Interview with William Cassidy of Pretzel

Conducted by Bret Malone

Over the past several years, I have had the pleasure of knowing and talking to Mr. William Cassidy of the now defunct Pretzel Ride Company. A legend in itself, Pretzel built over 1400 Dark Rides worldwide, thanks in part to the driving skill and leadership of Mr. Cassidy and his father Leon Cassidy with lots of creative help from some of the very best artists the world would ever see. At a young age of 85 he still has the wit and charm of someone who loved both his work, and the people who enjoyed his very special rides. Here are some of the highlights of our conversations:

For those who do not know, tell us how the ride came to be: CASSIDY: "My father, Leon Cassidy, was managing Tumbling Dam Park in Bridgeton NJ and had a few vacant buildings there. He also had a few old ride cars and came up with the idea of putting a single rail track in one of the buildings, and adding double wheel, flanged wheels to the bottom of the cars to act as an guide. The actual Pretzel shapes on the front sides of the cars were used as a counterweight to keep the car from flipping backwards. The name Pretzel was chosen after a rider commented that" "It felt like I was turned and twisted like a Pretzel".

Where was the factory located and what became of it: CASSIDY: "It was located on South Street in Bridgeton. We bought an old Trolley Barn and converted it to our manufacturing facility. I sold the rights to build the rides in 1979, but hanged on to the buildings for a few more years. I think now the two buildings are occupied by a pallet factory and a mini-warehouse, not located in the best part of town either"

Who was the Factory foreman: CASSIDY: "I had a longtime employee, Elmer Lawrence who was my right hand. Amazingly enough, he could not read or write, but came up with the whole idea of the portable, double-decker ride. He helped me more than I could have ever asked".

Where did most of the parts come from: CASSIDY: "I liked to use local companies as much as possible, to try to give something back to the economy. The L.E. Hettinger machine shop fabricated all of the machine parts and the spraying and finishing of parts was handled by another local firm". How were the rides transported, once sold: "We had a huge moving van we used. It had Made In Bridgeton written on the sides. We always liked to publicize our hometown. Towns from Florida to California saw our truck".

Who were some of the artists that did work for you: CASSIDY: " We used a lot of different people, but there were three main guys, Howard Hewlitt was with us from the early days, of course everyone knows about Bill Tracey and Slick Reynold's, plus Shirley Simmons too. They were all very eccentric in their own ways, but I learned to except it. I would use whoever was available at the time. Of course Tracey would do his own series of rides like his Wacky Shacks, sometimes we would even be bidding against each other like the ride Waldameer Park wanted. I lost to him on that one".

Tracey is indeed well known, what about Mr. Simmons: CASSIDY: "He was from Wildwood NJ. I think that Shirley had graduated from an art school in Paris. He also did a bunch of work on Hollywood movie sets. He usually did his work with his helper Larry O' Shea, and always had one of his nine Eskimo dogs around him. Shirley did all the artwork on our first portable double decker ride, the Caveman that I sold to Alvin Lefleur who booked it with Amusements of America in 1964. That ride, the Caveman, was a beauty. It featured a 24 foot caveman figure on the facade along with sea creatures, all built out of foam"

What was another favorite ride of yours: CASSIDY: "Probably the one we did in Atlantic City on the Million Dollar Pier. It was a classy ride with an oriental theme and a huge Dragon on the front. I think Tracey did the facade and stunts on that ride, a theme he liked to use a lot in his work. It was also a double decker ride too. That ride was a legend up there".

I Know that you have met a bunch of different people in your travel's, are there any funny times or stories that you recall? CASSIDY: "Well, once I had to go down to Clarksboro West Virginia to help with installing a new ride. The two fellows that I was to instruct were deaf! However, they were so cleaver and quick to learn that I ended up having no trouble whatsoever. Another good one was when we were installing the ride at the Casino Pier up at Wildwood, NJ. The whole ride was below the pier except for the facade and loading area. You would board the cars on the pier, then go down a ramp to the darkened tent area below the pier and to all the stunts. I stayed up almost all night finishing this ride so it would be up and running the next day, but forgot to lock the cars onto the track for the lift up. So the next day comes and we open the ride. A young gentleman, maybe in his mid-twenties is the first person to ride. He gives us his ticket and down he goes. Everything was all right until his car came to the lift back up. He was about two/thirds up when the car flipped over backwards and he fell all the way down to the bottom. He got up, dusted himself off, walked up the lift and said: "Boy, that’s sure one heckava ride mister! "Then simply walked away! He thought that’s what the ride was supposed to do! Can you imagine if that happened today?! I would have been sued in a minute!"

You sold a lot of rides to Carnivals also, what was it like to work with those people? CASSIDY: "They had there own way about them, but for the most part were very nice .I never really had any problems except for one guy who had one of my rides down in Atlanta at a fair on a concession type basis. Each year, I never could get this one guy to pay me my share of the take. So, finally, I got smart. I would drive down there on the last day of the fair, right before closing time when I knew he would be in his office counting up the money. I'd just walk right in and hold out my hand and say: O.K., where's mine too? Ha Ha, Then I would enjoy a nice drive back through the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina. I sold a bunch of rides over the years that were portable, two-story models to several different Carnival companies. We also had a lot out there on a concession type deal for those who could not own one outright. They always grossed as much money as all the other big rides did, and sometimes even did better!"

pz2-300.jpg (13224 bytes)What most don't know is that you also had a line of kiddie rides, correct? CASSIDY: "Yes, we did. We produced a strong line of kiddie rides right in our own factory. We had the Thunderbird Jr. Ride, which was a turnpike car type of ride, also the Toonerville Trolley, Whirlo, which was like a spinning tubs style ride and our flashiest, the Kiddie Circus ride which featured wild animals, trapeeze act, animated cages and a calliope".

Why did you end up selling the company? CASSIDY: "Well, I had been in the business a long time, sold a lot of rides and really enjoyed my work, I just felt it was time to give it up. Things had begun to change. People stopped taking responsibility for themselves and wanted to blame others for their own mistakes, the world had started to become sue-happy. People were too quick to call a lawyer for any little thing".

Were there any other ride companies that you respected? CASSIDY: "There were a bunch of the other guy's that I liked, Allen Hershell, Ben Schiff, there were a lot of good companies back then".

O.K., I have to ask your opinion on Harry Traver? CASSIDY: "It was no big secret that he copied my dad's ride. We did it first and all he did was copy a lot of our ideas and work. At first my father took him to court over the matter, but after realizing that Traver’s was an inferior ride and wouldn’t be much of a success, he dropped the lawsuit. I don't think he sold that many of those rides either".

You are right, not many were sold. Have you any idea if any of your great artists are still living? CASSIDY: "As most people already know, Tracey passed away several years ago. The only one that I’ve heard from was Shirley Simmons and that was several years ago. I’m not so sure where he is now or if he is even alive, but last I had heard, he was somewhere down south. I did hear from Conrad Haney whose father had worked for me some time ago as a sale's agent. He also owned a few of my rides, I think his son did own one too. Conrad is also down south and doing fine, that’s about it though. I did have a fellow who was interested in my Company’s rides go all the way to England a few years back to do some research on them, but I think he found that there were not any left operating".

Some of your most beloved rides by enthusiasts were the 1950's "Spinning installations" your most famous being the one at Coney, your thought's? CASSIDY: "Those were some neat cars, another original idea by us. I didn't think at the time when the one at Coney was being built that the idea of so much track outside was a good one, nevertheless, that’s what they wanted, so that's what we gave them. I think only a small past is left now". Any final comments? "It has been an interesting life and most of the memories recall pleasant times and the meeting of many interesting people".

Thank You Mr. Cassidy, and a big Thank You from your Fan's! FINI.

Pretzel Parts

All photo's in this article from the "Laff" Collection and are © William Cassidy and used with permission.

This article is © 1999 by Laff In The Dark

 

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