Two things have sparked me to write this post today. One, was a recent post on my Facebook wall, and the other, well, it is the end of the school year for many, and that means for graduating seniors, filling their final Summer as a high school student before most likely heading off to college.
Amusement parks are a great employer for young adults to earn money during the summer. They offer a variety of jobs from environmental (cleaning up patron’s litter), food and game concessions, and of course operating rides.
I spent two Summers working at Dorney Park (and I am intentionally referring to it that way – I will explain later on in this post). My first was at the end of my sophomore year, being only 15 years of age, I worked the game concession stands. Because of my age, my hours were restricted, and the pay, well, that was not great either as the park was not required to pay the minimum wage (which at the time I believe was $3.35 an hour). But there were perks, discounted food, and of course, I was able to ride the rides following my shifts for free.
My senior year of high school would be the most fun working at Dorney Park. I was a ride operator for nearly every ride in the park. That also was paid less than the minimum wage, $2.35 an hour, and the hours were horrendous. On weekends you could end up working a 12 hour shift. But then again, the perks of being a “cool” ride operator, made it all worth it. I made so many friends that year. And like I said, I got to operate nearly every ride. My favorites were the Sea Dragon and Thunder Creek Mountain.
I do not do amusement parks much anymore these days, but my children definitely enjoy them. My oldest is a seasoned roller coaster enthusiast, and my youngest is not far behind, hampered mostly by height restrictions until she is tall enough.
My children will never really get to experience the memories of a “family” amusement park like Dorney Park once used to be. Once a free admission park, you only paid for tickets to ride the rides. In fact, you used to be able to drive through the middle of the park for no reason, other than to just tease the kids on your way somewhere or running an errand. They enjoy the mega amusement parks, but for those of us, who grew up with the simpler amusement rides, I can think of only one park anymore that may still hold that feeling yet, Knoebel’s Grove in Pennsylvania. Still a free park I believe, Knoebel’s builds itself with “retired” amusement rides, and yes, they have some quality roller coasters.
Back in the day, Dorney Park was not only known for it’s “free admission”, but for its stock car races that my father used to take me to as a young boy, and also free fireworks located on the old parking lot hill next to the wooden roller coaster (hmmm… fireworks near a wooden structure probably wasn’t the greatest idea, but they avoided any problems until…).
But in the Fall of 1983, my opinion of amusement parks would change forever. Upon arriving at the park, to pick up my end of season “bonus check”, along with many of my friends and co-workers, we stood in shock watching not only what was our employment, but for most of us, our childhood memories, go up in flames.
The Sea Dragon, actually the first ride that I ever operated that year, still stands to this day. However, the majority of the park, including the origin of the fire (an unattended grill being cleaned next to a wooden structure – the carousel), was decimated. Another fire would also destroy another memory, a wooden building called Castle Gardens, a dance/roller skating hall, in the early morning hours, again, also unattended. But my childhood memories, except for the pictures, are all gone from Dorney Park.
What would rise from the ashes is a monster of a park, no, two parks actually. And I will not begrudge patrons who truly enjoy Dorney Park and Wildwater Kingdom. I have actually been to both with my daughters in the past, and they love the park. But they will truly never be able to have the appreciation, or the memories of what once stood there decades ago.