Dogpatch USA

Buckle up, folks. It’s a long one today. I’m going to tell you a story about a groundbreaking comic strip, about Li’l Abner and Daisy Mae, about the rural purge, and about a theme park that became outdated and ground to a halt. There’s legal battles and ownership struggles and so many acronyms it’ll make your head spin. This is the long, sometimes unbelievable story of Dogpatch USA.

January 24, 2020: I originally posted this podcast episode and accompanying blog post in September 2019. With Dogpatch USA back in the news recently, I’ve updated this post and re-published it. I’ll be back with a new episode of The Abandoned Carousel next week – see you then! –Ashley

Sadie Hawkins

This week, our story begins in perhaps a seemingly roundabout way. 

Remember Sadie Hawkins Day, that pseudo-holiday where girls ask boys to a dance? Maybe you don’t, maybe you’re a younger listener from a more enlightened era who never had this phenomenon forced on them. Let me explain. The tradition originated in the late 1930s, when culturally, men did all the inviting and women rarely were socially allowed to do the same. The Sadie Hawkins dance (and Sadie Hawkins day) became a cultural phenomenon of gender role-reversal. Women asked men out to the big dance for once!

Does it seem empowering? Does it seem enlightened? Maybe not as much as you might think.

Sadie Hawkins was not a real person. Sadie Hawkins was the “homeliest gal in all them hills”, a character from Al Capp’s Li’l Abner comic strip. She was an unmarried spinster, and when she reached the “horrifying” age of 35 years old and was still unmarried, her father came up with a plan to solve the horrifying dilemma. Depicted in the comic originally between November 13-30th, 1937, Sadie’s father set up a foot race and invited all the unmarried men from the fictional town of Dogpatch USA. Whichever one Sadie caught first at the end of the race was obligated by town law to marry her.

The idea caught fire and spread out of the newspaper comic strip and into pop culture. By 1939, two years later, Sadie Hawkins had a double-page spread in Life magazine, and Sadie Hawkins day was an annual feature of Al Capp’s Li’l Abner comic strip.

Li’l Abner

You might also be saying to yourself, who or what is Li’l Abner and why should I care?

It’s always surprising when something once so incredibly popular and well-known is in modern times an unknown, distant memory. As the wheel turns, so too go our cultural references. 

Li’l Abner was a comic strip, written and drawn by one Al Capp. It debuted in August 1934, and ran daily until November of 1977. The strip was one of, if not the first comic strips to focus on the South. Before Li’l Abner, comic strips were based around Northern experiences. (Capp, probably unsurprisingly, was not actually from the South, despite the characters in his comic.)

The strip was set in the fictional town of Dogpatch, initially located in Kentucky, but later carefully only referred to as Dogpatch USA (likely to avoid offending Kentuckians and avoid cancellations of the strip from Kentucky newspapers!). Capp described Dogpatch as “an average stone-age community nestled in a bleak valley, between two cheap and uninteresting hills somewhere.” And the plot? Not so much a plot-driven comic, this strip was about the characters and the socio-political commentary. It was loud, bawdy, detailed, sexy, and poked sharp humor at the world. 

Li’l Abner was an over-the-top stereotype of poverty and Appalachia. Residents of Dogpatch were ignorant and lazy or scoundrels and thieves. It wasn’t without purpose, though. Reportedly, the characters in Li’l Abner allowed Americans suffering through the Great Depression to laugh at someone even worse off than themselves. 

Mural of the Li’l Abner comic strip painted at the Al Capp memorial in Amesbury. Source: Botteville / Wikimedia Commons, CCBYSA3.0.

The stars of the strip were the titular Li’l Abner, his love interest and later wife Daisy Mae (their nuptials landed them a Life magazine cover in March 1952), parents Mammy and Pappy, and a host of other supporting characters. There were also a number of allegorical animals over the years, including the fabulous “shmoo”, which “bred exponentially, consumed nothing, and eagerly provided everything that humankind could wish for.” (The Wikipedia article on the characters and settings is quite detailed if you’re interested in more information.) The strip as a whole was outright misanthropic.

Reception of Li’l Abner

Li’l Abner was a cultural phenomenon. It was like nothing anyone had seen before.

At its peak, the comic reportedly reached over 70 million households, in a time when the US population was only 180 million people. That’s almost 40% of the population. 

John Steinbeck “called Capp “very possibly the best writer in the world today” in 1953, and even earnestly recommended him for the Nobel Prize in literature”. In a 1997 book, comics historian Richard Marschall said: “Capp was calling society absurd, not just silly; human nature not simply misguided, but irredeemably and irreducibly corrupt. Unlike any other strip, and indeed unlike many other pieces of literature, Li’l Abner was more than a satire of the human condition. It was a commentary on human nature itself.” 

Li’l Abner marked a change in the tone of the comics world when it was introduced in the 1930s. It introduced politics and dark social commentary into a market that was primarily filled with lighthearted amusements. As the popularity of the strip grew, the audience makeup shifted, as well, comprised mostly of adults now.

Li’l Abner was even reportedly the inspiration for MAD magazine. Both captured the satirical dark humor that was becoming more popular with American audiences.  

The comic was the subject of the first book-length scholarly critique of a comic strip, as well. “One of the few strips ever taken seriously by students of American culture,” wrote Arthur Berger. “Li’l Abner is worth studying…because of Capp’s imagination and artistry, and because of the strip’s very obvious social relevance.” (Berger shows a little bias here, since he’s the author of this first book critiquing the strip. It has exactly one review on Amazon at the time of this recording: “It wasn’t what I expected since Lil Abner doesn’t need to be psycho-analyzed.”

Li’l Abner in Pop Culture

Beyond literary criticism, Li’l Abner touched all parts of culture, particularly during the height of the comic strip’s popularity (between the 1940s-1970s). At one point, Al Capp reoprtedly convinced six of the most popular radio personalities of the mid-40s to record a song he’d written about Daisy Mae; one of these was ol’ blue eyes himself, Frank Sinatra.

There was a radio drama and a Broadway musical. There were comic book anthologies and a short-lived TV cartoon and a live-action movie. And then of course, there was licensing.

Characters from Dogpatch were licensed to dozens of popular products throughout the decades, appearing throughout the grocery store and pharmacy aisles, and on the pages of men’s and women’s magazines alike. There were toys, games, clothes, and a series of family restaurants called Li’l Abner’s. (All have gone out of business by the time of this recording in 2019; a Li’l Abner’s Steakhouse in Tucson currently operating is not related to the Al Capp comics brand.) 

And finally, beyond all of that, there was a theme park, called Dogpatch USA.

Dogpatch USA

Before it was Dogpatch USA, a now-abandoned theme park based on a once incredibly popular media property, the land in the Ozarks, Harrison and Jasper, Arkansas, was just a scenic spot off Arkansas Highway 7.

The area was called Marble Falls, Arkansas.

In the 40s, Albert Raney purchased a trout farm. The Raney family also owned the nearby Mystic Caverns, caves with beautiful natural formations that had been commercial tourist attractions since the late 1920s. A local realtor, OJ Snow, saw the potential in both the caverns and the Raney trout farm when Raney put up the trout farm for sale in 1966. 

Snow gathered a group of businessmen and formed Recreation Enterprises, Incorporated (REI) to develop the property into an amusement park. (As a sidebar, this will be our first, but not last, business acronym. Keep count.) REI approached Al Capp with their plans for the park, reportedly assuring him (somewhat ironically, we’ll find out) that the park would be quiet and dignified, and wouldn’t have any roller coasters or thrill rides that would conflict with the hillbilly themes of Li’l Abner. 

Capp consented, having turned down several theme park proposals in other areas in prior years, and the planning was on.

Groundbreaking on Dogpatch USA

Capp and his wife came to Arkansas for a groundbreaking ceremony in October of 1967. Reportedly, Dogpatch USA was the by-product of his comic strip that made him most proud, as he said in his remarks during the ceremony. “This is the one which will finally gain me some respect from my grandchildren, who until now have always thought of me as a silly man who just draws pictures.”

Local perception of the park was mixed. State officials were reportedly concerned about negative impressions of Arkansas due to the hillbilly stereotype. Attendees of the 1967 Central Arkansas Urban Policy Conference also expressed doubts about the likelihood of success for the park, as many other parks in the decade prior had tried to replicate the success of Disneyland (1955) but failed. Still, the local Chamber of Commerce approved plans for the park.

This may have been in part due to an optimistic projection report from an LA consultant firm, which projected 400,000 visitors in year one, 1M visitors by year ten, and annual revenue of $5 M by year ten. 

These projections were incredibly optimistic, in retrospect, as we’ll later see.

Albert Raney, who still maintained ties with the park, was actually the town postmaster, and the post office is and was right in the Dogpatch USA parking lot. In 1968, Raney helped the town of Marble Falls officially change their name to Dogpatch, Arkansas, to promote the park. 

Over $1.3 M was reportedly put into the park’s phase I. Construction, according to some, was rushed. Scores of workers descended on the area in March, April, and May of 1968 in order to accomodate the opening date of mid-May 1968.

REI renovated the Mystic Caverns and renamed them Dogpatch Caverns, installing lighting, handrails, and additional safety features. Authentic 19th century log cabins were found elsewhere in the Ozarks, disassembled, and painstakingly reassembled at Dogpatch USA. 

Dogpatch (Mystic) Caverns. Source: Clinton Steeds / Flickr. CCBYSA 2.0.

Additionally, an 1834 watermill, already on the property, by the name of Peter Beller’s Mill, was restored to working condition for the park. The mill was not only for looks – it actually operated, grinding corn into cornmeal, which was then packaged and sold to visitors.

One of the major pros of the park for the Chamber of Commerce was the Cornpine Square business region, which employed many from the local area, demonstrating and selling wares, arts, and crafts. One such building was called the Ladies Brotherhood Hand Sewing Center for all things knit, sewn, or woven. There was a diamond and stone museum, including demonstrations from artisans. There was a honey shop, a glassblowing center, a woodshop and wood carving, photo studio, pottery center, candle shop, and of course, trout fishing.

Opening day was May 17, 1968.

Dogpatch was immediately a success. Motels in the area reported hordes of tourists they couldn’t serve, even going so far as to seek private rooms in the area for the summer season in order to handle the crowds they couldn’t serve in their motels. Reportedly, there were about 8,000 visitors on opening day, with 300,000 visitors reported in the first year. They also reported a net profit of about $100,000 at the end of the year – $700,000 in today’s money. Not too shabby, but not quite the 400,000 visitors projected by that LA firm prior to the project’s start.

Early, Hazy Days of Success at Dogpatch USA

Things at Dogpatch USA looked so sweet in those early days. A local 1968 op-ed wrote that Dogpatch had “a good chance of becoming one of the nation’s biggest tourist attractions”. That same op-ed projected a gross of $12 M for the park in the first six years, adding “the rest of Northwest Arkansas had better start rounding out their own tourist facilities to take advantage of the crowd”. 

This is the point where, to be honest, I would always get bored and confused in the story of Dogpatch USA in my research. Hang in there if you feel the same way. I’ve punched it up a bit, and honestly the story of Dogpatch USA is so much wilder when all of the details are left in instead of being glossed over. 

REI, the developer group who owned the park, spent their first off-season squabbling over how to use the profits from the first year of Dogpatch USA’s operation. Many of the members wanted to divide the profits amongst themselves personally, while some members, including our realtor friend OJ Snow, wanted to reinvest the profits in the park. This dispute left an opening for an entrepreneurial spirit.

Enter businessman Jess Odom. He saw that opportunity, and purchased a controlling interest in the park from REI members in late 1968. He signed a 30-year licensing agreement with Al Capp: the park had the rights to use Capp’s Li’l Abner intellectual property from 1968 through 1998, and in return, Capp would receive 2-3% of the gross profits of the park.

Dogpatch USA: 1969

In addition to further licensing of the Li’l Abner IP, Odom had capital p Plans for Dogpatch USA. He reportedly installed $350,000 worth of rides before the park reopened for the season in May 1969. It’s likely that one of these was the “Frustratin’ Flyer”, a Monster Mouse model Allan Herschell mad mouse coaster. 

One other was the “Earthquake McGoon’s Brain Rattler”, a Chance Rides prototype Toboggan coaster. This ride was painted as a track wrapped around a metal tree – riders in a small coaster car climbed through the tree and then circled around the structure before doing a short out and back to the station. This ride bore serial number #1 from the factory in Wichita. (If you’re new to the podcast, check out the Joyland episodes, where I talk about Chance Rides, and the recent C. P. Huntington train episode). A scant 32 Toboggans were manufactured. Most were built on trailers for portability. Earthquake McGoon’s was not. Conflicting reports arise, as some places say the coaster was introduced later on (in 1981). However, this seems unlikely given the manufacturer’s date of 1969 and the manufacturing dates of other Chance Toboggans (via RCDB)

Beyond rides, Odom hired former six-term Arkansas governor Orval Faubus as president of Dogpatch USA in early 1969. This was ultimately only a one-year position for Faubus that primarily consisted of promotional visits across the country, extolling the virtues of the theme park. 

Odom also arranged some cross-promotional opportunities. The first annual Miss Dogpatch contest was held in 1969, and the park also was a filming location for the 1969 horror flick “It’s Alive!”, which has 2.7 stars (out of 10) on IMDb

The park was doing well. 1969 marked a high point in rustic, hillbilly pop culture nationwide. Li’l Abner appeared in more than 700 US newspapers daily. Shows with rustic, rural themes like Green Acres, The Beverly Hillbillies, and Petticoat Junction were all massive hits on TV. And locally, another theme park with a similar country rustic theme was finding success as well: Silver Dollar City, outside of Branson MO. 

Dogpatch USA: Early 1970s

Things continued to go well for Dogpatch in its next few years. A motel made solely of mobile homes was completed in time for the 1970 opening day, as was a campsite with over a hundred spaces. A funicular tram (essentially an angled railway going up and down a slope) was nearing completion and opened midway through the 1970 season. The funicular transported guests from the parking lot down to the theme park below.  

Odom was like Uncle Scrooge seeing unlimited dollar signs. He bought out almost all of the remaining REI investors and essentially became the new owner of Dogpatch USA.

1971 Li’l Abner TV special. Source: ABC Television / wikimedia commons (public domain).

By 1972, a number of new attractions were added, including animal exhibits with sea lions and exotic birds, and a “unique boat ride”. This was simply called Boat Train Ride, and involved a cast member driving a motorboat, pulling a train of non-motorized boats behind it. The ride went up the creek to the Mill and then back again.

Marble Falls Ski Facility

1972 also saw the announcement of a new project: Marble Falls. This was to be “a highly unique snow-skiing and convention facility which will offer a variety of seasonal attractions the year round.” Odom saw this as a way of maximizing the potential of Dogpatch, continuing the profits throughout the off season. The ski center used snow machines to produce adequate ski slopes, and also featured an ice-skating rink, an inn, condos, and A-frame Alpine chalets that were sold as timeshares to help defray costs. 

Ironically, a snowstorm caused delays in the opening of Marble Falls. The snow cannons were all stuck in a major snowstorm in Denver! Not only that, but it was icy on Marble Falls’ opening day, which kept patrons away. Slopes were finally conditioned for skiing by New Years, and for a few weeks, things went great. Unfortunately, it was an early spring, and by mid-February, it was too warm for even artificial snow. This was to be the story of Marble Falls for each year of its operation.

Many people, of course, point to the Marble Falls winter resort as the tipping point for Dogpatch’s downfall.

More Additions to Dogpatch in the 1970s

Additional rides were added to Dogpatch USA in 1973, including a scrambler, go-karts, a shooting gallery, a maze, and a swinging bridge. They all have Li’l Abner-themed names which I really don’t need to go into here. Pappy Yokum’s Positively Petrifying Putt-Mobiles, indeed

The “famous” Kissing Rocks sculpture was also added during the 1973 season – two very large heads of characters kissing, carved out of stone. 

Kissing Rocks. Source: Kenzie Campbell / Flickr – CCBYSA2.0.

1974 saw additional new attractions, including a replica Native American village and Hairless Joe’s Kickapoo Barrel. This was a very memorable thrill ride of which few photos exist. It’s one of the “Rotor” type, also known as “Devil’s Hole” and “Hell Hole”. Simple in concept, these were incredibly popular around the 1950s. Riders were spun in a circle until centrifugal force pinned them to the wall of the barrel, and then the floor of the ride dropped out while the ride kept spinning. This sounds absolutely terrifying to me, but I get that I’m a chicken about these things.

Attendance estimates for this time period vary wildly, from 200,000 visitors per year to over 1 million visitors per year at its peak. 

Trouble on the Horizon for Dogpatch USA

It did seem like prospects were looking up and up and up for Dogpatch, even with the stops and starts of the Marble Falls Ski project. As with all good roller coasters, it was time to fall down. A number of factors came together at once to really seal the fate of Dogpatch.

Nationally, in the early 1970s, interest rates skyrocketed. Odom needed money for Dogpatch, so even though it was a bad time to borrow, he had no choice. He borrowed money from Union Planters Bank in Memphis – $2M in 1972 and an additional $1.5M in 1973.

An energy crisis kept travellers home due to the high cost of oil and gasoline in the oil embargo of 1973. And in pop culture, there was the “rural purge”. Network TV executives, especially those at CBS, began cancelling rural, rustic shows in favor of more urban-directed shows that were aimed at a different audience. Additionally at play here was the newly-implemented Prime Time Access Rule, which forced networks to trim seven half-hour shows (from 7:30-8:00pm) from their weekly programming and return that time to local stations. Shows had to go. Urban variety shows were the new trend, so even though shows like The Beverly Hillbillies were popular, they had to go from the POV of a network executive.

Li’l Abner was still a daily comic strip in a declining number of papers, but the extensions of the property never happened given the changing cultural climate. No Li’l Abner restaurant chain, and no Li’l Abner TV series. Al Capp was facing sexual assault charges. Capp’s politics in his comic strip were changing. 

And back in the Ozarks, attendance numbers for Dogpatch USA in the 1970s were nowhere near expectations.

Abandoned Dogpatch USA. Source: Craig Finlay / Flickr – CCBYSA2.0.

Weather and Money Troubles in the Late 70s

Mild weather was spelling trouble – this was awful news for the ski lodge of Marble Falls. You can’t have a ski lodge in warm weather, even if you can make artificial snow. Marble Falls sat empty and grassy and idle. Dogpatch USA made a moderate profit, but couldn’t make up for the resulting lack of income from the Marble Falls side of things.

Jess Odom was sitting at around $3.5 million dollars in debt at this point. He tried some business maneuvers, but ultimately failed. Banks began seeking their money back from Odom in the late 70s. In 1976 and 1977, two different banks sued Odom and his company, Marble Falls Estates.

And then in 1977, Al Capp retired, ending the Li’l Abner strip. This was a huge blow to the park, as the strip had essentially provided a constant, wide-spread advertising for the park. All together, expenses were up, and profits were down.

That same year of 1977, Odom made the decision to permanently close the Marble Falls ski slopes, citing the fact that the attraction had lost $50,000 to $100,000 a year since its opening in 1972. 

Despite all this, 1977 was reportedly the most profitable year yet, with the highest attendance numbers in the park’s history.

Odom tried to add some new attractions to stem the tide: the Slobbovian sled run, a puppet theater, a space flight simulator. It wasn’t enough. 

In 1979, Odom announced that he was in talks to sell Dogpatch to a nonprofit Christian group called God’s Patch, Inc, and reportedly had been negotiating the deal privately for several years. Should the deal go through, Dogpatch would be converted into a biblically themed entertainment and convention center. The deal never went forward, however, as God’s Patch, Inc. couldn’t find sufficient matching investment funds before their allotted time ran out.

Odom tried another tact, feeling himself sinking under the weight of the high interest rates on his loans. He went to the Harrison City Council. He tried to get their help in essentially refinancing all of his loans and extending their life while lowering the interest rates, through the issuing of tourism bonds. Ultimately, he was asking them for all of his personal money back out of the park, for Harrison to assume all the debts, and for the park to be run by this God’s Patch group. 

Harrison City Council wasn’t particularly excited by the proposal, and asked to see his books for the last five years. 

Within a week of the meeting, two lawsuits were filed. The previous year, in 1978, a child fell over 20 feet after slipping between a ride and its loading platform; a woman slipped and fell trying to catch the child. Both suffered spinal injuries and permanent disabilities. They sought over $200k in compensation, alleging in the suit that Dogpatch had been negligent in ride design, safety, and employee training. The lawsuits took two years to settle, and they left a bad taste in the mouth of the Harrison City Council. 

The Harrison City Council rejected Odom’s bond proposal, and they rejected his subsequent followup bond proposal. Councilmembers reportedly went on record at the time to say that the entire community was against any bonds relating to Dogpatch. The general sense was that the community knew the shape of it, and didn’t want any part in the bad deal Odom was trying to pass off on someone else.

Abandoned Dogpatch USA. Source: The Stuart / wikimedia commons (public domain).

Some new attractions materialized again at the park, doing little to improve attendance: a trained bear act, and the first appearance of a costumed Shmoo character.

In 1980, a new business entity was formed, this time called Ozark Family Entertainment (OFE). OFE stated that they had no connection with Dogpatch, although later records reportedly indicated that multiple people associated with OFE had been in management positions at Dogpatch USA or had been involved in other business dealings with Odom.

Several people were reportedly interested in moving Dogpatch to a new location, and Odom was reportedly no longer interested in being the owner of the park. The newest idea was that now they’d try getting Jasper (Newton County, where most of Dogpatch was physically located) to issue tourist bonds, with the gist of their proposal being no property taxes on almost 1000 acres of developed land, plus cheap money. 

OFE negotiated to purchase Dogpatch, which was unsurprisingly approved by the shareholders. Newton County tentatively agreed to the bond proposal only if OFE could find buyers for all the bonds AND convince Dogpatch USA’s creditors to accept the bonds in lieu of payment. OFE seemed to think they had this in place. 

In one of the many mind-numbingly complex situations involved with Dogpatch, REI maintained ownership of the park for the summer of 1980, but OFE managed it. Banks and creditors wanted to wait on the bond issue through the summer season to see how profitable Dogpatch USA was going to be without the weight of the now-closed Marble Falls ski resort.

What happened was a massive heat wave. 1980 saw what was reputedly the hottest summer in Arkansas history to date, with more triple-digit days that year than almost any prior year. Trees and plants withered, water sources dried up, and people stayed inside. They did not want to be out at a theme park in humid 100+ degree temperatures. The months rolled on, and summer at Dogpatch USA in 1980 was a bust. 

By the end of August, the creditors had seen enough. They weren’t willing to accept the bonds as payment. Additional banks sued Dogpatch and its holding companies over their unpaid, ballooning debts. The bond issue wasn’t going anywhere. Odom tried to get the banks to allow delayed payments on some of the debts, but they weren’t having any of it. And the lawsuits over the child and woman injured at the park were settled during this time as well, for an undisclosed amount of money.

In October 1980, Union Planters Bank, to which Dogpatch owed millions, filed to take possession of Dogpatch and Marble Falls. 

In November 1980, Dogpatch filed for bankruptcy. Their filing reportedly listed 90 creditors owed $3.2 M, including personal debts to Al Capp and Jess Odom himself. OFE would not be able to buy the park unless these creditors were all paid off. The bank, Union Planters, took possession of Dogpatch USA, including most of the associated business as well: hotels, chalets, post office, restaurant, and service station. Despite their ownership on paper, Union Planters was reportedly ready to sell quickly, as they were located in Memphis, almost 300 miles from Dogpatch USA. 

Here we go through yet more confusing legal ownership.

Union Planters expected that Dogpatch USA wouldn’t open during the 1981 season, but it ended up doing so after all. Enter Wayne Thompson, one of the former members of OFE and a former general manager at Dogpatch USA (during 1974-1975 season). He formed a new company called Ozark’s Entertainment, Inc (OEI), because who doesn’t love another confusing acronym? OEI purchased Dogpatch and much of its assets for an undisclosed sum early in 1981. 

The bank retained Marble Falls Ski Resort, and auctioned the property off in April of 1981 (we’ll get back to this in a minute). Also sold were the Dogpatch Caverns. The latter were purchased by Albert Raney, part of the family that owned the original trout farm property. After a rename to Mystic Caverns, they continued operating as a tourist attraction that year. 

Dogpatch USA under OEI Ownership

Wayne Thompson, as mentioned, had originally been a general manager of Dogpatch back in 1974 and 1975. In the intervening years between his management and his ownership of the park, he reportedly managed a different park down in Florida, leveling himself up on park management skills. As the 80s rolled on and Dogpatch USA began operations under Thompson and OEI, it was clear he’d learned some useful things. 

For instance, he cut staff – from 600 in 1980 down to 250 in 1981. He focused on upgrading landscaping and adding additional arts and crafts and shows. Thompson even re-invested in the park’s infrastructure, working with a local firm to rebuild the Marble Falls water wheel. They used original period wood-working techniques and the original cast iron spike, still drilled into the rock at the base of the waterfall. 

And of course, Thompson added new rides. The iconic “Wild Water Rampage” (the big waterslide still living on the property today) was installed for the 1984 operating season.

Source: Kenzie Campbell / wikimedia commons via flickr, CCBYSA 2.0.

Reportedly, big name acts like Ike and Tina Turner, Hank Thompson, and Reba McEntire all performed at Dogpatch USA’s ampitheatre at this time. Denver Pyle from the popular TV show Dukes of Hazzard was signed on as the spokesman for the park. And Thompson signed licensing deals: Spiderman, Batman, and Captain America were all on hand for autographs and appearances. At the same time, Coke, Dr. Pepper, and Tyson Foods licensed their brands for amphitheatres, buildings, and season passes. 

All told, Dogpatch USA recovered from its slumps in 1979 and 1980, and made a profit. Reportedly, attendance was up by 21%, although this practically should’ve been a guarantee after the 1980 heatwave. 

More Legal Entanglements for Dogpatch

While the park seemed to be recovering, more was going on behind the scenes. The courts were structuring the debt after bankruptcy. 

Y’all, I’ve got to be honest, I’ve almost given up on this episode right here, so many times. Ugh, it is just an alphabet soup of confusion. I promise that the story is more interesting with all the details – stay with me. 

Okay. So, we have a new company. This one’s called Dogpatch Properties Inc, or DPP. Remember how I said the Marble Falls part of the property was auctioned? Well, DPP was a group of businessmen who formed this company and arranged to buy it. The plan was that secured interests in the property would be paid off first, and then unsecured interests paid off next, somehow with Jess Odom still in the mix to manage expenses only. 

Somehow too was introduced the concept of selling parts of this property as time-shares. Enter a new company: Buffalo River Resorts (BRR), still an Odom enterprise, that reportedly existed as a company only to sell timeshares for DPP. (Why all the shell companies? Perhaps to keep the name Dogpatch off sales and ad copy, and keep that associated bad taste out of people’s mouths.) 

Okay. So then, one of the Arkansas state laws get changed, and uh-oh, this one concerns time shares. This here is the most confusing part of the legal entanglements. Essentially, the Time Share Act of 1983 (Act 294) required that timeshare properties be registered with the State Real Estate Commission prior to being sold. This in turn would require that “BRR furnish the purchaser with releases from all liens or to put up a bond or buy insurance or to provide a document in which the mortgage holder subordinates his rights to those of the purchaser”.

It gets into legal spaghetti here, and to be honest, I think very few people understand what went on. You can get into the details at the website of Arkansas Road Stories, whose piece on Dogpatch is incredibly well-researched, and provides a solid backbone for my episode that you’re hearing right now. 

The long and the short of it was that there was a lot of legal mess roughly boiling down to “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” until 1984, when lawyers found a loophole. Essentially, the courts made a decision to exempt BRR from registering with the State Real Estate Commission, with one catch. Any time-share buyers had to be informed that banks had liens on the properties, and therefore that the banks could potentially re-possess timeshares if DPP and BRR didn’t pay their debts. 

Unsurprisingly, the number of timeshare sales subsequently dropped.

2006 building at Dogpatch. Source: Clinton Steeds / Flickr. CCBYSA 2.0.

1987 and On: Dogpatch USA Ownership Under Telcor

After the dust from the OEI ownership and BRR timeshare kerfuffles had settled down, things were quiet at Dogpatch for a few years.

Then came 1987.

The Entertainment and Leisure Corp (Telcor) came on the scene. They purchased a controlling interest (90%) in Dogpatch USA for an undisclosed sum, leaving the remaining 10% in the hands of a few area residents.

Well, that was abrupt. How’d this all come about?

So it turns out that Telcor was a new company, formed in order to buy and manage theme parks. It was headed by a guy named Melvyn Bell, who also at the time owned Deer Forest Park in Michigan, and Magic Springs, in Arkansas. (We’ll get there, though not in this episode. Magic Springs was shuttered for five years starting in 1995 before a massive revitalization project, and Deer Forest Park is on my master abandoned park list.) Aside from theme parks, Melvyn Bell had made a name and a lot of money for himself in waste management and restaurant training (two separate businesses). 

The Dogpatch connection came from the new President of Telcor, one Wayne Thompson, who should be a familiar name by now as the general manager of Dogpatch USA for most of the 80s and current OEI owner. And funnily enough, another principle owner of OEI, Sam Southerland, became VP of Telcor, and became finance manager for all three Telcor parks. 

Corporate poaching or perhaps just some solid lateral business moves, who knows. The sense from my research is that the acquisition was well-received. After all, Melvyn Bell had deep pockets and Telcor had promised to spend at least half a million dollars on improvements to the park. 

Well, they did add a new ride called Space Shuttle, which didn’t seem to fit the rustic theming of Dogpatch USA very well. I haven’t dwelled on the theming very much with how much this story has been about ridiculous money mismanagement and legal mumbo-jumbo, but it should be very clear that by the late 80s, rustic was very out. Clean and shiny and new was in, and Dogpatch USA was never going to fit the new trends without a massive re-theming. Barring that, they just shoehorned whatever new ride or attraction felt fun into place and hoped for the best. Leave the theming to Disney, it seems. But they did take at stab at improving maintenance, at the least.

Anyhow, reportedly attendance was up 60% in the first year with Telcor compared to 1981, the first year with OEI. Okay. Odd comparison, but okay. 

If we flip back to the BRR and DPP timeshare side of things, we’ll still be mired in legal spaghetti. Three banks’ right to foreclose (on Jess Odom) were upheld by the US Eight District Court of Appeals. Summarizing and reading between the lines, it appears that the court placed the responsibility for Dogpatch USA, DPP, and BRR solely at the feet of Jess Odom. “If Dogpatch Properties, Inc. (DPP) can’t pay, the debtor will be responsible for the leins, the money will come out of the debtor’s estate, and unsecured creditors will get nothing.”

1988: Departures and Declining Cultural Relevance at Dogpatch

In 1988, Wayne Thompson parted ways with Melvyn Bell and therefore with Telcor and Dogpatch USA. Lynn Spradley became the general manager in his place, a man with fourteen years of experience already at Dogpatch USA in other positions. In his next few years at Dogpatch as general manager, he was reportedly often bemoaning the situation Dogpatch USA was in. As I said, the theming had really taken a dive, and rustic was out out out, not in. The Li’l Abner comic strip had been out of print in the papers for over a decade. Said Spradley, “A lot of kids don’t have any idea who Daisy Mae and Li’l Abner are.” Reportedly, Dogpatch had to spend more per patron than comparable parks on various promotions to attract guests.

Not only was the theming a problem, but location was always a problem, too. Dogpatch was on a side highway, a back road. As we know by know on The Abandoned Carousel, location is such a huge factor.

And as I mentioned many minutes ago, Silver Dollar City in Branson, MO was a relatively close attraction (50 miles north, just over the MO-AR border). This park is still open, spoiler alert. It is and was an 1880s-themed Ozark village. There are crafts and tradesman demonstrations, there are stages and performances, there are multiple coasters and rides, and there’s Marvel Cave, a cave that’s been open for tourists since 1894. Does it all sound like a better version of Dogpatch? Kinda. Sorry, Dogpatch stans. And if Silver Dollar City didn’t have it, Ozark Folk Center, an Arkansas state park, was a short distance due east, to meet the craftsman and Ozark heritage needs. 

As one author nicely put it, Dogpatch USA was, from the beginning, too hokey and jokey with its Li’l Abner dark satirical comic strip theme to ever successfully emulate a grander, more polished place like Silver Dollar City. And where Dogpatch does bear some resemblances to a rustic version of a Six Flags franchise park (with its mishmash of attractions and themes and licensed properties), it was located in the wrong place to ever draw enough crowds to succeed with that audience. Its location is and was one of the poorest in the state.

Dogpatch USA’s only true advantage over other local attractions was always the Li’l Abner theme. But every year past the strip’s retirement, the park declined in cultural relevance. Dogpatch was simply outdated. If you have to explain to your kids that Daisy Mae was a character in a comic strip that ended when you, the parent, were a kid, well…

You begin to see the discouragement that had to be setting in for those in ownership of Dogpatch USA. 

1991: Changes for Dogpatch USA

Melvyn Bell sat down in 1991 and began making major changes. He saw the writing on the wall, and local civic leaders in Jasper and Harrison were publically voicing their concerns about whether the park would ever be viable again. 

The Li’l Abner theming was dropped. Melvyn Bell and Telcor decided that they could save that 2-3% of gross profits for themselves instead of sending it to the Al Capp estates. The park was renamed “Dogpatch, Arkansas” and they waved goodbye to that licensing fee. 

Not only that, but the entry fee was dropped as well. What? As a cost-saving measure? Yep. They lengthened the season, charged per ride on each attraction, and reframed the park as an arts and crafts focused place. This brought more bodies in the park, potentially meaning more dollars in the pocket.

Long abandoned Dogpatch sign by the side of the road. Source: whiterabbit / wikimedia commons (public domain).

General Manager Lynn Spradley left Dogpatch in 1991, as well, in order to become a plumber. In his place, Shirley Cooper stepped in, an 11 year veteran of the Dogpatch world, serving as general manager for the park’s last two years.

Yes, there wasn’t long left for Dogpatch, even with the major changes Bell and Telcor had set in place. Visitors during these last years noted the declining maintenance around the park, the train’s PA system on the fritz, generic carnival rides like the tilt-a-whirl added to try and boost income…

Nothing helped.

Dogpatch USA’s last day of operation was October 14, 1993.

Abandoned Dogpatch USA

“There were a lot of mistakes. Bad judgement calls,” Bud Pelsor, a later owner of the park, is quoted as saying. “I don’t know that they could’ve made good ones. The United States was going through some serious transitions in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s.”

Ultimately, the park was foreclosed upon yet again. Bell and Telcor had done pretty well on taking down that pile of debt, but almost half a million was still outstanding. In December of 1994, the park was put up for auction. The new owners were C. L. and Ford Carr, also known as Leisuretek Corporation and Westek Corporation. During these transition years, many options for revitalization were floated, including converting the space into a movie ranch, an ecotourism spot, or a better version of an Ozark history spot, but nothing ever came of any of it. 

And then the park sat.

A unique abandoned building at Dogpatch USA. Source: Craig Finlay / Flickr – CCBYSA2.0.

New Operations at Marble Falls

Up at Marble Falls, there was a bit of action.

In 1997, reportedly facing public pressure, the official name of the post office (and the town) was changed from Dogpatch back to Marble Falls. Despite this, however, Google still thinks the official name is Dogpatch, AR. 

Back in 1988, when DPP was divvying out shares of the Marble Falls ski resort land, a woman named Debra Nielsen began purchasing what she could, when she could. According to news reports, she eventually owned much of the Marble Falls attractions area: the ski lodge, the convention center, the roller (skating) rink, and a motel. She reportedly named it “Serenity Mountain”. The skating rink she reported leased to a nonprofit called HELP, providing therapeutic horseback riding at no cost. Additionally, she reportedly operated a B&B as well as a church on the land, although I’ve been unable to find additional information on this. 

What I did find was a few businesses clustered in the former Marble Falls buildings. I’ll get into more detail later, but there’s Marble Falls Resort and Restaurant (which advertises some incredibly tasty-looking fried catfish on its social media accounts) and a place called The HUB. Both cater to motorcycle enthusiasts. Well, one does, one did. The HUB closed in 2017 after 12 years of operation. 

Back at Dogpatch, things were still stagnant. There were rumors and reports but no activity towards revitalization of any kind.

In 2002, Ford Carr listed Dogpatch USA on eBay, at a starting minimum bid of $1 M. There were no takers. 

In 2005, things changed again. 

2005: Pruett Nance and Dogpatch USA

Enter Pruett Nance, then 16. His grandfather was one of Dogpatch’s original shareholders, and Nance had grown up going to the park. When it closed in 1993, he regularly spent time on the former park land, reportedly with permission of the property owners, C. L. and Ford Carr. 

In 2005, he was ATV riding on the property, again with permission from the Carrs, “to tour the property”. He hit a wire that had been strung between two trees, and was severely injured, nearly decapitated. His trachea was severed and his neck was broken. Doctors didn’t expect him to survive, and when he did, they didn’t expect him to ever talk again. But Nance proved them wrong again, on both counts, and he did. 

Nance and his father filed a lawsuit against the owners, alleging that they’d put the wire there on purpose, as a deterrent against vandals, with malicious intent. The case actually made it all the way up to the Arkansas Supreme Court. The court ultimately ruled in favor of Nance. Between Nance and his father, Dogpatch owners were ordered to pay $764,582 in damages, to include medical bill costs, within 45 days of the decision. 

The owners could not, would not, did not pay.

The judge gave the deed to Dogpatch to Nance, and he became the new owner of Dogpatch.

“”I do have the ability to change things for the better of course,”” he said to the local paper in 2011. He was also pragmatic in his comments to the paper, stating that he was only 23 and did not have the experience or knowledge to properly deal with the ruins of Dogpatch. It was reported that Pruett Nance and his father Stewart Nance were taking the project one day at a time.

The shadow of the Wild Water Rampage, and a mostly-submerged boat ride at abandoned Dogpatch USA. Source: Kenzie Campbell / Flickr – CCBYSA2.0.

2014: Bud Pelsor and Dogpatch USA

It took a few more years, but it turns out that they did eventually decide to sell Dogpatch. In summer 2014, it found a new owner: Bud Pelsor, inventor of the spillproof dog bowl (, and his business partner Jim Robertson, the CFO of Great American Spillproof Products. (Curious? Pelsor’s dog-wolf hybrid is the spokes-dog for the product. Her name is Miss Arkansas Diamond, or Dia for short, and she’s a lovely animal. The bowl is sold with the tagline “Dogs love it because water does not go up their nose. You love it because you have less mess.” I am tempted to purchase one for my own pups.)

The story goes that Pelsor had briefly visited Dogpatch in its heyday. Talking to the newspaper at the time, he said “I saw how the local residents thrived from it. … All the houses along the road had jellies, jams, quilts for sale. I was really impressed with it. I kept making trips down here, and it just kept getting worse and worse and worse.”

Pelsor’s business partner Jim made him aware that the park was up for sale in 2014, and they purchased Dogpatch to the tune of $2 M, reportedly backed by promises of additional external grant money. (As a sidebar, the property records are freely accessible by the public and tell a fascinating legal and tax version of the story I’m telling you here. Worth checking out if you’re into that.)

He wasn’t particularly interested in reopening Dogpatch as it was, however. “Resurrecting the dead is something best left for someone other than me,” he’s quoted as saying. He had plans for “The Village at Dogpatch”. It was to be an ecotourism place, for reintroducing native mussels to the creek, for restocking the famous trout pond. He wanted a more arts and crafts focused place – maybe to bring back the music, maybe a restaurant, but not a theme park.

Regardless of the ultimate theme, with Pelsor as the new owner, he had immediate plans for cleaning and maintaining the property, at the very least. Volunteers even came out for weekends on end to help him clean up the property, cutting back the massive flora that was taking over the remaining rides and buildings. 

2006 roadside view of Dogpatch, newly cleaned up. Source: Clinton Steeds / Flickr. CCBYSA 2.0.

The crowds were incredible. Traffic was reportedly backed up on Highway 7 for the December 2014 public opening, the first time the park had been open to the public for 21 years. Over 5,000 people were reported in attendance. Very impressive for a defunct theme park, abandoned for 21 years! There were several of these Riverwalk events, allowing the public to see the cleaned up Dogpatch.

Plans didn’t move very fast – unsurprising as I’ve learned from firsthand experience that construction timelines are truly something else. A few months later, in February 2015, three buildings were burned down. Arson was suspected. 

In May 2015 it was time for more Riverwalk events at Dogpatch again. This time, the framing was as an artists village event. Several musical acts performed, and artists demonstrated their craft. Many pieces were Dogpatch themed: arrowheads made out of old broken glass from the site, pictures of the abandoned site pasted onto wood, etc.

But still, things were moving slowly. It seemed like it was setback after setback. There were floods. The overgrown buildings required extensive maintenance before any new construction could be done.

And then came the news that the promises for big name support and grant money for the park were empty useless promises. Pelsor is quoted as saying that it ”left me with my pants down and exposed to chiggers”.

And Bud’s business partner wanted out, too, reportedly due to poor health. 

In March of 2016, Dogpatch USA went up for sale again – either the whole thing, or just half. Pelsor was willing to remain co-owner if someone else was interested in being his business partner. “”I don’t want to sell out, but my business associate does,” he said. “I have the option to buy him out, but I can’t.””

Fall 2008 image. Source: photolitherland / wikimedia commons , CCBYSA 3.0

2018: Heritage USA (But Not That One)

It took over a year, but in late 2017, after months Pelsor announced that he’d come to an agreement with a group called Heritage USA to lease the property. 

No, not THAT Heritage USA. This was not the Christian Disneyland, Jim Bakker, pyramid scheme Heritage USA. This group was (supposedly) unrelated, operated by a guy named David Hare. 

In YouTube videos, Hare looks and speaks like a TV preacher, well, a lot like Jim Bakker, to be honest. He’s filmed wearing button-down shirts and slicking his hair back. His background is as an executive member of the Las Vegas Broadcasting Company America’s TV Network, a very small media company. Prior to that, he did musical productions in Anaheim and hosted a kids radio show in the 80s and 90s. 

For months prior to the official announcement, Hare posted vague and confusing videos about the forthcoming deal with Dogpatch. But what was eventually announced was that Heritage USA and David Hare would lease the main Dogpatch property, with a potential purchase agreement at the end of the lease period.

In addition to making a deal with Pelsor, Heritage USA also made a deal with Debra Nielsen for a similar lease-purchase agreement on the Marble Falls hotel and convention center properties. 

Hare and Heritage USA posted multiple videos about the site online, often rambling. They branded themselves as “your conservative entertainment company”. Nothing is or was ever very clear with the Heritage USA operations of Dogpatch from what I’ve been able to see, but it appears they planned to have a resort, theme park, hotel, theater, and RV park, opening in stages. Reportedly a new train was supposed to open in 2019.

Based on their social media postings, things went okay for the first few months. They were active on social media, showing the progress on the land, a full house at the hotel, tours and other special events, etc. But somewhere in June 2018, things seem to have gone awry.

On June 28, 2018, Hare published a (frankly rambling) video on his Heritage USA Youtube channel, about the “challenges” he sees facing the company and project going forward. The gist seems to be that his investors decided to bail on their support of the Heritage USA project, but that he himself was not going to bail. In his comments, he insisted that it didn’t require a lot of money to operate the site. Several times over the course of the video, he reiterated that the property owners (Pelsor and Nielsen) “deserve to get their money”. (Obviously, as this was a legal contract he’d entered into.) The overall tone was of a man rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

It’s difficult to put together the pieces from where I’m sitting in 2019, as several of Hare’s Heritage USA videos have been deleted. But Hare goes on to say in his June 28 video (“Do It Talk 3: Moving Forward.The Challenge”): “Do you realize we could start paying the bills up here if people would start really renting rooms? […] if we had a good influx of steady bookings, we could make it. That’s how reasonable it is.” 

It’s so classic, to shift the blame to others. 

He closes the video saying “Don’t count us out” and then adds “but don’t make reservations for October, either”.  

Essentially, it looks like Hare could never fulfill his end of the bargain, or perhaps never intended to. Some online speculate that the Heritage USA name was intentional, and that the only real intent behind the park plans was a church or religious cult of some kind. Hare posted on social media advertising the park, but the hotel was vacant when paid guests showed up, utilities turned off, Hare and Heritage USA vanished in the night, completely unreachable. 

Abandoned Wild Water Rampage at Dogpatch USA. Source: Craig Finlay / Flickr – CCBYSA2.0.

The nitty gritty of what happened seems to be that Debra Nielsen had filed an eviction notice in July, requiring Heritage USA to be out within ten days as a result of non-payment of rent. (Not just a short term lack of payment – they apparently had never paid her any rent, nor had they paid rent to Pelsor.) 

Heritage USA, in turn, reportedly claimed that this eviction was a breech of their lease, and requested mediation. 

Debra Nielsen filed a lawsuit in Newton County Circuit Court in August of 2018, saying that mediation was pointless since Heritage USA hadn’t made any payments on their lease (which had reportedly begun in January 2018 on the Marble Falls portion of the land). Heritage USA had originally agreed to pay $5,500 / month just for the Marble Falls portion of the land alone (this included the old HUB motel and convention center, as well as the old skating rink). “The lease began Jan. 15 and was to continue until Jan. 14, 2020, at which time Heritage USA Ozarks Resort was to purchase the property for $750,000 if the company didn’t opt to do so sooner.”

An immediate hearing was scheduled, as the property was in a state of emergency. Apparently Hare hadn’t paid the insurance companies either, nor the water and electric companies, so all insurance and utility services had been shut off. 

Reportedly, though, Hare disappeared. According to the newspaper articles, Nielsen’s attorney had exhausted every possible resource available to him to find Hare. 

Pelsor described Hare as “larger than life” and defended his original decision to work with Hare and Heritage USA in a newspaper article in August 2018. ““He had sound investors that were contractors. He had sound financial management. He had a good team assembled, and that’s what we looked at,” says Pelsor.”

Pelsor continued in comments to the local news, saying “Now it looks almost like it did when I bought it. A wasteland. Everything’s grown up and ugly again and it happened because David Hare made promises he couldn’t keep,”. By all accounts, Hare was all talk, and burned bridges with those around him.

And once again, Dogpatch USA as a theme park was abandoned.

Dogpatch USA: the Present and Future

Of course, in Monday morning quarterbacking, people have plenty of opinions about the many ups and downs the park has gone through. “The roads to Dogpatch were so rugged, so it was never an easy destination to reach.” says one person in the comment section of a newspaper article. Many other folks remember the park with fond nostalgia from attending there in the 70s and 80s, though, and praise the inexpensive pricing. 

It does seem like the park was originally a little bit magical – like something from a simpler time, surrounded by the natural beauty of Northern Arkansas. And the theming reflected the history of the people of the area, at least at first.

But in its abandonment, it only had offerings for those interested in abandoned places and urban explorers. Residents and former visitors described the area as a hazard, rotten and falling down. Many called it a problem, and it seems like most just want the eyesore to go away. There’s nostalgia for the past, but it seems like people have been burned too many times in too many different supposed revitalizations of the place.

Abandoned Dogpatch railroad, twisted and broken. Source: Kenzie Campbell / Flickr – CCBYSA2.0.

And Dogpatch is incredibly outdated. Al Capp, while being an excellent writer and artist, was a known womanizer, misogynist, and accused rapist (including allegations by Goldie Hawn and Grace Kelly). And his Li’l Abner comic strip has been out of publication for 42 years as of this recording. Arkansas residents didn’t want to be seen as hillbillies back then, and that theming definitely wouldn’t fly in today’s culture. 

An online commenter summed it up: “Not worth tearing down and there’s no market for it if it was restored.”

Now in 2019, the park is back in the hands of Bud Pelsor. He’s quoted in an interview with Belle Starr Antiques, saying that he simply plans to ““clean it up, turn the lights on, the music up loud and party until it says SOLD on the sign.””

Yes, Dogpatch USA is currently back up for sale. The address is 256 NC 3351, Marble Falls, AR, 72648. At the time of this recording, asking price is just under $1.5M dollars.

Do you want to visit Dogpatch USA yourself? Reportedly Pelsor sometimes allows visitors, arranged ahead of time, for a modest $5/pp fee. Or you could go with a group, like this upcoming October 6, 2019 hike:

The Future of Dogpatch: 2019 and 2020

The writing has been on the wall for some time. But late 2019 and early 2020 have seen the wheels of bureaucracy, so familiar in this long story, back in action at Dogpatch once again.

In December 2019, Bud Pelsor announced that he was giving up on his dream of the ecotourism village at Dogpatch USA, and that he was moving back to Indiana. In a quote from the article, Pelsor said, “I’m just not able to pull it off. The stress of this place is killing me. I’ve had successes in a lot of ways, but everybody that was supposed to come on financially, well, there were just too many talkers.”

A January 2020 article fleshed out the story further: Pelsor and his business partners had missed multiple payments on the property through August 2019. The mortgage holders, the Nances, filed suit against Great American Spillproof. By late January, a decree of foreclosure was filed, giving Pelsor and his partners 10 days to pay the over $1M still owed on the property. At the time of this update (January 24, 2020), it is expected that the money will not be repaid. If so, the Dogpatch USA property will be sold at auction on March 3, 2020, there on the courthouse steps of Jasper, AR, with an expected starting bid of $1M.

Still in Operation

While The HUB has shut down, as I mentioned earlier, (that was where Heritage USA had made its base of operations, after all) things are still operation at Dogpatch and Marble Falls. There’s still the US Post Office. There’s a fairly new campground: CabinPatch USA. This is aimed at revitalizing the old campground at Dogpatch, and the views look incredible.

Marble Falls Resort and Restaurant is a recent effort from Debra Nielsen, the current landowner of most of the old Marble Falls properties. Operating in the former facilities of The HUB and Heritage USA, this place is currently operational and looks to be a very nice place to visit and stay. And, as I mentioned, delicious looking fried catfish advertised on their social media. 

Dogpatch USA Rides: Still Operating

And of course, you can still find a little bit of Dogpatch USA in one of its former rides. The waterslide (“Wild Water Rampage”), of course, still stands in state at the abandoned Dogpatch. It’s missing steps and will never be an operational ride again – an insurance nightmare. And of course, the funicular tram is still onsite, too, rusted in place. The paddleboats were left on the property after its abandonment, and are now long stolen.

Source: Brandon Rush / Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

Many of the other rides were sold or destroyed. Whearabouts of the carousel, the paratrooper, the Slobbovian Sled Run, the space ship, the barrel ride – all unknown.

Close to home, the Dogpatch Caverns, as mentioned earlier, were sold in 1981. They were renamed back to Mystic Caverns and are still open for curious cavers at the time of this recording.

The small coaster that was once at Dogpatch was called Frustratin’ Flyer, a Herschell wild mouse Monster Mouse model. Reportedly, the coaster was even wild during the park’s operation, with one guest commenting online that they could actually see the bolts holding the ride in place MOVING while the ride operated. While some sources state that this ride went to the Little Amerricka theme park after Dogpatch was shuttered in 1993, this would not be accurate. Little Amerricka owns a Wild Mouse model, not a Monster Mouse model – a close comparison of the track layout from photos and onride videos makes this clear. The only operational Herschell Monster Mouse coaster at this time is at Parque Acuatico Rey Park in Ecuador.

What IS at Little Amerricka is the infamous Earthquake McGoon’s Brain Rattler. If you head on over to Marshall, WI, some ten hours north of the former Dogpatch USA, you can ride the last Toboggan coaster known in operation at this time, now with a simpler name: Wild & Wooly Toboggan. Little Amerricka only runs one car on the coaster now, though, instead of the two it has the capacity for, and the ride does admittedly break down often. Spoilers.

And what about the miniature train that used to run? It was called the West Po’k Chop Speshul, and it was actually three different Chance C. P. Huntington trains, each of which had been heavily modified. On some, that lovingly ridiculous smokestack was removed and replaced with a crooked stovepipe. At the time of its construction, it was the first and only railroad in Newton County, Arkansas.

One online commenter suggested that one of the trains had been cannibalized for parts for the KC Zoo. This doesn’t fit with what’s known about the trains from the C. P. Huntington Train Project, though. 

We know that Dogpatch had CPH #64, #69, and another train. They were given the name “West Po’k Chop Spechul”. All engines were custom-themed. One was originally light green and orange; later black; the others were themed to the train from the comic strip. It pulled custom coaches with wood shingled roofs. 

Richmond Country Farms (up in British Columbia) purchased CPH #64 (Dogpatch #1) in 2013, and has been refurbishing it over the intervening years.

You see, word had been going around that the Dogpatch train was just rotting in some Kansas field somewhere. Well, this was the rumored train. Here’s a quote from Richmond Country Farms’ website: “It has been a dream of ours to have an operational railroad and miniature train for many years. We found our train tucked away on a farm in Witchita, Kansas in 2010. After many phonecalls and emails, we were able to secure a deal. Our two main farm hands, Nelson and Lucas Hogler, made the trek from Vancouver to Kansas to bring the train to its new home at Richmond Country Farms. After arriving home, we began an extensive 5 year full restoration of the locomotive and coaches. Construction of the railroad began in the summer of 2014- finishing just in time for October- for the grand opening of the train, and our annual Pumpkin Patch. Now, when you see that shiny candy-apple red train, you will know what we’re talking about!”

I’ve seen video of the coaches cleaned up and operating, sent to me by Chris Churilla, and they are looking very nice indeed. Good job on you, Richmond Country Farms.

Ultimately, Dogpatch USA was always in a state of flux, and continues to be so.

Whatever does end up happening at Dogpatch and Marble Falls, the tagline for the place will likely always hold true: “it was a heckuva day at Dogpatch USA.”

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