RESTORATION: 2004-2006

Disclaimer: The views expressed by former Bell's employee Kyle J. Wood are his own and do not represent those of R.K. Bell Enterprises.

"Phantaz was like a theater. The exhibits were the performers. The riders- the audience. If you disappoint them, they won't come back. Or if they do, they won't be happy and they'll let you know." Those are the words of Kyle J. Wood, a member of the Bell's maintenance team since 2004. Wood's job entailed "everything and anything" but he was especially drawn to tasks that required an artist's eye. Kyle's strong background in the arts manifested during his school years and has led him into numerous creative projects.

Wood's gravitation to the haunted ride isn't difficult to understand considering his distinct interests in the unexplained, the macabre, and Hollywood productions. The Phantaz contains all of these elements as well as its own rich history. Kyle couldn't tolerate the state of disrepair it had fallen into. "Bill Certain [the chief electrician] said to me once, "Why fix it up if kids are just going to tear it up again?" explained Wood. After Bill passed away in August of '04 Wood took it upon himself to single-handedly restore the neglected dark ride. "I did it all alone. I never asked for, or was given permission to touch the ride." The work he would put in was in addition to his already busy schedule. With nobody driving the rogue project Wood had to decide where to focus his limited resources. "I did what I thought was best."

Kyle set out to achieve two primary objectives: enhance the content and protect it from destructive riders. He was first faced with the sizable task of bringing many of the scares back from the dead. "[Phantasmagoria] was severely dilapidated when I started there. Most of the blacklight bulbs had gone dim. Most of the tricks were broken down. The mannequins were covered in years of soda stains, human spit and Silly String. The mummified remains of Bill Certain's favorite cat (who had disappeared years earlier) lay in the spinning barrel pit- perfectly preserved. It was a forgotten ride."

The reason the Phantasmagoria was such a popular target among vandals was very clear to Wood. "It was happening because the ride had no one inside. The cars came within reaching distance of the cages. The access doors to those cages were unsecured and accessible. I reinforced all cages with steel rods, running them through existing 2 x 4s - so no one could grab the cages and pull them out of the wall anymore."

The evolution of the naked chick
Top Left: The way she appeared in 2004
Top Middle: Wood's paint and wig makeover that lasted exactly one day before being vandalized (bottom).
Top Right: At Robbie's request a bikini was put on her. Kyle bought the smallest one he could find.

The front view of the nude lady isn't quite as alluring. Here she is seen visiting the workshop in 2004 after her date with a vandal.

Though the tricks were more secure they still needed some supervision. Once again Wood employed himself for the job. "I stayed inside the ride to catch people having sex, lighting up cigarettes (and weed), getting out of their cars, etc. I prepared the ride every morning, bringing the cars out, walking through to check for damage from the night before, picking up discarded condom wrappers and other trash."

How had it come to this? It wasn't just a matter of management surrendering in the war against mischief makers. Much had to do with limited personnel. Wood elaborates "Dennis Sanchez [a valued member of the maintenance team] was the man who kept the cars running and the ride safe. He said there was never any time to do creative things. Dennis had all the other rides to work on too. He could keep the cars repaired and get an occasional assistant to help him tack a vandalized cage back into place. Bill Certain never had time (or desired to) [focus on the ride] anymore. Bill would check the ride out electrically and safety wise before the season opened. Maybe replace a light bulb or two; not much beyond that."

Dennis Sanchez gives the rat some extra ears during the dismantling of Bell's. (The Pharaoh's Fury boat seen on the left was about to be picked up and taken to Kansas.)

Bill Certain (1953-2004) drives across the familiar cement pattern on the Bell's midway

Kyle detailed more of his updates... "I added a lot of small accent lighting to help in illumination (low wattage colored bulbs). You couldn't see anything hardly! You couldn't even see the upstairs graveyard (only the skeleton in the coffin - who would get stuck in a sitting up position every few times and wouldn't lay back down). I added tracer dye (that green tint in the water of the Skull Pond) to make the water visible under blacklight. Before, the water was invisible."

In 2004 this nude figure was shrouded.

Kyle made her over with a getup inspired by a character in the film The Fifth Element.Two weeks later he was sent to Wal-Mart for another bikini.

Mummies stood in alcoves on each side of the Skull Pond skull. This one was so badly disfigured by vandals that Kyle concealed it with web. After a season the spider met the same fate as the mummy and was found in little pieces on the track. (the other mummy was also destroyed and was replaced with a buzzard.)

Kyle manned the infamous bus with a Jason figure constructed with chicken wire, one of his old flannel shirts and some work gloves that he found abandoned on the midway.

Kyle repopulated the lengthy passage where the first dip once stood with an assortment of creepy stuff (and sound effects) including this re-painted skull strobe light which he "borrowed" from the Skee-Ball prize booth.

In 2005 Wood added a "witches head" to an empty opening.

"Three airport runway strobe lights (each with ten inch wide lenses, non variable speed, made by Whelen Engineering in Connecticut) had all burned out, except for the one in the psychedelic room. The room's small spinning wheel wouldn't turn (the wood had warped under the intense heat). I fixed and repainted the wheel. The tinfoil (which was wall-to-wall from the Buzzard's Nest to the spinning wheel) was covered up many years earlier after kids kept picking at it. Because hundreds of thousands of staples had been used to attach the tinfoil, it was impossible to remove it by hand. Rolls of black tar paper were purchased from a local roofing supplier and stapled over the foil to cover it."

The Tinfoil Room (a.k.a. Strobe Room, or Psychedelic Room) as it appeared in early 2007.

This was the original spinning wheel, which was smaller than the orange and black replacement.

Wood also did what he could to spruce up the corroded exterior. He restored vision to the manor's spinning eyeballs with a long-overdue paint job...

He also revamped an area of the facade lovingly called "the brothel" by repainting the leg, adding a red interior light and hanging an authentic curtain from the 1950s...

Another view of the restored bordello. The pitcher on the right once sat atop one of the chimneys. Kyle used it to cover a hole left by a missing spinning display.

Wood's commitment to the attraction continued well into the fateful 2006 season when an infamous microburst of wind severely defaced the exterior just months before the amusement park received its eviction notice. Yet somehow it's nice to know that before its downfall the Phantasmagoria was in the best shape that Tulsa had seen it in decades thanks to Mr. Wood's private renaissance. I only wish we could have seen where he was taking it.

Kyle J. Wood stands before the facade after it was ravaged by the microburst that occurred on 6-6-06.


Anthony said...

Wow, why aren't there MORE people like Kyle J. Wood in the world? That's pretty creepy that the microburst happened on 6-6-06... What are the chances?

Casey Rice said...

I was born in '74 and barely remember Bell's Amusement Park. My dad and I went a few times, and every time he would try to get me to go on the Phantasmagoria. It was pretty scary looking to me. I finally went on it (probably 1981) and it really left an impression. I was petrified. The dip in front and the interior of the ride were very scary. I remember the bus, too. When it was over, I loved it. I don't think I ever rode it again--we moved in 1982, but those minutes on the ride really left an impression. Thanks for all your work on the ride, Mr. Wood. I don't know why people want to vandalize something so badly. I guess it's just the forces of evil at work.