Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Laffland at Sylvan Beach Amusement Park

Here's a closer look at what's perhaps the best time-capsule of a darkride in America, Laffland at Sylvan Beach Amusement Park in Central New York.
Opened in 1954, Laffland is one of only a handful of darkrides left that was built by the Pretzel Amusement Ride Company, who invented the powered darkride in 1928.
What makes Laffland unique of the Pretzel rides remaining is that it's the last (of 100s built) to operate the company's trademark ride vehicles with a "pretzel" worked into their design. 
Classic Pretzel rides like this also make a VERY distinctive "clicking" sound as they turn corners.
You have to love this artwork and the old-school operator's chair. Ready to ride?
In flash pictures, the grittiness of a darkride is always revealed, and old Pretzel rides relied on keeping the riders in complete darkness with the only things visible being the "stunts," or devices meant to startle riders.
For example, when you're riding, you have no idea that two extra cars are stored inches away from the track. 
With the sound of a buzzer, this skeleton begins to move, and a "brick wall" to the left is lit in red lights, which turn off before you crash through the wall.
In the picture below, you can see how simple the track layout is as the car works its way towards the back of the building. In just this image, you can see the car switching back on itself three separate times! There was no need to install extra walls as long as the stunts were hidden well enough.
Many of the stunts are as low-tech as possible; the paper-mache "devil" on the left has somehow survived after 65 years in use - it pops up with a mechanism that uses the car as its motive of power.
"Al E. Gator" was another trademark Pretzel stunt that is still sliding out of its barrel after all these years.
At the center of the below image, you can see one of the Pretzel "noisemakers" that are now only found in Laffland. They're simple as dirt but effective; here, the car simply rolls over a switch that drops a lever on a cymbal. There is also a startling box of ball bearings and tinkling bells (creating a "broken glass" effect) elsewhere in the ride.
I find this stunt humorous, as it's triggered at the same time as the cymbal.
The inflating devil - terrifying!
Laffland is absolutely one of my favorite rides because it's a true survivor. I'm glad that at least one old ride like this has hung on long enough for me to get to experience it.


TokyoMagic! said...

Andrew, I love this type of "early" dark ride. I was able to ride something similar at Hanayashiki park, in Tokyo. I know how difficult it can be to photograph the interior of a ride like this, but you got some really great shots.

I'm assuming that the wire mesh in front of all the props, is to protect them from riders who might throw something at them? Or maybe it's to protect them from unruly riders who might try to reach out and grab them?

Andrew said...

It's taken some practice to figure out how to get these pictures, but I've made some progress, TokyoMagic!

You're exactly right on the reasoning for the chicken wire in front of the stunts. There are only a few classic darkrides that forego it, such as those at Knoebels and in Ocean City, MD, and those rides use a separate ticket from the wristband, so kids won't ride them multiple times and get bored.

"Lou and Sue" said...

I love the rule: "Maximum two adults per car" - as if three would really try to squeeze on!

Great pictures, Andrew! I appreciate how well you documented this ride and explained how it works - very interesting! It looks as if everything is close enough to touch, if you reach out. Is that possible? While on this ride, can you see any of the other riders/cars?

Thanks for taking us for a whirl on this historic Laffland - I had fun!

Andrew said...

You get bonus points for actually reading the rules, Sue, because I never did. ;-) I love pictures of multiple people squeezing into a ride! My Dad, myself, and my little sister were all able to fit in a different darkride car last year.

You can't touch the stunts unless you stand up and lean.

Yes, you're able to see other cars... if you use a camera flash or flashlight and there is another car in the ride, as this park rarely gets lines. It's pitch dark typically, but the operator actually turned the lights on inside for me, which is why these pictures came out nice.

Melissa said...

So cool that the operator helped you document this classic!