Thursday, June 12, 2008


A Sign at the Entrance of Fire in the Hole

The "Fire in the Hole" ride at Silver Dollar City, a theme park near Branson, Missouri, is an entertainment anachronism that is unmatched in its bizarre combination of dark subject matter and fun. I would have loved to be sitting around the desk when someone in the Herschend family said, "Hey, let's make a roller coaster about a bunch of hillbillies ransacking a small town. That's what the kids want!" The basic plot of Fire in the Hole is that you are a firefighter trying to clean up after a group of bald knobbers committed acts of arson to destroy a small town to clean up the morality and drive out the foreigners.

A Respectable Man Escapes from the Saloon with a Woman in his Arms

Update 8/26/08 This who scheme isn't as crazy as it sounds though. Silver Dollar City now sits on what was once called Marmaros, Missouri, a city that was once ransacked by the vigilante Baldknobbers. The Wikipedia entry for Silver Dollar City's original attraction, Marvel Cave, has a good rundown of details that explain the area's historical background.

When you get on this thrilling indoor roller coaster, you first pass a tranquil night scene. But things soon change for the worst when your train goes around the bend and you see buildings on fire. There's Ma and Pa trying to escape their building in the middle of the night and we hear Pa yelling, "Them darn bald knobbers stoled my pants!"

A Ransacked Mansion

Next we get several more scenes that oscillate between comedy and carnage. In one section, a bald knobber is pointing a cannon at the train. In the next section, the bald knobber is pointing a gun at the train. We also get several scenes of bald knobbers burning down saloons, houses, and hotels. Finally, in the end, the train goes down a steep drop and we hear the conductor yell "Fire in the Hole!", and water comes splashing down on the train.

Them Dern' Bald Knobbers Robbing a Mail Truck and Roasting a Pig on a Spit.

The ride hearkens back to a time when people weren't nearly so sensitive. No large corporation today would make a ride designed to entertain children that is riddled with house fires, contains characters aiming weapons at the park goers, and has a mock cemetery guarding the entrance. It was a time when stereotypes could still be used for humor and even the grim subjects like death could be dealt with in the lens of family entertainment. Today I think this ride lingers on simply because it is sentimental and reminds me and several thousand others of their simpler childhood days.

A Man Killed Outside his Cabin.
There aren't many amusement park rides for kids eight and up that feature grim scenes of dead puppets.

8/26/08 Update- This man is not dead. He is getting water from his spicket.

It is my fear that someday this coaster will be packed up and replaced with something cheesy. Something less controversial that will appeal to the under five set. I hypothesize that this will be called "The Wild Hay Ride." It will feature talking farm animals and a plot about an out of control horse. There's won't be any more punchy one liners, just kids singing "Kumbaya." No one will ever get the thrill of facing the bald knobbers again.

In case that time ever comes, I decided to take my camera with me and snap pictures of this classic ride. I intentionally rode in the front car and protected my camera before the last section that drenches park goers with water. Here are several of the scenes in all of their animatronic glory.

A Wanted Poster for an Infamous Bald Knobber

A Bald Knobber is Pointing a Cannon at You!

A Bald Knobber is Pointing a Gun at You!

By the way, when doing internet research for this article, I came across a rumor, apparently started by a erroneous Wikipedia entry, that a large section of this ride has been removed:
Throughout the ride, there are many scenes of Marmaros burning down. An interesting fact to Fire in the Hole is a section of the ride has been removed. After the first dip (Collapsing Bridge) the ride would turn right and later reconnect in front of the second dip. (Train Collision) If you look close at the scene where the cabin is burning there is a moon and some stars above one of the old track areas. Also when you see the sign “Kinney Bridge” on your left is a large open area where scenes once existed.


According to a bulletin board post on, this just isn't true:

Well that is incorrect. Once again proof that you cannot believe anything that is on wikipedia. The train has always turned left right after the burning bridge scene to go past the hold-up scene of the wagon into the railway tunnel. The three drops are boom-boom-boom.

The "removed scene" area that he is referring to is where they store supplies to repair scenes and what not. It is a big landing area that has always been at the top of the ride. Trust me I have been through that ride at least 20 times with the lights on, there is no "lost scenes or track areas"

There have been slight changes to the ride over the years, but other than the claim that sections have been removed, there has never been a specific listing of any removed section. Somebody even quoted it verbatim on the Silver Dollar City Fans Forum. I lost twenty minutes of my life trying to validate this fake Wikipedia claim.

Update 8/26/08- At the Silver Dollar City Forum there is photographic evidence that a section of the ride has been removed. One forum participant claims his parents were working in the park in 1982 when the changes were made. Unfortunately, since it occurred thirty years ago no has yet explained the particular changes. One person had vague memories of a scene featuring a Bald Knobber hung on a noose over a howling wolf, but there has been no proof of this.

A slightly more credible forum member called Old Guy claims that the ride used to take a dip into the Baldknobber caves, but those scenes were removed to make the ride shorter.

The missing section of track started where the burning bridge is now. (the Kinney bridge is named for the then park director) prior to that the car looped around an area of mini vocano like sand gysers that never made any sense to me. the car then gave a lurch and you dropped to the right into the Baldknober caves. They were baracaded behind crates and wagons and shot at you as you went by. A right turn took you down a short tunnel to the broken bridge where you swung to the right skirting the edge of the cliff before you turned left into the train tunnel as it is today.


spearle said...

hey, I totally respect you for writing this fascinating blog on SDC! Keep the hillbilly flame alive, Cullen! I do sometimes wonder if I am one of the few under-intelligent, backwoods folk that appreciates and completely understands a Missouri upbringing!

Anonymous said...

The fact that a section of tract has been removed is not a rumor. Ask the ride ops working the ride and the will openly tell you where the section has been removed. (They where removed in 82') This has been confirmed by long time employees at the park and by muliple long time riders at sdcfans

knit fiend said...

It is totally true that a section of the track has been removed. Both of my parents worked there at the time.

And apart from all of the kitchiness involved, there is fact behind the ride. The Baldknobbers ransacked southwest missouri before and after the Civil War. These were vigilantes who pretty much burned anything or anyone who got in their way. The Branson area was also their headquarters for a number of years and they were hung on the square in Ozark.

I think I'm a little biased, though. This is hands down my favorite ride.

Anonymous said...

The man by the cabin is not dead. He is getting water from the pump. He is using a red bucket.

Anonymous said...

I think you need to update the post to make it clear that the ride is based in a factual story of the burning down of Marmaros. It is not just some wild dream of a ride that is out there.

The ride tells the story of the Baldknobbers trying to scare William Lynch away from his newly purchased town and cave....
the beginning of Marvel Cave Park (1894), that eventually became Silver Dollar City (1960)

JDSwanny said...

I was only 10-12 in 1980-82, but I always understood that Fire in the Hole was closed after a man was killed when the car he was riding in was misdirected into a low-clearance service area. When the ride re-opened large chunks of it had been removed. I was young, so I may have events confused, but I clearly remember the ride never being as good as it was before.

A clear memory of the old ride was the section where there was a sign saying "Bridge Out" followed by an area where the track looked like it ended at a cliff. The cars diverted at the last second.

I also remember that there used to be two trains loading in the entrance area: a brown one in the front and a red one in the back.

mike said...

My first trip to SDC was in 1971 at two years old. We went several times more over the years, so I don't remember if that was my first encounter with fire in the hole or not. But i vividly remember the sheer terror that I had looking at the paintings of the baldknobbers. These photos bring that all back again. Thanks for posting these, now I know they were scary as hell and not just scary to me as a kid.

Anonymous said...

Kinney bridge is not named after the park director, but for Nathanial Kinney, the leader of the Baldknobbers!

Anonymous said...

Yes, the ride has indeed been shortened. I remember the section where the broken track was, and at that point in the ride you used to could look down and see a trailing train on the track below. The story of someone getting killed and a snake falling on someone are urban legends, I think. But the ride was definitely shortened. I have been going to SCD since the early 70's.

PW said...

Someone was definitely killed on Fire in the Hole. I remember when it happened. The train was accidentally diverted to a service track.

According to, the incident happened on July 9, 1980. SDC or FITH are not named, but I know this is what is being referred to. Here is the link.

The story could be easily confirmed by checking the Springfield News Leader for the story. It would have surely made the paper. I think the library at Campbell and Republic Road in Springfield would have the newspaper on microfiche.

Anonymous said...

I went to the Springfield Library and found the information. I posted what I found on the Fire in the Hole Wikipedia page.

Anonymous said...

Yes there is a section of the ride that has been removed, it happened in 82’. “Well that is incorrect. Once again proof that you cannot believe anything that is on wikipedia. The train has always turned left right after the burning bridge scene to go past the hold-up scene of the wagon into the railway tunnel. The three drops are boom-boom-boom.” This was posted by a guy who goes by Swoosh in many different forums. The guy is an idiot and always makes claims and ends up being wrong. He also likes to tell people he has inside connections to everything. The guy needs help.

Anonymous said...

I asked the older ride operator (man in his 50's) and he denied it.He claimed it weas a myth. Here's an article I found....a man DID die on the ride in 1980.


Anonymous said...

I used to work night security for SDC, and was responsible for checking FITH's fire safety equipment. I can confirm that there are several sections of the ride that have been removed, and the "star and Moon" area is one of them. There are multiple spots where there are still tracks that don't connect to anything. Also, there was a hung baldknobber up until sometime in the last en years or so.

As a side note, there are secret doors and fire exits hidden in plain sight all over that ride, and it's pretty easy to get lost in there when trying to find all the safety equipment.

Branson Travel Office said...

Rumor or not, the ride is a lot of fun if you're visiting SDC. Just know that younger kids might get a little spooked on the ride though :-)

Anonymous said...

I grew up in this area and it's true, there were several killed when it switched tracks to a service area and decapitated several people. It was closed for a long time after that.

Anonymous said...

I grew up going to SDC, and go regularly. FITH WAS changed. going through as a kid it was a longer ride, and I distinctly remember the section where the tracks went off the cliff and the car turned right before hitting that section of track.

Anonymous said...

I remember going to Fire In The Hole at age 8 (1983) with my older brother. Still my favorite ride. And yes, we do recall a scene with a hung Baldknobber and a wolf howling. In my personal opinion, this ride still ranks as the most original theme park ride in the country. It is an extreme rarity in theme park entertainment today that a ride uses historically based visual/audial atmosphere instead of G-forces to mess with you. If things ever do get to a point where they're considering tearing it out due to political correctness, I'd be more than willing to journey down to SDC and join the protest lines in favor of keeping it.

Andrea Mulkey said...

My parents were there the day the accident happened.. From what they heard or were told was there was a storm and they were going to shut down ride. Thought everyone was off and sent to storage area.. Someone still on and got decapitated. They said they were in the saloon show and all electric out but performers carried on show by candle for everyone in show. Which apparently lasted a long time... Longer then usual (my dad says hours). But I'm thinking this was probably because the saloon is right next to fire in the then when they do let everyone out of show. The park has closed down... And they give everyone their money back on the way out.