Old Mill (ride)

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An Old Mill is a type of amusement park ride with unaccompanied boats floated on guideways through dark tunnels. These themed dark rides originated in the late 19th century and are known by a variety of names, including Tunnel of Love and River Cave. While generally considered a gentle ride, a variation that ends with a climatic splashdown, similar to the modern-day Log Flume is known as a Mill Chute.

Tunnel of Love[edit]

In its earliest incarnations, riders were taken by two-passenger boats through dark passages. There were two major themes: a relaxing romantic ride encouraging the couple to cuddle, or a spooky horror ride encouraging the couple to cling to one another. The darkness provided a degree of privacy and the frightening scenes offered a socially acceptable "excuse" for the physical contact at a time when public affection or even holding hands was considered inappropriate.

With the development of other socially acceptable opportunities and less stigma for unmarried couples to engage in physical contact, these rides have became less popular and were either re-themed into children's attractions or torn down completely.

River Caves[edit]

Riders travel slowly on themed boats along an artificial river that meanders through decorated caves and tunnels featuring different themed scenes of lighting, sounds, props, animatronics, and other visual effects. The boats drift along on a gentle current, typically generated by a paddle wheel. This type of amusement ride became relatively common at amusement parks across the UK and the USA in the mid-20th century. The concept of the river cave is also very similar to those of the early scenic railways in that they attempt to be both educational and entertaining.

Once a popular feature of many amusement parks, river caves are now relatively rare and can be found in only a few locations, mainly in the UK and United States. Despite their popularity in the early to mid-20th century, the shift in focus to the thrill ride in the latter half of the 20th century onwards and the sheer age of the design and mechanics of these rides means that many have been dismantled and sold or destroyed altogether.

The ride's name stems from the fact that most were themed around subterranean caverns, with styrofoam stalagmites and stalactites housing detailed displays from around the world, through time and from myth and legend.

Mill Chute[edit]

A “Mill Chute” is a variation of the Old Mill, featuring roller coaster-like drops at the end, in which riders get soaked. The major difference between the Old Mill and the Mill Chute is that the Mill Chute contains a drop at the end. Mill Chutes have the same-styled grottos and caverns as Old Mills. Mill Chutes were mainly manufactured in the 1920s and 1930s, while Old Mills were mainly manufactured in the late 19th century through the 1930s. Though Old Mills have drops, they are not as steep as the last drop on a Mill Chute (Hence the name "chute"). The last drop on Mill Chute rides is steeper than its first drop: though it is typical on roller coasters to have the steepest first drop, water rides have fiercer endings. The Mill Chute is considered the predecessor to the modern day Log Flume.

Notable Installations[edit]

Name Location Opened Closed Builder Notes
Mill Chute United States Dorney Park & Wildwater Kingdom 1927 1992 [a]
Garfield's Nightmare United States Kennywood Park 1901 -- [b]
Old Mill United States Rye Playland 1929 -- [c][d][e]
Red Mill United States Coney Island 1920s 1945
Boat Chute United States Lake Winnepesaukah 1926 -- Carl O. Dixon [f]
Mill Chute United States Hersheypark 1927 1972 Philadelphia Toboggan Company [g]
Old Mill United States Minnesota State Fairgrounds 1913 -- Keenan family seasonal operation
Kärlekstunneln SwedenGröna Lund 1917 remodeled 1987
River Caves United KingdomBlackpool Pleasure Beach 1905 --
River Caves United KingdomPleasureland Southport 1922[2] --
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: The Ride United KingdomAlton Towers 1905 -- [h]
River Cave United KingdomDreamland Margate 1924 1984 In storage
  1. ^ Rethemed to be “Journey to the Center of the Earth” in 1960 by Bill Tracy, a dark ride designer. Tracy's “Journey to the Center of the Earth” featured illuminated scenes of trolls, giant spiders, snakes, and miners. A "menacing looking monster" was added when the ride was rethemed in 1960, but the facade in overall was redone several times.
  2. ^ In 1956, it was made the “Around-the-World” boat ride. In 1974, it was made a western themed ride called “Hard-Headed Harrold's Horrendously Humorous Haunted Hideaway.” In 2004, it was rethemed to “Garfield’s Nightmare.” It was changed to be a boat ride featuring the Garfield and Odie comic strip characters. It is the world’s oldest operating Old Mill.
  3. ^ Remodeled by Sally Corporation in 1989.
  4. ^ Last remaining windmill-styled Old Mill
  5. ^ Similar to the Coney Island Red Mill
  6. ^ Mill Chute ending. Oldest Mill Chute ride in the US [1]
  7. ^ Original design by Herbert Schmeck, a coaster maker. In 1964, it was rethemed to the "Lost River", designed by Bill Tracy. "Lost River" was destroyed in 1972’s Hurricane Agnes.
  8. ^ Originally called "Around the World in 80 Days," displayed scenes of different world cultures; these original scenes and props were removed in 1993 and the whole attraction was rebuilt and rethemed in 1994 as "Toyland Tours". This attraction was rethemed once more and opened as "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: The Ride" for the 2006 season.[3]

River Caves at Blackpool Pleasure Beach[edit]

The ride involves a slow trip on wooden boats around water channels and through different caverns often containing unique and detailed theming. Originally, these rides were based upon the idea of "Around the world in 80 days", indeed Blackpool Pleasure Beach advertises this at the entrance to River Caves with illustrations of what riders should expect to see while on the ride. However this particular version incorporates not only the idea of journey around the world but also through periods of time. River Caves has seen many alterations over the years including the instalment of a Tunnel of Love in order to make a TV appearance in ITV's Coronation Street. The ride consists of chambers or caverns each containing a different part of the world or period of time.


  • The Tunnel of Love - A short ride through an un-themed narrow cave tunnel featuring a waterfall at the entrance that turns itself off as the boat passes under.
  • Mysterious China - A scene featuring a brightly clothed Chinese figures, a giant Buddha statue and trees lit with fairy lights. A gong and the voice of the narrator can be heard as the boats enter. The music used in this section is In A Chinese Temple Garden by Albert W.Ketelbey
  • The Land of the Dinosaurs - Atmospheric scenes depicting the Jurassic Era and the pre-historic age which feature a numer of large dinosaur models, cave-men models, plants and trees scenery and water dripping from overhead. Noises from the dinosaurs are played throughout this area.
  • The Depths of the Ocean - In this cavern boats pass through tranquil scenes of mermaid models, fish, bubble tanks, fluorescent lights. The music used in this section is Spring Tide by Glynis Jones.
  • The Impenetrable Jungles of Africa - This section of the ride features jungle theming and includes a moving snake hanging from a tree, an elephant model, tribal masks and shrunken skulls.
  • The Magnificent Inca Civilisation - This scene greets riders with a warm, misty atmosphere of glowing amber and red lighting, the theming include a model of the sun god, gold idols and is reminiscent of the cubist era the park embraced. Bird song and other sounds of the jungle can be heard in this scene.

The music used in these two sections is - Taboo by Arthur Lyman

  • The Blue Grotto - Based upon the actual Blue Grotto (Capri). The ride at this point opens up into a large cavern featuring an array of stalactites and stalagmites and gentle water fountains coming out of the water channels all lit with a serene blue light. Prior to the re-theme of the Gold Mine ride this area was a lot larger and the track from the gold mine ride could be seen overhead along with part of the old Magnolia restaurant in which diners could look out upon the blue grotto cavern and the boats passing by. Since the re-theme however, the cavern has been made a lot smaller in height and the restaurant and track from the Gold Mine ride (now Wallace & Gromit: The Thrill-O-Matic) is no longer visible, the ceiling of this cavern has also been covered in a net of tiny fairy lights. The music used in this section is - Prelude to Earthrise by John Keating
  • Ancient Egypt - The boats enter this scene under a sign that reads 'Valley of the Kings', this section of the ride features multiple rooms of theming and includes Egyptian statues and models of Egyptians. The narrator's voice can be heard once again and the music in this section is from a Vangelis track called Symphony to the Powers B.
  • The Temples of Angkor Wat - The final scene of the ride is heavily themed and features a lift-hill, the scenery depicts a dark, humid Cambodian jungle and stone temples covered in overgrowth as well as animatronics of monkeys, snakes and elephants. The music used in this section is - The Pagoda Of Pillagi by Victor Young
  • Outside - Once leaving the final scene the ride emerges outside where there is a small drop before riders exit.

In popular culture[edit]

In the 1928 film The Crowd, a tunnel of love is featured in which the sides are voyeuristically pulled down at a place where couples are likely to be kissing. The 1951 Alfred Hitchcock film Strangers on a Train features a tunnel of love ride that becomes the scene of a murder.[4]

The tunnel of love was a favorite source of amusing scenes in Hanna-Barbera television series such as The Flintstones, The Jetsons, and Scooby-Doo, among others, often in a chase sequence gag in which rivals or combatants are shown entering the ride, then exiting in a romantic embrace. The tunnel of love has also been used in Disney cartoons, mainly a jealous Donald Duck storming the tunnel by foot and ruining the ride for a rival suitor and Daisy Duck.

In 1980, Dire Straits released a single entitled "Tunnel of Love" from their album Making Movies. Bruce Springsteen recorded an album called Tunnel of Love in 1987 and a song of the same name.[5]

A 1990 episode of the TV series 21 Jump Street was called "Tunnel of Love".

A tunnel of love is seen in a 1996 episode of Hey Arnold! called Operation Ruthless. A tunnel of love is also seen in a 2008 episode of The Simpsons called Love, Springfieldian Style and in a 2010 episode of the show American Dad! called "May the Best Stan Win".

In the graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns, an alternative future story published in 1986 that features the Batman, super-villain Joker fights with Batman in a Tunnel of Love and manages, after putting the superhero into a fit of rage, framing Batman for murder.


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