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What Could Have Been | Hersheypark in the mid-1980s

In 1983, Hersheypark began drafting operations capital requirements for the years 1984 to 1988. What was created wasn’t a plan for the park to follow, just an idea of what future operating budgets may need to be. To understand the motivation for this projection, we need to look back at the previous five years 1978 to 1983, first.

The “Arms Race”

After Hersheypark installed sooperdooperLooper in 1977 and had its best year ever, the park had a sharp decrease in attendance and profits in 1978. The 1979 year was considered disastrous by park management – outside factors caused less tourists to visit Hersheypark. There was the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant incident as well as a Polio outbreak in Lancaster County which encouraged tourists to travel to other areas.

1979-08-23 [Elmira, NY] Star-Gazette (p3)
AP article in the Star-Gazette of Elmira, NY, from August 23, 1979, on page 3.
The disastrous 1979 season put the park on a course of not installing a “sooper” ride like the Looper for a number of years. At the time, the amusement park industry was undergoing an “arms race” as parks were adding crazier attractions year-over-year. Hersheypark withdrew from this race as a result of the 1979 season.

In the following several seasons, while the park added new attractions in 1980 (Pirat and Cyclops), 1982 (Wave Swinger and Paddleboats), and 1983 (Tilt-A-Whirl), attendance continued to decline.

This was the mindset management was in – they were considering options to stabilize attendance and increase revenue. This five year projection they created was not a plan for the park moving into the future, but a general idea of what they were interested in doing.

Let’s take a look at the five year projection.

Five year projection

In the first year, 1984, the concept was to purchase a water / dark ride at an approximate $2.5 million dollar cost. It would have been installed in the Pioneer Frontier region of the park, the first ride to be added to that part of the park.

The concept for 1985 was particularly intriguing.

The first item listed for Rides Capital Requirements was to rebuild and install the Miniature Railroad at a cost of $200,000. Miniature Railroad had been removed and in storage at the park since the 1972 season. The second item was to install and modify The Bug, which had been removed and in storage near the Monorail garage since the 1982 season.

Miniature Railroad
Miniature Railroad in the late 1960s.

The concept for 1986 called for either kiddie ride additions or a major ride replacement. It’s unclear what major ride would have qualified for being replaced – Coal Shaker and Himalaya both would fall under this category of major ride. The Rotor also would have fallen under this category.

In 1987, the concept was to purchase a new major ride at a cost of approximately one million dollars.

The concept for 1988 was to replace a ride at a cost of $300,000. Rides like the Coal Shaker, Himalaya, and Rotor, easily could have been the ride to be replaced.

What did happen?

Hersheypark struggled quite a bit, operationally, in the early-mid 1980s. While the park was still doing reasonably well, things were not where they wanted it to be. Ultimately, that was what pushed the park to move in a different direction from the concepts discussed above.

The park began expanding into the Pioneer Frontier region in 1984, but instead of adding a water / dark ride, they added Conestoga and Timber Rattler. The two rides cost the park three quarters of a million dollars instead of the 2.5 million they initially anticipated spending.

In 1985, the park completed the Pioneer Frontier primary expansion with the opening of Pioneer Frontier Food Court, which included the relocation of Livery Stables and Wells Cargo to that area. Unfortunately, the revivals of The Bug and Miniature Railroad didn’t happen. While the Miniature Railroad train stayed in storage, on property, into the 2000s, The Bug was scrapped in the mid-80s. It would be pretty interesting to see both the Miniature Railroad and The Bug operating somewhere in Pioneer Frontier.

Circa 1984 The Bug scrapped near Monorail [large] [JWGreen].jpg
The Bug in storage near the Monorail garage by Trinidad Avenue, in ZooAmerica. Photo circa 1984 and courtesy of JW Green.
In 1986, the park really didn’t do much, though they had been trying to install the water / dark ride. The park actually had a plan drawn up by Intamin for a Chute-the-Chutes ride, which would have been installed in 1986.

The concept ultimately was not approved, and thus never installed. The rejection of the Chute-the-Chutes directly led to the proposal of Canyon River Rapids, which was approved. So in 1987, when this concept called for a million dollar ride, the park ended up installing a four million dollar ride in Canyon River Rapids.

In 1988, Hersheypark added Western Chute-Out, the first water slide ride the park installed since the Giant Toboggan Slide that was in the park from 1931-1941.

The park also ended up removing the three major flat rides mentioned for possible removal – Coal Shaker and Himalaya were removed after the 1989 season (replaced with Flying Falcon and later Hershey Triple Tower), while the Rotor was removed after the 1994 season (effectively replaced by the kiddie ride, Tiny Tracks, and later Skyrush).


For other articles about things that could have been in Hersheypark, check out the article on What Could Have Been | Hersheypark in 1974

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Harry Michelson View All

I have a wide variety of interests, from sports to politics, music to Star Trek. I write about the history of amusement parks. Right now I am focused on Hersheypark.

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