EXCERPTS











Improvements at the park began in 1907, but once again, the first improvements were more disaster recovery as a major storm in January destroyed the pier again. The second pier design debuted that summer. It consisted of two sections: the 24-foot wide pier that stretched from the shoreline out 500 feet into the bay; the second section, built on the beach served as the waiting area and was 50 feet wide, 200 feet long, with a second deck and decorative railings around its perimeter. Just before this new pier was completed, another storm in May damaged a portion farthest from the shore that was still under construction.



The second pier under construction in spring of 1907 with ice still in the bay.


In the grove, from the Cut to the dance hall, all the trees where cleared for an open court that would be lined on both sides with concession stands, a theater, games and other attractions. The first new attraction on the midway for 1907 was the Figure-8 roller coaster. Season announcements described the Backety-Back Scenic Railway for 1907, but it did not materialize until 1908.



Looking west, the formal midway is under construction in 1907. In less than two decades
the buildings on the left would be demolished in favor of the dance hall that would
remain through 1989.




Visitors to Crystal Beach during May and June 1908 would see the park’s second roller coaster under construction - a mammoth, new Scenic Railway promised to be “much bigger than the one at the Pan American Exposition, and considerably different in construction.” 


Backety-Back Scenic Railway from the crest of the lift hill circa 1908. Courtesy John Bosco.

Incandescent lights traced every arch and overhang of the coaster’s ornate colonial-style station that was three stories tall, 72 feet long and 48 feet wide. Reportedly the  entire ride required over 95,000 square feet of Georgia Pine and cost $50,000.

Designed and constructed by John H. Brown, the Backety-Back Scenic Railway was a second hand coaster when it arrived at Crystal Beach. Its first home was the Jamestown Exposition at Sewells Point, Virginia (now the Norfolk Naval Base) according to Crystal Beach newspaper announcements about the ride. The exposition was a celebration of the 300th anniversary of the first permanent English settlement in America. The exposition, with its distinct military theme, operated from April to November 1907.

Exterior photos of the coaster in Robert Cartmell’s book “The Incredible Scream Machine A History of the Roller Coaster” were not photographed at Crystal Beach although this is not immediately apparent until they are compared to photos of the roller coaster while at Crystal Beach. Analysis of these images are on the following page. [In Book]


Backety-Back at night circa 1908. Courtesy John Bosco.

 
As the 1927 season approached, George Hall said in an announcement, “The Cyclone Coaster represents the last thought in that form of amusement. It has, among other things, a sheer descent of 100 feet [a slight exaggeration – it was 96 feet tall]. Riding on it will give one all the thrills, but not any of the danger of stunt airplaning.” 


This image of the Cyclone shows what its designer, Harry Traver dubbed Jazz track. Taken
from a Crystal Beach advertising brochure.


Crystal Beach reported that construction on the Cyclone was complete and it would be ready for the Memorial Day weekend opening. However, a month would pass before the Cyclone opened to the public.

The delay may have been caused by alleged design problems that prevented the trains from rising over the crest of the second hill after the first spiral plunge. Whatever Harry Traver, Peter Cowan – the builder of the Cyclone’s steel structure, and Crystal Beach management initially attempted to resolve this problem before the opening of the park is unknown. On June 5, Crystal Beach backed off its earlier claim that construction of the Cyclone was complete, and noted that it was rapidly approaching completion.  Assuming remedial work was underway to get the coaster operating, the Cyclone was absent from all subsequent Crystal Beach newspaper advertisements until July 1927.


The Cyclone's knotted track.

According to Peter Cowan, construction superintendent for Standard Steel of Welland, Ontario, the second hill was lowered by 18 inches for the trains to clear it.  

A foot and a half does not significant, but disassembling layers of laminated wood on curved and twisted track is complex. The laminations are staggered to avoid seams running from the top of the track to the bottom and each board is typically twelve feet in length or longer.  These layers of wood are held together by thousands of bolts and nails. There is no telling the length of track that required dismantling in order to decrease the height of the second hill, but it could have easily amounted to a hundred feet or more to maintain a smooth track profile. (Ed Hall, commenting on the coaster decades later, noted that replacing a few feet of rotted boards under the rails often required dismantling forty feet of track. He called the Cyclone a maintenance nightmare.) After dismantling the track, steel had to be cut from the structure and holes drilled to reposition the track ledgers (ties that hold the track to the structure) a minimum of 18 inches.  Rebuilding the track required the bending and twisting wood because the top of the second hill was a tight 90-degree curve.

The Cyclone received its final tests on July 1, 1927 and unceremoniously opened to the public on July 4, 1927.

 
Aerial image of the Cyclone. Courtesy Cathy Herbert.


Some of the midway attractions, including the Magic Carpet and the Miniature Railroad were owned and operated by concessionaires from which Crystal Beach received a percentage of the gross receipts. Many of the portable rides that appeared on the midway were supplied by Conklin Shows of Brantford, Ontario, near Hamilton. This decades-long relationship began with James Wesley “Patty” Conklin shortly after World War II. For most of its existence, Crystal Beach’s Kiddie Land was populated with rides that were entirely from Conklin’s inventory. On the main midway, portable rides would appear, stay for a season or longer, then be replaced with other portable rides. Switching out rides kept the midway fresh with at least one new attraction every year at no expense to the park.  
    According to Jim Conklin, there was a standard financial arrangement used for supplying rides to amusement parks on a seasonal basis. Sixty-five percent of the gross receipts represented by the tickets that a Conklin ride took in were Conklin’s, the balance stayed with Crystal Beach. Jim Conklin trained for the travelling carnival business by working the games at Crystal Beach that were part of Conklin’s annual staging on the midway – including Bingo housed in the building along side the Giant Coaster added in 1956.


A Rock-o-Plane and Space Whirl (a sit-down, uniquely themed Round-Up) came from
Conklin's ride inventory.


In 1958, Crystal Beach management was on the hunt for a new midway attraction and found one in a small, compact, wood roller coaster – the Wild Mouse. Patty Conklin arranged for the import of five units  from  their German manufacturer, Zierer.
    Conklin maintained half interest in the $65,000 coaster  when it debuted at Crystal Beach in 1959. Whether Conklin maintained his interest in the ride throughout its  existence at the park is unknown.


Wild Mouse circa 1970.

At the age of 88, George  Hall Sr. died on September 2, 1972 in Port Colborne General Hospital. With his passing, Fillmore Hall became President of the company. Fillmore’s brother Edward G. Hall became the company’s treasurer; George Hall Jr. became vice president.  

On November 5, 1973, the Buffalo Evening News reported that Cleveland interests, armed with a commitment from a major hotel chain to build a hotel at the park, were poised to buy Crystal Beach. Closing day for the fully negotiated deal was December 1, 1973. The unidentified buyers also had plans to develop the pier into a new restaurant.

Bob Hall, son of Edward Hall, in a 1999 interview noted that by 1973 the three Hall brothers were up in age and may have been considering retirement as impetus to sell the park, but he had not heard of this particular transaction prior to this interview.

There were no details in the March 1974 announcement that the sale did not go through and all negotiations ceased. Factors that could have precipitated the collapse of the sale are too numerous to contemplate without additional background. The statement noted that preliminary discussions for a sale to other groups were underway. Apparently, nothing came of them because the upcoming season announcement highlighted the passing of the guard to the third generation of the Hall family.

Bob Hall, along with his cousin, Fillmore (Van) Hall, son of  Fillmore L. Hall, would become active as managers of the company. Van terminated his employment with the Buffalo Courier Express to assume the company’s business affairs through their office in the Ellicott Square Building in downtown Buffalo. Fort Lauderdale native Robert Hall was manager of Pirates’ World in Dania Beach, Florida - a position he departed to manage the operations at Crystal Beach.

They faced a lethal combination of falling attendance, (at this time, not due to amusement park competition, but from the ever-increasing options for people to spend their summer leisure dollars) and increasing operating expenses. If this was not enough, they also had to deal with the collision of two trains in the Comet’s loading platform, and a fire in the Fantasy Land walk-through attraction in the basement of the dance hall that caused considerable damage.

In the 1950s, Dwayne Steck, another amusement concessionaire, moved the ride from Cuba to the U.S. on a rail barge when it was little more than the cylinders that push the turn table upward. He designed every element of the ride including the elaborate centerpiece and lighting system. Steck brought Holiday Bounce to Crystal Beach during 1974 and 1975.


Holiday Bounce is nothing if not colorful and not for those prone to motion sickness.
Photo by Nick DeWolf.

















  




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