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History of Bumper Cars And How They Work...

Posted on 11/29/16 with No comments


"Two brothers Max, and Harold Stoehrer, of Methuem Massachusetts spent two years developing a car they proudly named the Dodgem. Soon after the Dodgem was introduced to the public, the Scientific American Magazine did a test on one of the cars. The review was less than flattering…stating that the cars were "highly unmanageable, with the steering only relative". The two brothers later admitted that with their cars…." until you have learned how, you often try to go someplace, but often may not end up where you intended on going". . . Never the less, the cars became extremely popular, despite their bad reviews.

The success of the Dodgem cars caught the attention of Joseph Lusse and his brother Ray who together owned the Lusse Brothers Machine Shop Company. The Lusse Bros decided to design and build, their own car and fix, the defects in the design of the Dodgem Cars. The bothers would spend the next nine years working on their car during which time they were awarded eleven patents.

The Lusse Bros. introduced their "Auto-Skooter" car to the public in the Spring of 1930 and the cars were an immediate hit, in part because they had truly solved most all of the problems associated with the Dodgem cars. The Lusse Bros Auto-Skooters quickly established themselves within the market and easily outsold the Dodgem cars.

A 1940's Company advertisement for the Lusse Bros Auto-Skooter proclaimed that "Our cars are built to exacting Lusse standards, which means built-in quality and stamina to spare…"

Among the improvements the Lusse Bros. perfected in 1928, was to mount their engine vertically in the front of the car.

Power could then be transmitted through two couplings to a ring-and-pinion final drive that had a small wheel attached with the rim keyed to each end of the output shaft. This design was much like that used by BWM for the Isetta.

The advantage to this design was that the whole assembly could be mounted on bearings and could be aimed in any direction by turning the steering wheel. There were stop locks installed that prevented the steering from going to far in either direction. Soon enough, young drivers would discoverer that the Auto-Shooter could travel just as fast in reverse as it could forward!

From 1935 on the Lusse Bros., Auto-Skooter Company experienced strong growth and prosperity. A minor interruption during World War 11 only made the company more secure. Improvements continued including updated headlights, fiberglass bodies, and air-filled bumpers instead of solid rubber bumpers.

The cars were driven by an electric motor powered by a curve shaped piece of metal with a copper or brass metal lining called a "spoon". The spoon is firmly attached the end of a wooden pole. These spoons provided electricity to the motor in the bumper car when they rubbed on the underneath side of a series of metal grids located in the ceiling.

 These same spoons could be made to arc and spark (which was cool to watch) when the cars were involved in a multiple car pile-up. Learning how to innocently create a multiple car pileup was an art into itself.

Watching the cars in action while waiting your turn to ride, you could easily spot the faster cars, the ones with the best connection between the spoon and the wire grid in the ceiling. The fastest car would give you a slight advantage, which you could then put to good use.

Turning the steering wheel to full right or left would cause the car to go into reverse. With a little practice, you could become very good at creating havoc on the bumper car highway

Now...For The How They Work Part
First up, the bumper cars need electricity to work. That makes it complicated because bumper cars are one of the few rides that is able to travel forward and backward, side to side, and in circles all at the same time, and are not attached to any controls directly ran by the ride operator.

The better the connection between the spoon and the grid the faster the car will go. A clean shiny contact between the spoon and the grid is what made the fastest cars. Sometimes you would get a really, slow car and the operator would have to take some steel wool and polish the topside of the spoon that had accumulated a corrosion film on top of the spoon That could turn a slow car into a fast car.

The remaining electricity is discharged through the metal floor to ground. So, if there is electricity on the floor… why don't you get shocked if you touch the metal floor while the ride is turned on? Because…the voltage present in the floor has "potential" but not enough amperage to do any work or any harm to you.

Electricity can do work, (turn a motor to power the bumper car for example) when the voltage goes from a higher voltage to a lower one. Most of the amperage, which is what does the work is used up by the bumper car motor, so what electricity that is left, has no amperage. You might get a slight tickle but that is all. The odds of getting shocked were reduced even more if you are wearing tennis shoes, which most kids wore in the summer.

Using the garden hose analogy the voltage is like the pressure in a garden hose and is what forces the current thru the wire. The amperage is like the volume of water present and what actually does the work. You can still have voltage present even though the amperage present is minimal having been used up to do the electrical work, as in this example powering the electric motor in the bumper car. you get it now...?

To make the bumper cars slide around more and to prevent the cars from getting to much traction and hitting to hard, powdered graphite was sprinkled on the floor.

So…What Became Of The Two Original Companies…?

The Dodgem Company lasted up into the early 1970's and continued to make both portable and permanent design rides, all the while holding onto their original 110 volt design when the industry had switched to a 90 volt DC standard. Competition from three different Italian companies eventually proved too much for the company and it was closed in the early 1970's.

As for the Lusse Company, Ray Lusse Jr. ran the company after his father's death in the 1960's. In 1989 Ray Jr. got into financial trouble with the IRS but managed to shuffle money and assets around until 1994 when the bank accounts were finally empty. He died that same year. The rights to the Auto--Skooter were then sold to Designs International located in Dallas Texas. The remaining inventory of original parts and pieces, were sold off, by the Lussse''s last landlord to recover back rent.

And there you have it...the history and the "how it works"...of Bumper Cars. If you have ever thought about buying and restoring an old Bumper Car and put it on display in your office or basement here is a little incentive. Start looking!


Playing The "Diggers..."

Posted on 11/16/16 with No comments


Most of us growing up had the opportunity to visit the traveling carnival when it came to town during the summer months. I went because it was fun to check out all things mechanical. I studied how the rides worked and how they operated. In our small community we got the older carnival rides and equipment that had often seen better days. One of my favorite stops on the midway was the mechanical digger game. For a quarter I had a chance to use the crane to try and pickup a prize buried in the gravel. To me the prize was almost secondary, I just enjoyed the challenge, and eventually got pretty good at picking up "the good stuff." As I look back now seldom was the "good stuff" worth even the quarter. For me...the satisfaction was "making the machine pay out" when others tried and failed.

By the time, I began playing in the late 1960's…I had to pay the attendant every time… to get him to start the crane. To me…in my young mind… it would seem more logical to just install a coin mechanism so kids like me could take care of ourself, and not have to bug the attendant every five minutes for a game.

Now… all of these years later, I now know why it did not work that way. Let me share a little digger crane history with you. Then like me, you will understand that things were not as simple as they first appeared, even in those days.

The first "digger" crane was built in 1896 from a child’s toy and was intended to be a penny candy vendor. The miniature steam shovel was encased in a solid oak cabinet with glass windows on three sides. It was all mechanical, and did not use any electricity, not even an electric light.

During the 1920s and 1930s, many other manufacturers began producing their own version of a digger game. By 1939, there were over 35 companies building and selling digger games. Many of those companies offered the so-called "modern" digger games, which were electrically operated, and had virtually no element of skill. Two of the most popular manufactures of electronic diggers were the Exhibit Supply Co. of Chicago and International Mutoscope Reel Co. of New York.

With the emerging popularity of coin-operated slot machines, tavern owners soon figured out that the digger machines could easily be converted into gambling devices. Clever operators offered silver dollars, paper currency, and little bundles of coins wrapped in cellophane tape as the reward for lucky play.

During this golden era, some models were designed to fit into the décor of the fine upscale hotels and railroad stations. These deluxe models quickly became known as "hotel" models and are highly sought after by today's collectors.

After World War II, the federal government began taking notice of the digger games being used as possible gambling devices. Digger game operators began placing large quantities of Japanese novelty items in the prize field to cover-up the coins and currency that was still being used as the real lure to attract players.

By the end of the 1940s most diggers were working for 10 ¢ per play and were still very profitable. The new trend was for large independent operators to own dozens of machines, and have them operating at multiple locations in units of 10 or 12 games, each. Lee Moss, and Tommy Wells, of Hot Springs Arkansas were two well known large operators of the carnival style diggers.

The commercial operation of diggers changed abruptly, and forever, in 1951 with the implementation of the Johnson Interstate Transportation Act. This new law made it a Federal crime to transport gambling devices across state lines, and all diggers were automatically placed in the gambling device category. Thus, the business of operating traveling commercial diggers ended in 1951

Lee Moss, of Hot Springs, Arkansas, had purchased the Erie Manufacturing Corp. back in 1946 along with his brother-in-law Tommy Wells. During the 1940's they had been operating over 35 traveling units of 12 diggers each, but now, were suddenly out of business.

Moss and Wells immediately brought their equipment home. The FBI quickly began raiding other operators who did not cease their operations. Those operators now in violation of the new federal law, immediately had their machines seized and destroyed.

Lee Moss then organized a small group of former digger operators in an effort to establish a lobbying campaign to have the gambling classification removed.

After two years,  the group was finally successful in changing the "classification" of certain types of digger games from "Gambling Devices" to "Amusement Devices". Diggers could again operate, but only under new and very strict rules. No electrically operated games were allowed after 1951.

Starting in 1953 the diggers began their new life as carnival games exclusively, and only the mechanical (Erie type) were allowed under Federal laws. Gone were the coin slots. Instead, the player was required to pay for each game "over the counter", and the attendant had to manually activate the machine by pulling a string on the back of the cabinet.

In addition, no cash money could be offered as prizes, and no prize could have a value of over $1. The charge to play could not exceed 10c, and the diggers were only legal to operate at agricultural fairs and celebrations.

With the relaxation of Federal laws in the 1970's, mechanical coin slots began to reappear on digger games. Starting in the late 1960's, the cost to play was raised to 25c. Finally, the twenty-year moratorium on coin-activated diggers was over.

By the late 1980s however…the digger business was gone for good. The original mechanical digger games were replaced with more modern computer controlled games.

So...where did all of the original Erie Digger cranes go...?

There were such large numbers of digger cranes produced from 1924 to 1946 that it is puzzling to many collectors as too why so few of them have survived.  The answer lies in coin-op history. Erie Diggers were a favorite of the early traveling operators and remained so up to, and even well past, the Johnson Interstate Transportation Act of 1951.

Most of the original cabinets were used and abused during years of carnival service, and when the machine parts wore out they were often crudely repaired by the carnival operators who owned them.

When Lee Moss and Tommy Wells purchased the remains of the Erie Manufacturing Corp. in 1946, that cut off the source for replacement parts.

The final destruction of most originals came with a mass re-modification by digger owner/operators following the Johnson Act.

The operators who owned Erie diggers were frantic to get back into operation so to be in compliance, they immediately began scraping the coin entries, the intricate mechanical coin mechanisms, and removing the cabinet backs.

They cut-out parts of the cabinet backs in order to reach into what was once the coin mechanism area to manually start the machine using a piece of heavy string. Those are the ones I grew up with.

Some operators even blocked-off the prize chutes to make the game appear more 'legit'. With some cabinets already in sad condition the owners just threw them on the burn pile and built new cabinets of their own design, often in multiples to mount on trailers.

As a result... few originals from the traveling carnival era survive. The survival rate of the deluxe machines was much better because of the surroundings they operated in, and many have been restored. Here are a few sample pictures of some of the deluxe models. Until I decided to do a little homework after seeing an Erie Digger in a museum, I had no idea these fancy models even existed.

The Johnson Act said in part...

(1) any so-called "slot machine" or any other machine or mechanical device an essential part of which is a drum or reel with insignia thereon, and (A) which when operated may deliver, as the result of the application of an element of chance, any money or property, or (B) by the operation of which a person may become entitled to receive, as the result of the application of an element of chance, any money or property; or (2) any other machine or mechanical device (including, but not limited to, roulette wheels and similar devices) designed and manufactured primarily for use in connection with gambling, and (A) which when operated may deliver, as the result of the application of an element of chance, any money or property, or (B) by the operation of which a person may become entitled to receive, as the result of the application of an element of chance, any money or property; or (3) any subassembly or essential part intended to be used in connection with any such machine or mechanical device, but which is not attached to any such machine or mechanical device as a constituent part.

Not much wiggle room there... and there is more....this part covers the transportation of so called gambling devices..

(a) It shall be unlawful knowingly to transport any gambling device to any place in a State or a possession of the United States from any place outside of such State or possession: Provided, That this section shall not apply to transportation of any gambling device to a place in any State which has enacted a law providing for the exemption of such State from the provisions of this section, or to a place in any subdivision of a State if the State in which such subdivision is located has enacted a law providing for the exemption of such subdivision from the provisions of this section, nor shall this section apply to any gambling device used or designed for use at and transported to licensed gambling establishments where betting is legal under applicable State laws:
Provided, further, That it shall not be unlawful to transport in interstate or foreign commerce any gambling device into any State in which the transported gambling device is specifically enumerated as lawful in a statute of that State.

The new laws were very specific and to the point. They were written
to be easily enforceable with no wiggle room. It worked. The digger
business would never be the same. I clearly got in the the end of an
era. Hope many of you also have fond memories of the digger cranes
and as Paul Harvey used to say..."and now you know the rest of the


About Me

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Since 1987, Fifth Avenue owner, Randy Rundle, has been making antique, classic and special interest vehicles more reliable and fun to drive.