Wild Times Building the Wild Mouse
I previously recalled our Wild Mouse and the unforgettable experience it gave those of us who rode it. Its compact size understated its intense thrill value. It's deceptive two-passenger car design, unbanked 90-degree turns, and negative G-force "bunny hop" hills concocted a uniquely "wild" ride. If you ever rode it, you can't forget the experience even to this day.
On a trip to Germany's Octoberfest in 1957, Seaside Company President Laurence Canfield foresaw the Wild Mouse as an impressive addition to the Boardwalk's ride mix. In December 1957, the Seaside Company's board of directors approved acquiring it at the cost of around $50,000.
The company obtained the "Mouse" in a piecemeal fashion. An east-coast ride broker named Patty Conklin arranged the details and provided construction plans. The cars came from Buchwald Gebruder, a German manufacturer. A California company called Timber Structures, Inc. built the ride's 2,000 linear feet of German-style wooden track in Portland, Oregon. The support structure assembly occurred at the Boardwalk in accord with the ride's plan specifications and local codes.
The job of bringing these pieces together at the Boardwalk fell to Maintenance Superintendent Bill Fravel, Sr. and his maintenance and construction team. Our archives contain Fravel's written reflections of the ride's development. From his notes, I learned the plan's German words and metric measurements initially baffled him. A local consulting engineer named Norris Houk joined the construction crew and assisted in translating and deciphering the language and data into understandable English and our customary American units of measurement. By early February 1958, our plans finally made sense to Fravel.
The Wild Mouse's popularity in other amusement parks excited our family of employees and concessionaires. It especially stirred our maintenance team's desire for a first spin. However, they first needed to focus on getting it built and open as early and as safely as possible for the upcoming summer season.
By the end of February, a Santa Cruz bound freight train delivered the first shipment of Mouse cars. A dummy USA-assembled track segment also arrived to test the fit. Once our crew technically verified the match, the final track assembly proceeded. The remaining cars arrived in due time. The lumber for the supporting structure came in early March. Carpenters took only one day to have the first bay assembled on the ground. Once that stood in place, other structural sections quickly followed.
Hard work and long hours ensured decent progress at the ride's construction site, situated in the shadow of its Giant Dipper big brother. Once the structure was ready to support the track, each day of waiting for the arrival of remaining segments taxed the crew's patience. Fravel recorded that six track sections finally arrived on May 6. After that, I surmise Fravel and others surveyed the contents of open gondola cars on each slow-moving train that came by the Boardwalk. Mid-month, someone spied the missing track sections in one such railroad car. A crew quickly hightailed over to the train depot and retrieved the remaining parts. Soon the ride's structure braced a fully assembled track layout.
On May 29, 1958, an excited crew dispatched the first test car over the track's full length. Tight spots were identified and corrected. When four test cars ran the length of the ride the next day, one finished in just one minute! That was a problem – the trip was too fast!
Slowing the cars at critical points for public safety became essential. The crew added several braking mechanisms, especially ahead of those short radius turns.
Bill Fravel had an easy charm about him and became known as a natural jokester who could tell the tallest of tales. His fun-loving personality spilled over among his maintenance team members. Excess speed did not keep the construction crew from doing their personal testing of the ride! They relished the challenge. Fravel reported they attempted every conceivable way to ride a Mouse car. Some sat backward, others straddled the center seat on their knees, and a few even stuck their heads under the hood, looking out the front ornament.
One time during this gleeful testing period, Norris Houk, our reserved, quiet, and less-talkative engineer came to observe progress. Bill could not resist playing a prank on this unassuming and reticent chap. With a straight face and a concerned countenance, Fravel told the engineer the ride was way too slow, and he had to do something to increase its speed. The unsuspecting technocrat decided to take a spin to assess the situation for himself.
Well, you can imagine what happened. Once the car exited the lift, Fravel reported Houk's relaxed demeanor changed to gripping terror. As speed took over, jerking the novice rider at each turn and disorienting him on the "bunny-hop" hills, he hung on for dear life. Waiting at the station for the car's arrival, a grinning Fravel met its passenger. Haulk sat frozen, still shaking and hardly able to utter a sound except for the expletive he passed Bill's way.
Refinements continued over the next several weeks. On June 18, 1958, in just under two hours, five Mouse cars zipped a total of 245 people (presumably staff and construction types) the length of the ride. Brakes did their job of reducing speed, but not the thrill!
Satisfied that the crew had installed all appropriate safety measures, on June 21, 1958, our Wild Mouse opened to the public. It became the only ride of its type in the western United States. Two thousand riders enjoyed the first day's thrills. The next day, 3,283 people rode the "mouse trap" as one guest called it. From then on, our Wild Mouse thrilled Boardwalk guests year after year until completing its final season in 1975. We removed it to make way for our "Logger's Revenge" flume ride, a higher capacity, and more family-friendly attraction.
I do remember watching the Wild Mouse being constructed and standing by more frequently as it neared completion. While I can't recall my first time on the ride, I hopped aboard many times during its 18 years at the Boardwalk. Today, when I lead folks on one of our immersive Boardwalk tours, I'm continually amazed when the subject of the Wild Mouse comes up. Anyone who ever rode it still remembers the excitement or terror it produced well over a half-century ago. It was a wild ride.
Are there more memories of our Wild Mouse anyone cares to share? Let me know.
-till next time,