Hunt’s Pier – Chapter 5 – The Golden Nugget

Wildwood, New Jersey – 1980

My day in the summer of 1980 would roll like this. I would sleep in until noon unless my dad burst through my door telling me what a glorious day it was and that I was missing it.

“Early bird gets the worm, son!”

“Second mouse gets the cheese, dad.”

Then I would roll over and go back to sleep.

I would get out of bed sometime after that and put my bathing suit on and a t-shirt. I’d have a little lunch with my mom. I would grab my towel, a paperback, and my boom box and head to the beach. I would lie in the sun and tan and read whatever book I currently had going. When the sun became too hot, I would scan the beach nearby for an attractive girl on her own. I would pick up my radio and tune it to a local station that I knew was popular with most people. I’d head over to the girl lying on her blanket. 

“Excuse me, I’m sorry to bother you, but would you mind keeping an eye on my radio while I took a quick dip in the ocean to cool off?”

“Sure!”

I was never turned down. I would head down to the water and dive in. I’d stay in for a while because I wanted her to become accustomed to having a radio playing on her blanket. I’d roll back to her maybe 15 minutes later and run the program.

“I’m Chaz, what’s your name. How long are you down for? Where are you from? Where are you staying?”

Not in that order or that fast, but you get the idea. It worked every time and I always got a date out of that system. I may hang with her there until maybe 3:00 and then walk her back to her motel. I’d get her details and make plans for later that night or that week. Maybe she and her girlfriends or sisters could come up and visit me at the ride and I’d get them on for free. (Louie was always in on the bit and wanted me to succeed with any prospective ladies I came in contact with at all times) I didn’t do this every day, but if I saw a girl I wanted to meet I’d run this program. (Future sales guy!)

Anyway, I’d get home, hop in one of the outdoor showers in the back of the house and head inside and get into character to work at the pier. Crisp white shirt, black tie, and slacks. I’d come down to the kitchen and my mom would feed me dinner. 

I’d head out early to work maybe a bit after 4 pm. I’d stop at Botto’s which was a little arcade and one of our main hangouts in town. I’d put a quarter in the jukebox and play some Aerosmith or whatever song I was into at the time. (Don’t Bring Me Down, by ELO comes to mind) I would go over to my favorite pinball machine, called FLASH, and play a few games. I was really good at that particular machine and had no problem wracking up free games on it. Some of the younger boys who hung out there would all gather around and watch me kick that machine’s butt. When you’re a young boy you always idolize older guys. I did it when I was younger and now I was that guy. I would tell the boys I had to get to work up at the pier and let them have all my free games. They were overjoyed because they didn’t have any money. I’d even leave them a few quarters on top of the machine and bid them farewell.

I’d get to the pier and run up the ramp to join the rest of the team at 5 pm. We’d figure out who was working where and just make that ride sing for the rest of the night. We did that night after night. Each night was similar but there were always different people and different girls to meet. It was an amazing place to be. It was the very best place to be at the shore for the summer. Everybody was happy and having fun. Can you imagine a job like that? You work all night, time flies by, and it is nonstop joy. The tourists are happy because they’re at the best amusement park in the world. (Their world) After work when we closed the pier we’d go out. 

Back when I worked at the Dolphin Restaurant as a busboy, my curfew was 11 pm, but once I started working at Hunt’s my mom lifted the curfew completely. So our nights in Wildwood started working at the circus that was Hunt’s Pier and then would continue on through the night on the boardwalk at another pier or down on Pacific avenue checking out the rock bands in the clubs. It was beautiful. And the amazing thing was, you knew you could wake up tomorrow and do it all over again. Again and again. Non-stop mayhem!

We had a good group of guys working on the Golden Nugget. This big blonde guy named Art was the manager, and he used to call me Peaches. I don’t know when that started but he was the only one who called me that.  There was another guy who’s name was actually, Danny Thomas. He was a short ginger guy, with a sweet disposition. Danny came to work one night and told me that he had just taken half a quaalude (714. The good ones from the ’70s) He said he ground it up in a beer because he couldn’t swallow pills. I knew from middle school what ludes were and told him to work in the back just opening doors. (The simplest and safest job on the ride for the night) There was another guy named Bill from Absecon, who was nice but a little full of himself. He was a good-looking guy, who was 5’10 with blonde hair and blue eyes. I made friends with him so I could borrow his ID to get into the nightclubs to see Witness at the London Ale House, that new wave band The Gang at the Club CasbaPegasus and Prowler at the Rainbow, or my favorite bar band of all time…  The Dead End Kids.  

Back then the drinking age in New Jersey was 18 and I wouldn’t turn until August 9th. The old Jersey licenses looked nothing like the modern laminated ones of today. It was just basically a piece of paper, no photo, and just your stats on it. So if anybody checked my ID going into a club, I fit his description and I never had a problem. I’m very grateful to Bill for lending me that for the month of July until my birthday.

We had so much fun working there. There usually was just Art and maybe another guy working during the day. The pier was always dead during the day, but you still got a few kids coming through so all of the rides were open. Completely different from what that place looked like at night.

The Nugget had five employees on deck at all times at night. One guy ran the brakes and watched the board to see where the cars were on the ride at any time. This was an important job. If you don’t get the mine cars stopped when they roll into the station, there’ll be a jarring accident. If the incoming car full of people crashes into the awaiting car to go out, it could send it up into the ride, with people half in it, doors unlocked, and could be a disaster. So that guy had to be on point.

The next station was the guy who threw the switch to send the car full of people up into the ride. That’s the job I liked best. I was great at it, and that was always my spot when I worked. It also allowed me to chat and flirt with the girls while they were waiting to go on the ride. If Louie saw one that I took a shine to, he would hand me the flashlight and tell me to take a ride up to “check on the ride.” This gave me a chance to possibly find out where the girls were staying, how long they were down for, and get a phone number. Every night was a new opportunity to meet new tourists. It was glorious. It got to a point, that if I hadn’t met a girl to go to the beach with and take on a date by Tuesday night, I thought I was slipping in my game. I kid you not.

The next spot was the guy across from me on the front platform. His job was to lock and secure the doors after the passengers boarded the ride. Very important gig.

On the back platform, there was another employee. When the ride was finished and the car would roll into the station, the doors would automatically unlock. He would hit each door and open them so the people could exit the ride. The last guy was up front at the top of the ramp that led to the ride. He collected tickets. I believe it was five tickets to ride the Nugget. He stood next to a locked three-foot-tall wooden box with a slot cut in the top. Inside was a canvas bag. As the people approached, he would take their tickets and drop them in the box.

That was the whole team. Louie was always there at night just to oversee the operation. But for the most part, Art and I had everything well under control. Louie would just chill in the background, puffing on his cigar. But it was good to know he was there… just in case.

Ahh… This song.

Wildwood in the Summer!

That song sounds like the theme of my teenage life in Wildwood, NJ in the summer of 1980.

 

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Hunt’s Pier – Chapter 4 – Carny Life

Wildwood, New Jersey – 1980

Carny, also spelled carnie, is an informal term used in North America for a traveling carnival employee, and the language they use, particularly when the employee operates a game (“joint”), food stand (“grab” or “popper”), or ride at a carnival.

I had been working as a busboy at the Dolphin Restaurant for the 1978 and 1979 summer seasons. I was tired of being a busboy. It wasn’t a bad job. I liked the owners and my coworkers. But I longed for something a bit more fun. Something where I had more exposure on the island. I wanted to work on the boardwalk where all the action was happening.

Hunt’s banked with First Fidelity, and that’s where my father worked as a regional manager. He knew the two guys who ran Hunt’s Pier. Vince Kostek and Merle Paul. Vince was the main guy on the Pier and it’s operations, and Merle managed all of the theater properties Hunt’s owned at the time.

Vince Kostek

It was late spring of my senior year at Wildwood High. My father came home one day and told me that if I wanted to work on Hunt’s Pier this summer they had a job for me. I was overjoyed because it sounded like an awesome place to work.

I went up to the pier and asked for Vince. We chatted and I filled out an application and that was it. I was in. Vince told me that normally you had to be 18 to work there, but since I’d be turning 18 in August, he said it would be fine. Vince had a daughter named June who worked in the office and helped out where needed around the pier. She was maybe a year or so older than me and I always liked her. She was cute and really tan and had an unapproachable vibe about her. There was something forbidden about liking the boss’s daughter. I like when people tell me I can’t have something. It always makes me want it more. (Took her on a few dates in 1984!)

Hunt’s was the classy family pier. Of course, Morey’s Pier next door was the cool, hip, pier, but Hunt’s held their own with the classic rides they had running for so many years. The employees wore black slacks, white dress shirts, and black ties. All of the ride operators on every other pier looked like a bunch of carny slobs, and we looked like professional dudes. People respond to a uniform and we looked really great as a team.

So when I graduated in June I started working on the Golden Nugget Mine Ride. I went up on a Saturday and met the man who ran the ride and had run it every season for many years. His name was Louis Vendittelli.

Lou was born in Lyon, France to the late Giovanna Cistrone and Pietro Vendittelli. Lou proudly fought for France in the Algerian war prior to his arrival in America. Known as “French Louie”, he was a local personality in the Wildwoods for decades of work as the operator of the Golden Nugget on Hunt’s Pier.

Louie was a real character. People who worked there and really knew him liked and respected him. But of course, there were those who just thought he was a hothead. I never saw that in the man. He and I always got along and really built a great friendship over the two seasons I worked at Hunt’s Pier. I guess he was in his late forties then. He wasn’t a tall man, but he was super fit. He was really strong and wiry. He drove a huge, red convertible Cadillac Deville. Just this little guy in a massive car.

Like this:

1975 Cadillac Eldorado Convertible, Gateway Classic Cars - Nashville #533 - YouTube

On my first day, he took me around the ride, which I thought was so cool, because I had only ridden the ride, and never explored all of the inner workings of the ride itself. Louie had built a tracking system for the ride so you could see on a board where all the cars were at any given time inside the ride. He was a brilliant guy that could build or fix anything, and after working for decades on the Golden Nugget he knew everything about it. He knew everything about every ride on that pier. But the Nugget was his. He showed me how to operate the ride. How the brakes worked to slow and stop the cars as they came into the station. He also showed me how to operate controls to release the cars to send them up the hill to the top of the ride.

He knew I wasn’t just another “Hunt’s Pier Flunky” as he called them. Working on an amusement pier in the summer is like joining a traveling carnival or a circus. There’s a core group of competent people that sort of run things and then there are the flunkies that also end up working there because they don’t fit in anywhere else. Because of Hunt’s rich history, they had some folks who had worked there every summer for many years. So for me it was a very entertaining place to work.

If you were smart, clean, and presentable, you got to work on the premier rides. The Log Flume was the most popular ride on the pier, but the Golden Nugget was a strong second.  Most of the lifers and old guys worked the older more passive rides, and the flunkies ran the low-end stuff.

There was this one guy that had worked on the airships,  named Fuji. He wasn’t Asian, and I don’t know what his nationality was but he was really tan, had black hair that was slicked back, and wore wrap-around sunglasses all the time. He had been there since the sixties. I remembered him because my dad loved the ride he operated. He thought he was a cool guy. But when I started working at Hunt’s and got to know him, he turned out to be just another weird guy that worked at the pier for decades. We later found out that he had a little room above the Jungleland ride where he used to hide his Playboys. Who knows what he did up there. Weird.

There was another guy named Bob that had worked the Keystone Kops ride for many years. The Kops ride was a bunch of old-type cars that you sat in and it basically went into the ride and there were attractions inside and black lights so everything glowed. The cars basically ran on a track so you didn’t really drive them. You just rode through and saw stuff. That, and bashed through doors. It was cute. Kids liked it. Bob was a good guy who had worked on Hunt’s since the early 70s. He managed and operated the Keystone Kops for many years. It was HIS ride. I’m not sure but I think he even had some equity in the pier and some of its rides. (WILKY Group?) He was always nice to me and I respected his tenure with this institution.

There was another character that worked on Hunt’s named Bruce. He had a brother who also worked on the pier named Eddie. Bruce ran the El Scrambler at the front of the pier. He was a filthy person and so was his brother Eddie. I don’t even know where these carny types came from. Bruce was known as a person who rarely bathed and apparently always stunk. Our team on the Nugget and the guys over at the Flume didn’t really associate with anyone else on the pier. We were too busy running the two biggest money makers on the pier every night.

But I remember someone told me that somebody had left bars of soap and bottles of shampoo at Bruce’s ride one day. I thought that was cruel. Having been a victim to bullying and humiliation in middle school I found this really mean. But people can be wicked, especially in low-end jobs like carny life. I remember some of the guys over at the Log Flume one night grabbed Bruce and threw him in the water tank of their ride. It was their idea of sending him a message that he desperately needed a bath. Again… terrible, cruel behavior. My guys at the Nugget never had anything to do with that sort of crap. I always had a soft spot for Bruce. He just seemed like a poor soul. He was a nice person but just lacked options. But the stuff that was done to him was awful. This wasn’t teen boy stuff. He was a grown man, which made it all worse. The Log Flume guys got drilled by management for that infraction and after that, they left Bruce alone.

But on a lighter note, Bruce actually met a girl that summer and fell in love. I would see them together all of the time. I think she worked in the ticket office. Her name was Cathy. This one guy who worked one of the games up at the front of the pier would refer to them as ‘Muskrat Love’ when he saw them. They eventually got married.

Here’s a shocker: Ironically, in 1986 when I went to work as a teller at Midlantic Union Trust Bank, Cathy actually was a teller there too, and trained me. She was in charge of the safe deposit vault. Two years after that in 1988, she worked as a teller in their North Wildwood branch. I suppose she and her husband Bruce were struggling financially, and she actually stole money from the bank.

Back then you could pay your gas and electric bills at your local bank. If a customer came in and paid their bill with cash, she would steal the cash and mark the bill paid. Sadly, it was a horrible plan, because the next month all of these customers came in saying their utility bills were delinquent when they had receipts that they paid. All of the payments were processed by Cathy. I was an assistant manager by then and they sent me down there to sort it out with the manager there. Cathy was crying and they fired her for the infraction. The banks back then didn’t prosecute you, they simply let you go to avoid the embarrassment and community exposure. Crazy man!

The pier was filled with all kinds of characters and I became friends with several of them. I was just getting started in my new job as a ride operator on Hunt’s and was really excited to see what life would be like working every night on the boardwalk!

If anyone has any good “character” stories from Hunt’s I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

 

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Hunt’s Pier – Chapter 3 – Family Vacation

Wildwood Crest, New Jersey – 1960’s

A few years before my parents owned the summer place in North Wildwood, we stayed at a motel called the Villa Nova in Wildwood Crest. They would take a room each summer for 3 days in June, and 3 more in September. There was a restaurant next door to the motel called The Captain’s Table. To me, that was a cool exotic nautical-themed place. Even though we were only a two-hour drive from our home in Philadelphia, going to the shore was traveling to come exotic locale back then.

The world was a bigger package than our little neighborhood in Lawndale.

Wildwood Mid-Century Modern Motels & Hotels | RoadsideArchitecture.com

Villa Nova Motel, Wildwood Crest, NJ - Booking.com

Wildwood, NJ was an amazing wondrous place. We all loved it. I remember I’d be watching TV as a kid and a commercial would come on for Dorney Park. I’d say to my dad, “That place looks fun, why don’t we ever go there?”

“Because that place is a junkyard, son.” my dad would say. (Back then the place was a dump. Nothing like what it is today.

We’d always go to the beach as a family in the morning. It wasn’t as hot then, and not as crowded. By the time lunchtime rolled around we were back at the motel.

I was never a fan of the beach too much when I was little. Big waves, crabs, and deep water were things I didn’t want any part of.  There is old home movie footage of me as a toddler walking back towards the car because I hated the sand.

I remember once I was working on sandcastles with my dad and the backs of my legs got really sunburned. It really hurt and my mom applied some vaseline to take out the sting and soothe the burn. But the best part was when everybody else went back to the beach or the pool in the afternoon, I got to stay behind in the air-conditioned room to lie on the couch and watch TV. (Which is what I preferred to do anyway.)

I think even back then they had cable TV down there, so there were channels and shows I’d never seen before which I found facinating.

But by the time dusk arrived we were all dressed and ready to go to the boardwalk. It was the mid to late 1960s and we’d actually get dressed up nice to go to the boardwalk. Mom and the sisters in dresses, and dad and I in button-down shirts and slacks. It was a different time, but as a family my parents always dressed us up to go anywhere. “I don’t want you all looking like a bunch of slumgullians,” my mother would say.

Wildwood always had the best boardwalk in New Jersey.

Each summer evening, the American dream was played out along the boardwalk’s more than 70,000 wooden planks. Classic rides and old-fashioned amusements stood toe-to-toe with 20st-century innovation and excitement. Five amusement piers boasted more rides than Disneyland, complete with world-class rollercoasters, beachfront waterparks, family-friendly attractions, and cutting-edge thrill rides. In addition, a seemingly endless array of restaurants and shops offer everything from classic boardwalk fare like funnel cakes and homemade fudge to seafood specials, gourmet pizza, and contemporary casual beach fare.

As I said, back then it was like traveling to an exotic wonderland.

The idea of a boardwalk originated when a railroad conductor, Alexander Boardman, got tired of cleaning beach sand from his trains. He suggested constructing a wooden walkway for seaside strolls. Atlantic City dedicated the first boardwalk in 1870. Thirty years later, the City of Wildwood laid its first boardwalk directly on the sand along Atlantic Avenue, from Oak Avenue to Maple Avenue, just 150 yards long.

The world-famous Wildwood Boardwalk is home to a dazzling display of lights, colors, sounds, and smells that awe the senses and offer an unsurpassed level of excitement and energy. As it has for over 100 years, the boardwalk stands as a living, thriving, pulsating celebration of the American imagination.

Hunt’s Pier was pretty much our go-to stop on the boardwalk. It had the best family-oriented rides, and theme park attractions. I’ve gathered a few pieces here to give you an idea of what they had on that concrete pier back then. They’re at the end of this post. Some great videos!

My dad would go on any ride they had. My sister April was fearless, and my sister Janice would go on any ride my dad was willing to venture upon. My mother and I both don’t like heights, things that can make us dizzy, or move too quickly. But there was something for everyone at Hunt’s Pier. I think that’s what set them apart from the other amusement piers. They had the twirly ‘up in the air rides’, and the like, but also had stuff the kids could go on. (Or the scaredy cats)

They had a little classic wooden rollercoaster, called The Flyer. I remember my mom telling me that the ride only lasted 1 minute long. My father and sister Janice would go on that, and also my dad’s favorite ride, the airships.  They were these cool two-seater little jets that went around and around but then you could go high up in the air as the ride spun. (You can see it in this old ad)

That is a lovely glimpse into the past, right?

As I said, I didn’t like rides like that, but one time my dad kind of forced me to go on it with him. He told me it was a wonderful experience. He loved that ride so much. He knew if I went on it with him I’d love it too. I yielded to his wishes and went on it. “Look at that incredible view of the whole boardwalk” he would say as the ride went higher and higher. I would agree with him how great it was, but my eyes were tightly closed the entire ride, so I couldn’t really describe to you here what it was like at all. I just know I was terrified. There are those of us who are brave enough to venture forth in this life and take risks, and those of us who are hard-wired for self-preservation. The same goes for deep water and food for that matter. I spent most of my days growing up trying not to be nauseous or dizzy.

But I loved the boardwalk and Hunt’s Pier. My favorite was the Pirate Ship. The SKUA was built in 1962 and was amazing. A lot of people didn’t know that it actually was built on a hydraulic system that allowed it to rock back and forth while you were walking through it. It was so cool. You walked through it and there were all of these neat pirate-related things inside of it. Galley, and floor effects that would make skeleton hands pop out of a box in front of you, a mirror maze, and even a tilted room, that was insane. It really felt like you were on a big boat out in the sea. You could even go out on the deck and see the whole pier and boardwalk. Not scary at all. Just a really awesome Disneyland-like experience. Thinking back, my favorite part of that attraction was the dungeon. The song, 15 men on a dead man’s chest, yo ho ho, and a bottle of rum, played on a loop in the background. It was really bizarre. It looked like a torture chamber. All animatronic characters that moved. There was this one character in the corner of the room. It was a blonde woman chained to a wall. The only thing she did was breathe. So when she moved you could see her robotic chest heaving through her ripped dress. Strangely erotic, but I was too young to know why I loved her, but I just did. Even as a child I loved the female form.

If a ride wasn’t too wild I would definitely try it. I liked the Whacky Shack and the Keystone Kops. You rode in little cars through them on a track and banged through doors and they had animatronic attractions inside. Based on amusement rides now, it was all very primitive, but we loved it all just the same. Some kids like the wild rides that go fast and high but don’t like rides that had primal scares in them. I had a high tolerance for visually scary rides and always liked horror movies. We all have different fears as children and they all manifest in unique ways.

The Golden Nugget Mine ride was probably the most awesome ride on the pier back then. It was a dark ride, which is sort of an enclosed rollercoaster with cool animatronic attractions inside. It was amazing. Depending on how I was feeling I might go on it.  I loved the southwestern desert, gold prospector theme, but it was a three-story ride that had two hills in it. I liked it because it had so many neat things in it, which were groundbreaking for the time. But that ride wouldn’t come into play until a decade later in my life.

Overall just lovely memories from our childhood. We would sometimes venture down to Sportland Pier and my dad and the girls would go on the Supersonic rollercoaster. Or up to Marine Pier, (Later called: Mariner’s Landing) to ride the Wild Mouse. They were both new German-built steel coasters that would be predecessors of what was to come for all rollercoasters. But like everything else, I wanted nothing to do with any of that stuff. Too afraid I’d throw up on it. I liked the dark ride called The Monster’s Den. It was a spooky ride without any hills or dips. If I remember correctly, you could ride, or walk through the attraction.

I was just happy to be there among all of that visual and audio excitement. It was like nothing else I’d ever seen before. I think my dad may have thought if I didn’t experience all of the things he knew were awesome, I’d somehow be missing out on something. He wanted to offer us all of the joy he felt. But if you don’t have any interest in doing something, there isn’t a loss. You’ll find fun doing something else. I didn’t want to feel the fearful rush of a thrill ride, I’d rather move through an attraction at my own pace and experience different feelings. Something I could control and manage.

It was really a wonderful time for our family. The classic 1960’s experience of piling the kids into the car and taking them to the seashore for a few days in the summer. Escape the heat and pollution of the city, and breathe that sweet sea air. Days frolicking on the beach and building drippy castles in the sand. Watching as the tide rolled in and the ocean once again reclaiming its property.

These fun times continued each summer through the late ’60s and into the ’70s when my dad bought a house at the shore and we got to stay down there all summer.

Hunt’s Pier already loomed large in our collective legend, but the real fun for me would come many years later. 

Take a stroll down memory lane with me and check out these links:

10 Rides You Miss From Hunt’s Pier

And as always, here’s a little song to close out this chapter.

Special thanks to Joe Doyle for his video work

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

You can check out my books here: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=charles+wiedenmann&ref=nb_sb_noss_1

Hunt’s Pier – Chapter 1 – History

Before we get into my story with the pier, I thought I’d give you some general history.

Hunt’s Pier was an amusement pier located along the Wildwood, New Jersey, boardwalk from 1957 through 1985. Over its nearly 30 years in operation, Hunt’s was home to many classic dark rides, roller coasters, and other attractions.

Hunt’s Pier dates back to the early 1900s when it was known as Ocean Pier, the first major pier on the boardwalk. Home to ballroom dancing and musical acts, Ocean Pier was purchased by William Hunt in 1935 and converted to an amusement park with rides, including a Ferris wheel, a roller coaster, and a dark ride.

On Christmas Day 1943, Ocean Pier burned down. Hunt built a new, all-concrete pier in its place. On May 30, 1957, Memorial Day, the revamped Hunt’s Pier opened. The amusement park began with only four rides, though it boasted 10 rides by the time of its grand opening on June 21, 1957.

In 1985 Hunt’s Pier was sold and re-emerged in 1989 as The New Hunt’s Pier, retaining many of the rides operated by the original Hunt’s Pier and adding a steel roller coaster called Kamikaze. In 1988, Conklin Shows bought the pier and renamed it Conko’s Party Pier. This latest incarnation of the pier was short-lived, and by the end of 1992, many of the rides had been disassembled and the New Hunt’s Pier had gone bankrupt. The Kamikaze was sold and currently operates under the name Blue Hawk at Six Flags Over Georgia.

The Cantonoso family, owners of Steel Pier in Atlantic City, bought the defunct pier in 1995. By 1996, the pier had been renamed Dinosaur Beach and had added dinosaur motifs to the classic Golden Nugget Mine Ride, a decision derided by fans as not being in good taste. In addition to a water coaster and an amphitheater, Dinosaur Beach included the first spinning wild mouse, which opened in 1997. The only classic rides operating at Dinosaur Beach were the Golden Nugget, Log Flume, and Rapids, with most of the Hunt’s legacy gone. In 1998 Dinosaur Beach closed, and over the next few years, most of the rides disappeared.

Hunt’s Pier featured many unique rides and attractions, including a classic wooden roller coaster called the Flyer, indoor rides such as Keystone Kops and Whacky Shack, and an outdoor boat ride called Jungleland. For many years, The Golden Nugget had the honor of being the oldest ride on the Wildwood Boardwalk still surviving in its original form and location. The Golden Nugget originally opened in July 1960 on the newly constructed oceanside section of Hunt’s Pier. The Golden Nugget was built three stories high with the top floor designed to imitate a mine car ride through the desert. The classic coaster ride was specially constructed for Hunt’s Pier by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company and was engineered by John Allen. It was removed in 2009, and a ceremony commemorating the ride was held in January of that year in anticipation of its removal.

In early 2009, Knoebels’ Amusement Resorts entered into an agreement with Morey’s Piers to acquire the trains, tracks, and ancillary mechanical equipment from the Golden Nugget ride. The equipment was moved to Pennsylvania in early 2009 for a planned reproduction of the Golden Nugget at its Elysburg, Pennsylvania, park. Renamed Black Diamond, it officially opened in October 2011. The original stunts and gags included in the ride were not part of the sale and have been retained by Morey’s Piers for usage elsewhere.

The George Boyer Museum in Wildwood currently houses artifacts from Hunt’s Pier, including Keystone Kops characters and Hunt’s Pier flags. Near Historic Cold Springs Village, Hunt’s abandoned storage and maintenance site still holds signs and parts of former rides, including boats for the Log Flume, trains for the Flyer that is currently under restoration, and letters that were part of the Hunt’s Pier Skyline Golf sign that stood opposite from the pier on top of the Ocean Theater.

The pier is currently owned by Morey’s Piers and is used to house maintenance equipment and the boardwalk tram cars. A grill, beach shop, and Adventure Maze are now on the front of the pier. Morey’s has plans to build a wooden roller coaster that will cross over from the Surfside Pier to the back of Hunt’s Pier.

 

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Wildwood Daze – Kites – Part 2

So I needed another kite. I knew my mom wouldn’t spring for it. So I used what little allowance I had to get another one.

It had to be this:

The Baby Bat! This was a cool kite. Probably the coolest kite Gayla ever made. Black, with flaming eyes, and the lower edges looked like real bat wings. It too was only a dollar.

I loved my new, cool black kite. The eyes were stickers you had to put on yourself, so the spacing had to be perfect upon application. You didn’t want your bat looking cross eyed or weird. It needed to be cool and menacing.

In hindsight, I think the better name for this kite would have been the Manta Ray, because it better resembles a ray than a bat. Just saying…

Our next idea was to buy more twine. Let’s connect two or more spools of twine and make the tether even longer than 200 feet. Let’s go for 400 feet of string. It became less about the simple whimsy of flying a kite as a restful activity, and more about let’s see what these kites can withstand.

But, this is what boys do. Let’s just see how far we can take an idea before something breaks, or we’re injured. As kids we used to engage in activities that endangered our health and welfare on a daily basis.

It was called the 70’s! Nobody wore seat belts in the car, and nobody wore helmets when they rode their bikes. It was like the wild west back then. Look at jaw breakers candies. Perfect choking hazard for any child. But when you’re young all you ever think of is “I”.  I’ll be fine. I’m Indestructible. I’m Immune. I’m Immortal. You never think anything you do will have any consequences, until you start seeing kids wearing casts on their arms and legs for broken bones.

Good times!

So, I tied the string together, and wound the second spool of 200 feet of string to the first one. Now I had 400 feet of tether. My kite will go higher than ever! My kite is going to go so high, a plane or even a helicopter could crash into it. Now that would be a spectacular day of fun for a couple of boys. Nothing like causing a good old-fashioned air disaster to get the blood up.

We head down to the beach with my new Baby Bat kite and a giant spool of string. The wind is up and blowing north. We follow the path through the bushes to the open beach.

Once there, we let it rip. The string is going out like mad and the kite is rising high into the twilight sky. The sea air is invigorating as I watch as my great ebony vessel rises higher and higher. I decide to place both of my index fingers into the ends of the spool and just let that sucker spin. The cylinder of twine is a blur in my hands as the line goes out like mad. It’s as if I have a fish on the line. (That, or a giant bat!)

The bat is going so high, it’s getting smaller and smaller. Soon it’ll be just an inkblot in the sky. I’ll have flown the highest kite ever!

Now, you have to keep tension on the line so that the kite stays up. If that pressure is off the kite could fall. But the wind is carrying my kite higher than I’ve ever seen a kite go. The spool spins on my fingers.

The line… still going out.

Once it reaches the end, it’ll stop, and the kite will soar even higher. 400 feet is just seconds away! My beautiful brand new kite soars like a bird.

But that didn’t happen.

What I failed to realize was that the string on these spools isn’t tied to the spool. It’s simply wrapped around it by a machine when it’s manufactured.

The final feet of the twine go out, and I’m left standing with what would be equal to an empty role of toilet paper in my hand.

The kite is so high it continues to fly. But it’s so far away and we’re on a beach, so I can’t even see the string as it slips away at high speed. I watch as my brand new  Baby Bat flies away on it’s first, and final mission. My friend is laughing hysterically as we watch the kite fly over the channel as it heads out to sea.

It probably crashed somewhere across the channel in Stone Harbor, five miles away.

So, that was the end of that kite.

I owned a few more Baby Bats that summer. I think it was my favorite kite design. Most were destroyed in sky battles or tangled in electrical lines and lost. I remember my mom saying, “You went through a kite a week that summer!”

Ahh, what a grand time we had as children each summer. Living by the sea, in the sunshine, and getting our exercise. Those experiences build strong, healthy minds and bodies. Better than any video game you could imagine.

One night, there was a land breeze from the west and my friend and I were flying the latest kite. It was a red Sky Raider.

Exciting fun for all ages! Boys, girls, and apparently old guys who smoked pipes! (for only one dollar!)

We were sitting up in the lifeguard chair. Which is the coveted spot to sit on the beach at night. You’re probably 7 feet in the air and it definitely feels like a position of power for a couple of kids.

Ogunquit Beach Lifeguard Chair at Sunrise Ogunquit Maine Photograph by Toby McGuire

I got tired of holding  the string of my kite, so I tied it to the chair. The red kite sailed high over the Atlantic Ocean. Normally you don’t stay long on the beach during the day when there’s a land breeze. It brings all of the green  flies from the bay to the beach. They aren’t like the annoying pests you get in your house in the summertime. These suckers are bigger and ‘bite like horses’, as my dad would say. But by nightfall they’re usually gone.

So my buddy and I are just chilling in the lifeguard chair and chatting. We’re watching the red kite as it flies and dips over the sea. But at some point, the wind died down, and the kite vanished below the waves. At that point we didn’t feel like hauling in all of that wet sandy string, so we just broke the string and let it drift away. I remember before it sank it looked like a big red shark’s dorsal fin before it slipped away.

Another dollar and a half well spent. Taken by Neptune.

I wanted to change up my game. I needed a better kite.

I had heard from one of the other kids that there was a bigger and better kite that was made by Gayla. It looked like the Sky Raider, but it was bigger and had a metal controller you held to maneuver your kite.

Kind of looked like this, but much bigger. It had a six foot wing span. It was called…

The Invader!

Rare 1962 vintage Gayla kite The Invader Kites with box | #1821116875

I had to have it. It cost a whopping six dollars!

I scraped together what little allowance money and change I had to get that kite. It was bigger than any kite on the beach, and it had the cool metal controller included. I scampered over to the store and bought it.

I quickly assembled my great bird and was ready for action. The controller is simply a wire frame shaped like an hourglass that you hold horizontally like an airplane controller. (Don’t get too excited. Think, cheap-ass, coat hanger bent into a metal bow tie.)

Flying Fish Kiting Team: Radcliffe Conversion

You actually needed two spools of twine to operate the kite properly. They were both hooked to the controller and the other ends were attached at two different points on the kite’s brindle. This is so you could steer and maneuver your amazing kite.

I was about to become the Lord of the Skies in Wildwood.

I made sure the string was securely tied to each spool before I hand wound them both back onto each cylinder. I affixed the ends of each cord to the appropriate spots on the kite.

I was ready.

We took my vinyl Phoenix to the beach for it’s maiden voyage to the heavens. The wind was blowing from the south which was perfect. This way, if anything happened it wouldn’t crash in the sea. It would land on the beach north of where we were standing.

I slowly let out the string, and my great winged toy was carried upward. It looked enormous. Some people who were still on the beach at dusk, looked on with pride and amazement at the kid with the amazing kite.

I was so proud as I watched it sail higher and higher. Such an enormous pull on the strings. Huge kite. More wind resistance coupled with great aerial strength and elegance. My beautiful winged beast flying high. It’s glorious six foot wing span, like some great albatross, controlled only by my willing hands. I held the controller and watched as my kite flew higher and higher. We were coming to the end of the string.

This was it.

That moment where the line would become taut and the kite would fly even higher on the tension of the lines. I would proudly steer it along the beach as startled onlookers watched the glory of my passing.

The Sky King.

The Invader!

The anticipation was exhilarating as the end of the spools approached. Within seconds, the strings went taut.

The force was so great it yanked the controller from my tiny hands.

I watched in mute protest as the controller flew from my grasp and bounced down the beach.

My friend and I gave chase. Running as fast as we could in an attempt to catch the bouncing metal frame as it bounded down the beach. It had enough weight to keep the kite aloft, but was light enough to escape from us.

We eventually ran out of energy as the kite flew further and further away.

Another kite had made its escape. It would probably crash like the last on the other side of the channel in Stone Harbor.

My kite…

Snatched from my hands like my fleeting childhood.

 

I’ll always look back on my times at the shore with fond memories. Some of my greatest moments happened on that sandy stage.

 

Here’s a great song that serves as a soundtrack to this story.

 

Here’s one gentleman’s obsession:

http://gaylakitememories.blogspot.com/2012/07/introduction.html

 

Why couldn’t this have happened to us?

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

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