Bell's Amusement Park
by Rick Davis
1 : an exhibition or display of optical effects and illusions
2 a : a constantly shifting complex succession of things seen or imagined b : a scene that constantly changes
3 : a bizarre or fantastic combination, collection, or assemblage
|What a perfect name for a classic dark ride! Bob Bell, president of Bells Amusement Park, thought so too when he came up with the name over 25 years ago. Bobs personal definition of phantasmagoria is " The sensation of something moving rapidly towards or away from you." This definition is appropriate today as the almost 50 year old park approaches the new millennium with plans to expand and update. Before we look to the future, lets take a brief look at the history of Bells Park.|
|Bob Bells father laid the foundation for what was to come just after World War II. He began by making flat kiddy rides such as car rides, carousels, airplane rides (made of WW II fighter belly tanks) and 12" gauge train rides. A lot of these ended up in drive-in movie theater playgrounds, but it was the start of his involvement with the amusement park industry. In March of 1951 Mr. Bell decided to start his own amusement park as a kiddieland. Throughout the 1960s and 70s the park grew into a more family oriented park. During the 1970s the park began opening only in the late afternoons due to the stifling heat combined with competition from the local lakes and the new water parks which attracted the day business.|
In 1976 Bob became president of Bells Amusement Park. With the dawning of 1981, the park started feeling the effects of the loss of income from employees of the oil and agriculture industries, the same problems affecting parks in Texas and Georgia. Bells, however, had the wear-with-all to stick it out until better times came back and is still going strong today.
|In 1971 or 72, Bob and his father decided that a dark attraction was needed at the park so they headed off to the East Coast to do some research. What they liked most were the gory attractions built by Freddie Mahanon and Bill Tracy. Although New Jersey had some fantastic walkthroughs, complete with attendants haunting the insides, they thought that is was a bit too risky for them. They decided on a Tracy dark ride, but what to name it? Bobs dad was looking for just the right name something dealing with gore and phantasms. Bob blended the two words together and came up with the name Phantasmagoria, finding a word that described the dark ride experience perfectly.|
|This Tracy ride with its Wacky Shack style front, is housed in a 63 X 72 building containing one of the longer classic dark rides built, about a 7 minute trip. The ride as originally constructed had two dips in the track. It had the traditional exposed dip in front and also had a second dip, in the dark, at the rear.|
|Despite signs warning riders against taking stuffed animals and other objects on the ride, problems arose when these items were dropped on the track in the path of following cars. When this happened on the dips, it sometimes slowed or stopped the next car as it was attempting to make it to the top of the hill. The dips were made shallower in an attempt to correct the problem, but the ultimate solution was the removal of both dips.|
|The cars themselves
were built in house. Bells designed and built the chassis and drive system, which
was originally designed to free wheel on the dips. The body shells came from Lake
Winnepesaukah in Roseville, Georgia. A son-in-law of Evelyn White, the parks owner
at the time, created the bodies which Bells installed on their own frames.
Bells also made the cars for the dark rides at Joyland in Wichita, Kansas and Wonderland in Amarillo, Texas. They sent cars to Indiana Beach at Monticello, Indiana for them to copy also.
Phantasmagoria has a somewhat weathered appearance today due to its age and vandalism,
long awaited contract negotiations with the fairgrounds (which owns the property) really
prevented its upgrade. Fortunately, a new contract will allow the expansion of the park
into the current parking lot and make rebuilding the dark ride economically viable.
In keeping with its family park image and in an attempt to cater to a younger market, the renovations to the dark ride may result in less gore and a more illuminated ride. Although there are no firm plans yet, the new ride may be a Sally Corp. style ride either with or without the shooting gallery concept.
If you have never been to the park, you may want to ride Phantasmagoria now, before it is remodeled into a state of the art dark ride in the next few years.
Interview with Bob Bell- August 9 1999
Definition from Webster Dictionary
This article and all photos are © 1999 by Rick Davis. Used with permission.
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This page was last updated Monday, November 22, 1999