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Amusement Display Associates, Inc.

In 1966, while still working under UDL, Bill Tracy started a new company that he named Amusement Display Associates, Inc. This company was backed by the famous display company Messmore & Damon, designers and builders of full-sized mechanical animals, dinosaurs, and monsters. M&D originally created scale dioramas, department store displays, and effects for stage productions and motion pictures in the 1920s and 1930s. It was probably during window display installations when Bill Tracy and M&D initially developed their business relationship. Bill identified the need to partner with a larger company, which expanded his resources and helped finance his growing needs. Amusement Displays was a division of M&D, as stated on the cover of Bill’s 1967 catalog, commonly referred to as the “spiral catalog.” This eighteen page catalog included many stunts with descriptions, a few completed projects showing the façades, general information about his dark rides, detailed information on the “Hush-Puppy” dark ride system, and an amusement park client list from 1962-1967, but no price list.

Cover of 1967 Amusement Displays “spiral catalog”.

The “Hush-Puppy” car had a fiberglass body, tubular steel chassis, versatile wheel assembly, and operated on a 24V iron track that was transformed within the car to 110V. The “Hush-Puppy” was distributed and installed exclusively through Amusement Displays. However, Amusement Displays did not actually manufacture the “Hush-Puppy.” Amusement Displays sub-contracted this work to KD Enterprises, located in Sunnyvale, California and owned by Kenneth G. Boyle. In the “spiral catalog” Bill actually scratched out the real manufacturer’s name on the “Hush-Puppy” photo. This could have been done for various reasons, which will probably never be known. It is assumed that the term “Hush-Puppy” referred to the quiet operation of this ride system. The “Hush-Puppy” was the most versatile dark ride system to date and was able to negotiate tight turns, rollercoaster-like dips, wave rooms, tilted rooms, and steep grades through one of Bill Tracy’s mine shafts containing a breaking beam stunt.

KD Enterprises ad card for the “Hush-Puppy” dark ride car.

Amusement Displays was based in Cape May Court House, New Jersey and is where Bill operated the company with his workshop and warehouse. Amusement Displays also had another address in Wildwood, New Jersey. The exact number of employees working at Amusement Displays is unknown, but with the number of projects being worked on simultaneously at amusement parks all over the country, it was obviously a much larger production than just Bill and a few helpers. The coordination and logistics of contracting work locally was difficult enough, let alone when there were multiple projects being coordinated in various states all across the USA, Canada, and Mexico at the same time.

Tracy’s Gold Nugget at defunct Roseland Park in
Canandaigua, NY.

Bill Tracy's company contained an office staff, stunt and prop fabricators, set artists, carpenters, mechanics, electricians, installers, laborers, and truck drivers. Bill himself spent much of his time traveling and many of his employees rarely interacted with the master himself. The props and figures used in the stunts were either made from molds or from scratch. Some of the materials used to produce the props and figures were Celastic, fiberglass, and washable marine plastic, all of which were moisture retardant and flame resistant. The inner skeleton of the figures consisted of wood, metal, and chicken wire. Some of the props and stunts were mass-produced and others were custom built for a particular ride and never recreated. These props and stunts were usually fabricated at the workshop and shipped to the project site, but sometimes items were fabricated on-site as needed. Bill definitely had his own personal list of favorite props and figures that he liked to use regularly. Some of his favorites included bats, buzzards, rats, spiders, drunken skeleton pirates, and provocatively dressed women. Bill was also creative in using existing materials from the local area to add to the realism of a scene. For instance, he has been known to use old wood from an abandoned building for a project, instead of trying to weather a new piece to make it look old.

Commonly used classic Tracy spider.

Unbenounced to many, Bill Tracy may have been inspired by major motion pictures of the era when designing concepts for his stunts. Bill Tracy’s Knit Wit, for example, bares an uncanny resemblance to Ms. Bates in Alfred Hitchcock’s movie Psycho, which premiered in 1960. The Knit Wit is a little old lady knitting quietly, only to swing around holding a large spider in its web when triggered. The concept of the Knit Wit and its physical appearance is nearly identical, but it is unknown whether this was coincidence or on purpose.

Tracy’s Knit Wit in Haunted House at
Trimper’s Amusements in Ocean City, MD.

Bill Tracy, while working as Amusement Displays, completed one of his most famous dark rides, Ghost Ship at Kennywood Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1967. Ghost Ship featured a large spider crab with a skull head that rocked back and forth in front of a wrecked pirate ship. The old Traver Engineering Co. ride cars from Kennywood’s defunct Laff in the Dark carried riders through a nautical themed world of skeletons and pirates. The concept for this façade was the same as the one used two years earlier in 1965 on Ghost Ship at Ocean Playland in Ocean City, Maryland. This is an example of how Bill used one of his standard facades and applied his concept to two entirely different scenarios. Ocean Playland’s Ghost Ship was built in a new structure at a new park and was a two-story dark ride, while Kennywood’s Ghost Ship was installed in an existing building at a well established park and was a one-story dark ride. The only thing in common with these two attractions was the name, even the stunts were different. Kennywood’s Ghost Ship was unfortunately lost to fire in 1975. Many of Bill Tracy’s attractions suffered this fate, as many were installed in old wooden buildings without modern day sprinkler systems. The combination of dry wood, grease, electricity and lack of fire suppression was a recipe for disaster.

Tracy’s defunct Ghost Ship at Kennywood Park in Pittsburgh, PA.

When a park owner was in the market for a new dark attraction, Bill’s name would be the first on the list of potential contractors to build the new ride. This was a referral and repeat customer based business in Bill’s mind. He was the face of the company and knew he had to spend time at each park with the park’s owners to earn their loyalty and trust. On the financial side of things Bill knew how to protect himself to ensure he received payment. His contracts were sometimes written with a stipulation that he would get paid one half of the total contract before he would deliver the project to the park and then collect the other half upon completion or create a payment schedule. Many times Bill would collect the second half when he showed up at the park before he started the installation. He liked to show that he had control on some occasions. If the park owner didn’t pay up front when he arrived for the installation he would threaten to leave the jobsite until they did. Bill was also known to show park owners props from a similar ride for another park when they visited his workshop to check on the progress of their particular ride. If he was behind schedule on their project he would show them “false progress” to keep them at ease. Bill often completed projects behind schedule, but deep down, the park owners knew that he was worth the wait as his attractions always proved to be lucrative. Bill usually offered a service contract on his finished projects to promote future repeat business as well, which made up for his good work at a very low profit margin. By just getting the contract he set himself up for repeat business at that particular park. All of these business relationships he developed with park owners guaranteed him future income.

Tracy’s Pirates Cove at Trimper’s Rides in Ocean City, MD as it looked in 1971 prior to completion.

Bill’s only viable competitor at this time was Pretzel Amusement Ride Co., who he previously worked for. He would bid against them from time to time, most notably when Bill and Pretzel were bidding on the new ride at Waldameer Park in Erie, Pennsylvania. Bill won the contract and the ride became the Whacky Shack, which still stands today. Bill did a great job of building his ride façades to match his original concept drawings previously shown to the park owners before construction began. The park owners always received what they expected from the original concept drawing and there were rarely any disappointments.

Tracy’s original concept drawing for Whacky Shack at
Waldameer Park in Erie, PA.
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