Little coaster that could in CT: Millions ride the Little Dipper

Quassy Amusement Park President Eric Anderson sits in the front seat of the classic Allan Herschell Little Dipper roller coaster at the Middlebury park. (Quassy-provided photo by Ron Gustafson)
Quassy Amusement Park President Eric Anderson sits in the front seat of the classic Allan Herschell Little Dipper roller coaster at the Middlebury park. (Quassy-provided photo by Ron Gustafson)

Sometimes big surprises come in small packages.

That could be said of the Little Dipper roller coaster at Quassy Amusement Park in Middlebury, near Waterbury.

The ride has been a staple at the lakeside park since 1952 and has entertained generations of guests during its six decades of operation.

Reflecting on the coaster’s longevity, Quassy President Eric Anderson revealed some little known facts about the ride.

“It’s safe to say that at least 10 million guests have ridden the Little Dipper during its lifetime here at Quassy,” Anderson said. “That’s a moderate estimate taking into account the many years it has been here.”

He said the figure is based on the number of operating days each year — roughly 100 — and an average number of rides and riders on any given day.

“I believe the actual ridership is well over that figure,” Anderson said of the classic Allan Herschell Co. roller coaster.

A childhood experience

Quassy’s Little Dipper is a tiny ride in comparison to the mega roller coasters at many modern theme parks. It has a short track of only 220 feet with a lift hill of 12 feet, yet provides plenty of thrills for children too little to participate on larger roller coasters.

“I rode the Little Dipper when I was a child,” Anderson recalled. “It’s a common occurrence for me to be out in the park and hear parents and grandparents alike reminisce about their childhood experiences on the ride.”

They knew how to build them

Quassy Amusement Park purchased the Little Dipper as part of a four-ride package from the Allan Herschell Co. that also included a Sky Fighter jet ride, kiddie boat ride and kiddie pony carts.

The three circular rides all ran inside the roller coaster’s circumference with guests walking under the lift hill to get into Kiddieland.

The Sky Fighter and boat rides still operate to this day in that area while the pony cart was retired from service several years ago.

The Allan Herschell Co. of North Tonawanda, N.Y. was once the largest manufacturer of amusement rides in the United States.

“The Allan Herschell rides were built to last,” Anderson said. “Hundreds of Herschell rides are still in operation at other parks and fairs in the country.”

“Frankly, the ride is running as good as ever,” he said. “The only difference today is that we are using a three-car train versus four cars when it was installed.”

A 1959 Allan Herschell catalog lists a new roller coaster at $8,300. A similar new ride on the market today would easily cost in excess of $200,000.

The company no longer builds new rides but supplies parts for its fleet of existing equipment. Quassy also has a Herschell helicopter ride located in the lakefront Kiddieland area.

Another Herschell coaster at Quassy

From 1983 to 2010, a Herschell Mad Mouse roller coaster — also known as the Monster — was located where the new Splash Away Bay waterpark now is situated. The Monster was one of only a handful of larger coasters ever produced by the company.

Quassy took the Mad Mouse coaster out of service at the end of the 2010 season as part of a five-year improvement plan.

In 2011, the park introduced its new marquee attraction, the Wooden Warrior roller coaster. The ride currently is rated 23rd best wooden coaster in the world, according to a poll of theme park and roller coaster experts. More than 150 roller coasters were listed on the 2012 ballot.

“The Wooden Warrior certainly put us on the map among coaster enthusiasts around the world,” Anderson said of the larger coaster. “But everyone still loves the Dipper, too.”

‘Riding a true classic’

When the American Coaster Enthusiasts (ACE) visited Quassy in June, they all rode Wooden Warrior several times during an exclusive morning event.

“We opened the Little Dipper with the rest of the park at 11 a.m. and hundreds of ACE members immediately lined up for it,” Anderson said. “They all loved it — knowing they were riding a true classic here.”

Millions of riders and decades later, it’s easy to say the Quassy classic is “the little coaster that could.”

Facts on the Quassy coasters

Little Dipper — Installed new in 1952. Made by Allan Herschell Co. of North Tonawanda, N.Y. Still operating.

Wild Mouse — Installed new in 1960. Made by B. A. Schiff & Associates of Miami. Taken out of service and dismantled in 1983. Big Flush water raft ride currently at that location.

Mad Mouse — Installed 1983. Made by Allan Herschell Co. Quassy purchased from independent ride operators at Playland in Rye, N.Y. Ride was bought new by Playland in 1966. Later, after being at Quassy, it was dismantled and sold in October 2010. Splash Away Bay waterpark currently in that location. The ride was also known as the Monster.

Wooden Warrior – Installed new 2010-11. Made by the Gravity Group of Cincinnati. First all-wooden coaster to operate at Quassy Amusement Park. First roller coaster in North America to feature the state-of-the-art Timberliner train from Gravitykraft, sister firm of the Gravity Group. Still operating.