Embarrassing Family Stories: Dollywood in the 90s

Flooded Mine illustration

I spotted this article on Reddit regarding the 2007 renovation of It’s a Small Word due to the increasing need for larger boats thanks to America’s still-current problem with obesity. According to the LA Times article, “Heavier-than-anticipated loads have been causing the boats to come to a standstill in two different spots..”

This reminded me of a, now humorous, episode in which my family gathered for a visit to Dollywood in the 1990s and, for the most part, enjoyed the day as we normally did. (We were from the area so we often visited the park but usually just our immediate family… this time, the clan was out.) Now, to be open and honest, a number of family members may have been on the plus size spectrum. That’s not to say they were egregious in their size or lifestyle. They were just big-boned, voluptuous people. However, this particular fact is important and must be remembered for the rest of the story to make sense.

The Flooded Mine was a “dark ride,” conveying passengers on boats through a network of mine shafts that had been, obviously, flooded. The ride began as passengers boarded the boats as they scooted across a partially submerged conveyor belt and then, as the belt ended, the boats launched off, down into the mine for a leisurely ride through the mysterious mine. Think Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean but with a country slant.

We waited in line and excitedly boarded our boat as our turn finally came. We gathered into our small boat and shook as we skidded along the conveyor toward the watery passage. As the belt ended, and we entered the mouth of the cave, we felt a thud accompanied by a loud “KONK.” Our boat was not moving. The water was higher than expected. We were touching the bottom of the ride.

An alarm sounded. “Do not move!” came the cry of the ride operator over the loudspeaker. “We’re sending a second boat to distribute your weight.”

My face flushed. I was dead. This was how you die… in utter embarrassment, touching the floor of “The Flooded Mine” while a Dollywood employee rides to your rescue in a second boat to split your family in half and divide the weight to maintain buoyancy.

Following this humiliation and after finishing the ride, we made our way to the Mountain Slidewinder, a sort-of log flume inspired ride water slide in which five people ride down the mountain is a rubber toboggan. Thankfully, the Slidewinder has a large scale at the top where the operator ensures that your group’s weight will not encumber the ride. We passed the weight inspection and clambored into our 2nd boat of the day. At the top of the slide the operator prepared us for launch and, as the water poured around us, sent us on our way down the open-topped tube.

Ten feet, fifteen feet… sixteen feet… sixteen and a half feet… and halt. Our luck had not changed. Our boat ride was over. We sat high atop the mountain, at an indeterminable angle, water pouring around us. “We’re increasing the water!” shouted the operator, hopeful that this would nudge us along. It did not. There was some commotion from above. I craned my neck to see what was happening. Two workers were arguing about a solution, meanwhile my family was enjoying the view of the park. Then the arguing was over, “Can you reach the side of the tube?” shouted one of the operators. My family, arms outstretched, just reached the fiberglass walls of the tube. “Great, now push yourselves forward.” Seriously? Yes, seriously. We pushed our way down the Slidewinder.

Sadly, The Flooded Mine closed in 1997. Legend has it this was due to an infestation of water moccasins. Others claim this isn’t true and it was simply a matter of needing space for newer, more exciting rides. I like to think that this leisurely “dark ride” could have had a hint of real danger to it… although I’m very glad that, as our boat sat on the floor of the mine shaft and the water was eerily close to the top of our boat, there were no poisonous snakes swimming nearby. Branson’s Silver Dollar City still has their version of The Flooded Mine, so a trip there may be in order!

For more information on other long-gone Dollywood attractions check out this blog.

Artwork created on Paper.


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