staff only got $1.00 an hour, and the 10% premium was for the more physically demanding positions. (Or maybe it was a gender issue… we'll never know.) In any event, I was assigned to operate the ominous sounding "dark rides."

There were two basically identical rides, a Western-themed one called The Old Chisolm Trail and an undersea/nautical themed one called The Wreck of the Hesperus. I started on the former and moved to the latter for no apparent reason that I can recall. The dark rides were not actually dark, but were illuminated with black lights to show off the fluorescent paint on the scenery inside. It was all static displays with recycling tape tracks for sound effects. The sounds, except for the background music, were roughly synchronized with the arrival of cars at certain points and triggered by switches in the entrance and exit doors and at several points inside the rides. Memorable examples were the piano music/gunfight tape that ran whenever a car pushed open the saloon doors inside the Old Chisholm Trail and King Neptune's deep-voiced dire warning of "Beware ye who have desecrated my kingdom" as cars exited The Wreck of the Hesperus. Still, with cars going in and coming out every few seconds, it seemed like incessant droning to those of us who were there for eight-hour shifts. Eventually, I think, it stopped registering and just became something in the background - like a grandfather clock in your home that you don't notice until it isn't chiming.

The rides were an OSHA nightmare as far as passenger and, especially, operator safety was concerned. The 220-volt "live" rail that powered the cars was fully exposed. The rail was always "hot" inside the ride and intermittently "hot" in the loading and unloading area. The control panel consisted of four buttons that applied power to the sections of track in the loading and unloading area. With a little practice, an operator could move the cars smoothly along the track; stopping them so people could get out, then moving them past the barrier so that the next group could clamber aboard. You had to pay attention to several things at once when it was crowded. Sometimes the cars were balky or lurched suddenly (particularly when the controls were affected by rainy weather) as passengers were getting in or out, but people seemed to take it in stride and I don't recall anyone ever getting hurt. (The most dangerous time, when wet weather posed a danger of short circuits, was ironically when people were the happiest to be going inside where it was dry.)

Once the passengers were settled in their seats, the operator moved the car forward until the live rail inside the ride took over. Once people were inside the ride, everything was supposed to be on autopilot. At least, that's how it was supposed to work. Strange things could - and did - happen. Sometimes cars lost power and died, and the next car along would wind up pushing them through. The cars moved at walking speed, so the impact was minimal. But mechanical problems were to be expected, and the maintenance crew did a pretty good job of keeping things up and running. We soon learned, however, that passengers - particularly teens of the male variety - tended to disembark and damage the scenery or hop from one car to another as a sort of daredevil thing. We generally had three or four operators on a shift: one to operate the control panel, and the others to manage traffic and help load or unload cars as needed. Often, one of us would either ride in the car (usually sitting on the stern behind the passengers) with a potentially rowdy group or simply go inside and wait for them at the places where people usually got out or caused trouble.

Needless to say, we took this damage control duty very seriously. Right. Sure we did. We also went inside to check out the couples or to scare the wits out of people when things were slow. We would settle into a static display and look like part of the scenery, wait until just the right moment, and suddenly move towards the car like some demented creature out of a 1930's horror film. And, oh yes, we never gave a thought to the exposed high voltage rails in spite getting some pretty numbing shocks from them. To compound the situation, on hot days the operators would carry water pistols and ambush each other. Water and high voltage electricity… hmmm, it's a wonder nobody got seriously hurt.

More from Bill Bell



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