WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — The warmer temperatures have arrived, and soon thoughts will turn to summertime fun.
What’s more fun than a day at the amusement park? For many Wichitans and south-central Kansas residents, Joyland is a fond memory of a place long gone.
Joyland operated from 1949 until 2004, and then briefly opened in 2006, but then closed for good. Over the years, it fell into disrepair and was the victim of vandalism and numerous fires.
While we’re lucky we can still enjoy the beautiful carousel thanks to it being donated to Botanica and restored, many of the rides we once enjoyed are now long gone. The famous wooden coaster, which was partially destroyed by the wind in 2015, met its end that same year and was torn down.
The Log Jam burned down. And just the month before that, the famous and historic Whacky Shack also burned down. So many memories for so many people are now gone.
The Whacky Shack was added to Joyland in 1974 and was one of just a few in existence built by the famed amusement ride creator Bill Tracy. Tracy first made a name for himself, creating costumes and floats for Barnum and Bailey Circus and then exclusively for Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parades.
According to the website Oceancity.com, a website promoting tourism for the city of Ocean City Maryland, Tracy developed a unique nighttime parade that used a series of incandescent and ultraviolet lights. Tracy’s work with Macy’s also caught the eye of amusement parks.
After several years of work building displays, he transitioned to creating what are known as “dark rides.” Dark rides are rides that are indoors and use a vehicle of some type to guide guests through areas that can contain animation, moving parts, sounds, and special lighting, a prime example being the now long-gone Whacky Shack.
So, what if there was a place you could go to see some of those old Joyland memories again in person? A place where The Scrambler still spins, the train still chugs, Dodge’em Bumper cars smack together? A place where a kid can still play like they’re riding a 70s-style dirt bike, in all its speckled paint glory?
Most importantly, a place to enjoy the Whacky Shack again and all the campiness that involves. That place exists if you’re willing to make the trip.
About halfway between Cleveland, Ohio, and Buffalo, New York, right off Interstate 90, along the shores of Lake Erie in far northwest Pennsylvania is the city of Erie. Erie is home to Waldameer Park and Water World.
The park has been there in one form or another for over 100 years. However, at about the same time that Stanley and Margaret Nelson took ownership of Joyland from the Ottoway family, another unrelated Nelson had taken the reigns of Waldameer Park from his adopted parents.
During his tenure, Paul Nelson has overseen a major expansion of the park, which has included adding the waterpark element and the log flume ride. KSN spoke with the 90-year-old Nelson by telephone, who says they are about to undergo another expansion. The expansion will include a new indoor facility that will house year-round attractions that can be enjoyed in fall and winter.
As for the similar rides Joyland shared with Waldameer, Nelson tells me he and the Nelsons at Joyland just bought from the same companies, as many of the family-run parks did during that time period. Nelson says he never buys used rides and parts because of the liability should they break down and injure someone.
When it came to purchasing new trains, both the owners of Joyland and Paul Nelson of Waldameer went to Wichita’s own Chance Rides, formerly Chance Amusements. Aside from the paint schemes, Waldameer and Joyland’s trains were nearly identical.
Nelson says he was long-time friends with Stanley and Margaret Nelson. In fact, they were all friends with several other amusement park operators, including Paul and Alethea Roads, who owned Wonderland Amusement Park in Amarillo, Texas.
Paul Roads, who was originally from the Augusta, Kansas area, was a welder by trade. He used those skills to construct his own dark ride by hand, called the Fantastic Journey. While it is similar in design to a Bill Tracy Whacky Shack, its interior animations and features were purchased from a different company.
Wonderland is also home to several of the same types of rides that were once at Joyland. It also has the advantage of being only a 6-hour drive from Wichita if you don’t want to venture too far away.
Still, if you are willing to make the drive to northwestern Pennsylvania, you will get to see the true Whacky Shack in all of its original glory, as it has been meticulously maintained over the years. It even still has its famous “dip” in the middle that was removed from the Joyland version, as you can see in the video above.
If you’d like to see more of the park, YouTuber The Carpetbagger does a complete walkthrough of Waldameer, including a trip through the Whacky Shack. He also has walkthroughs of thousands of amusement parks and attractions from across North America that are definitely worth exploring if you are a fan of amusement parks.
Waldameer fully opens for the season on June 3. For more information, including directions and ticket info, click here.