About Me

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Bumpers or Dodgems?

Dodgem Car Pavilion in Rock Springs Park in 1970 (Courtesy of Richard Bowker)

Several years after Rock Springs Park closed, Chester’s annual school picnic was held at the City Park. The football field became a midway of portable games, rides, and even a side show with two-headed creatures in big glass jars. Two events stand out from the summer of 1975 and Chester’s makeshift amusement park.

First, I discovered I have motion sickness after riding the Round Up and second, I remember a kid who was trying to drive his bumper car in a wide circle around the track as if he was training to be a future defensive driver. He was shouting at people to get out of the way and angered when someone intentionally bumped into him. This made him a prime target for the rest of us. Who gets on a bumper car and spends the whole time dodging and weaving to avoid getting bumped? I thought of this artful dodger when I learned that Bumper Cars were originally called Dodgem Cars. Maybe that kid had it right.

Still one of the most popular rides at amusement parks today, bumper cars date back to 1920. The first bumper car ride was invented by Max and Harold Stoehrer of Methuen, Massachusetts. Their invention was called the Dodgem. These rides allowed people to bump into each other and were so popular that others decided to get in on the action. Two cousins, Joseph and Robert Lusse of Philadelphia owned a machine shop that supplied roller coaster parts to Philadelphia Toboggan Company (PTC). In 1922 the Lusses filed their first patent for a bumper car. Over the years, they filed a total of nine patents for their “Lusse Skooters.”

The bumper cars in Rock Springs Park were made by Lusse Brothers in 1941.(Courtesy of Rich Brookes)

At the eleventh hour, I changed one photograph in my book from an image of my mother’s park bench to one of a restored Rock Springs Park 1941 Lusse Skooter. It had been restored by Weirton resident David Rhodes and appeared on Ebay in December 2009. Rhodes, who has been doing this type of restoration work since he was a kid, gave me permission to use his images and shared his experience working on the car and visiting Rock Springs Park.

(Courtesy of David Rhoades.)

"Joe, I don't remember riding the cars. I went to the park in the late 50s and early 60s. As for the car I have, I did the restoration all except the upholstery. I have done this type work since I was fifteen. I am sending you some pictures of my car, you can use them how you wish. I bought this car three years ago from Gary Wasmer who bought 12 of them from Earl Cuppy about fifteen years ago. I bought the last two Gary had left. I have been told Earl Cuppy bought a lot of the rides from the park not just the bumper cars. I went to the park when I was a kid and just wanted to have a piece of history."

(Courtesy of David Rhoades.)

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