Universal Mobility, Incorporated (UMI), was a company based out of Salt Lake City, Utah that existed from approximately 1967 to 1989. UMI was best known for constructing a handful of monorail systems in places such as Hershey, Pennsylvania, Magic Mountain in California, and the Louisiana World’s Fair in 1984. Other products UMI manufactured included tram cars.
The company was founded by Hank Pater, who was born in Rotterdam, Netherlands in 1923. He immigrated to Provo, Utah, after World War II, and later moved to Salt Lake City, Utah. Pater was the primary leader of UMI through most of its history, though he lost some control as debts piled up.
The last three monorail systems UMI constructed all ended up deeply in debt, with all three either defaulting or nearly defaulting on their debt to UMI. The company also operated Miami MetroZoo’s system, and the system at the Louisiana World’s Fair, which resulted in heavy losses for UMI. The system at the world’s fair was the last monorail system UMI constructed. They were bought five years later by a subsidiary of Bombardier.
The early 60s
In 1960, Hendrik “Hank” Pater founded a new corporation in Salt Lake City: Advanced Welding Engineers (AWE). Pater was the company’s president and general manager. In about 1963, AWE merged with another Salt Lake City firm, Steel Contractors, Inc. (SCI), of which Pater became president.
The business these two companies in varied within steel manufacturing, but it would turn to building tramways for ski resorts. One project SCI was part of was a tramway at Treasure Mountains! Park City, the longest gondola high ride in the country at the time. SCI fabricated towers and crossbars for the gondola lift.
In 1965, SCI was involved with another tramway project in New Mexico. Pater served as the principle consulter for SCI. Sometime between then and 1967, Pater left Steel Contractors to form a new company, Constam Corporation. This company was founded to enter the monorail systems market, since monorail systems were growing in popularity.
Constam was awarded the opportunity to build a monorail system that was a mini-monorail system, known as a minirail. This system was designed by Habegger Engineering Works of Thun, Switzerland. Habegger previously installed three minirail systems, two in Europe, and one in Canada for Expo 67.
The opportunity Constam gained was an agreement with Habegger to build a minirail system at the California Exposition in Sacramento, California. The project was announced in December 1967, with the ride scheduled to open in 1968. With no major issues, the minirail system at the Cal Expo opened in 1968 for the California State Fair.
With this first success in 1968, Constam had the chance to move forward with a second minirail system. This project would be on the other side of the country in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Announced in December 1968, the ride that would be called Monorail was scheduled to open in June 1969.
Around the time of the opening of Monorail at Hersheypark, Constam reorganized into Universal Mobility. The company was branded as Unimobil / Habegger and the systems installed at the Cal Expo and Hershey were called Unimobil Type II.
The first monorail UMI would sell after Hershey was a minirail system to Magic Mountain, in Valencia, California. The ride was named Metro and had several stations in the park. Metro opened in 1971.
Metro remained in operation for the next 30 years, closing in 2001. It wasn’t until 2011 that some of Metro was dismantled. The trains for Metro were sold to Hersheypark, along with a small amount of track. Parts of Metro still stand in Six Flags Magic Mountain today, including one of the old stations.
The remainder of the monorails UMI constructed at theme parks were a new system called UM Tourister Type II. Three were constructed: Carowinds (1973), Kings Island (1974), and Kings Dominion (1975). The Carowinds Monorail would be closed in 1994, while the Kings Dominion system would be closed in 1993. The Kings Island system was also closed in 1993. In 1999, Jungle Jim’s International Market purchased the minirail system and it continues to operate to this day.
In the mid-70s, UMI began subcontracting the manufacture of fiberglass components of the trains to a company called Intermountain Design Inc. (IDI), of Salt Lake City. This relationship would continue for as long as UMI would exist.
IDI did have other jobs. This included – a full decade later – designing the lavatory for Air Force One during the George H.W. Bush presidency. IDI would manufacture the fiberglass components of at least the monorail systems built after 1975.
Three other Tourister monorails were built, one at Minnesota Zoological Garden in Apple Valley, Minnesota, which opened in 1979. An agreement was made between UMI and the zoo in August 1977. Only part of the ride officially opened in 1979, with the remainder of the route opening in 1980. It was also subject of a US Department of Transportation winterization test to understand how well certain monorail systems could operate in winter conditions.
The monorail at the Minnesota Zoo was closed in 2013. Officials from the zoo commented that to renovate and update the ride would cost around 40 million dollars, which simply wasn’t feasible.
In 1981, UMI was contracted to build a monorail for the soon opening ZooMetro in Miami, Florida. UMI then contracted Budd Company, of Detroit, Michigan, to assist in the construction of the system.This Tourister system opened in December 1982.
This would lead to UMI’s final monorail – which was built at the 1984 Louisiana World Exposition. UMI decided to create a subsidiary company that was a joint venture between Budd Co. and UMI. This company was named Unimobile 84, Inc. after the minirail system.
While the monorail at the expo was the most popular ride at the event, the exposition itself was not generating the kind of revenues they were expecting. Unimobile 84 pushed to get revenue, and a deal was struck between the company and the fair. However, it was apparent the fair was unable to meet the terms of the agreement. Unimobile 84 eventually sued the fair organizers themselves to get payment; this did not fare well in the courts (pun not intended). Unimobile 84 took the case to Federal Appeals Court, in which they lost.
It was apparent that this venture hurt Universal Mobility, Inc., as they would not sell another monorail after this point. The Transportation Group, Inc. (TGI), a branch of Bombardier Inc., purchased UMI in 1989. The most valuable asset was a new design UMI had been working on, which was the UMI Type III monorail. TGI would go on to use some of the Type III designs in other projects.
UMI did offer a few other systems, though none of these ever seemed to be sold. One system was a UNIMOBIL Transporter System. Another was a tram service called Unimobil Unitram. The tram was available for sale in at least 1985-1986.
This is the complete history of Universal Mobility, Incorporated, from the 1960s to the end of the 1980s. Out of their nine minirail systems, four still operate today, including their oldest two. For a company that has been defunct for nearly 30 years, with a system long since outdated, that’s a pretty good accomplishment.
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I have a wide variety of interests, from sports to politics, music to Star Trek. I write about the history of amusement parks on my website, The Amusement Parkives, which I founded in 2016.