By Wally Ely
In 1934, times were tough — in the Lehigh Valley and throughout the United States. The Great Depression was rampant. Unemployment kept willing and able workers out of jobs, with some in food lines or soup kitchens. Dorney Park was just hanging on, waiting for better days.
There was no way the park could afford anything new to keep interest in the amusements alive. Nobody could afford to come to the park in 1934, especially not to spend any money.
Bob Plarr, park president, was not accustomed to sitting back, waiting and hoping for things to improve. Plarr had an acquaintance, Miles Erbor, from the nearby village of Wescosville. Erbor, known as Mike, ran a machine shop in his garage. Erbor floated his bright idea for a new ride at Dorney past Plarr, and he loved it!
Erbor's thought was to build a miniature version of the national train sensation of the day, the Burlington Zephyr. He could do it economically, with many used parts he had on hand....
The new Zephyr traveled the route an old steam engine-powered open-air train had traveled around the west end of the park. The Zephyr Jr. started near the main crossing of Dorney Park road, which divided the park; it continued along Cedar Creek parallel to the Water Skooter boat ride and then passed the swimming pool and rumbled through a short storage building, which served as a tunnel. At the far end, the route approached the boating lake and began to circle back. On the return trip it passed the picnic groves, more Water Skooters, and finally the rocket ship ride and the old mill. A final turn across the bridge near the French fry stand brought the ride back to the beginning.
The announcement of the new ride at Dorney Park was welcomed by the community; there weren't many positive announcements in those days. The public responded. Crowds appeared at the park to buy the nickel tickets for a Zephyr Jr. train ride. The nickels added up, and a new, steady cash flow helped pay the bills and enabled Dorney Park to ride out the Depression.....
The above is excerpted from a column written by Wally Ely which appeared in The Morning Call on May 5, 2013. The photo has been added. Ely is a history, train buff and author, who has written a book on Dorney Park.