Bill's Dune Rides - Mears MI

Address: 9679 W State Park Rd
City: Mears
State: MI
Zip: 49436
County: Oceana
Number of visits to this page: 168
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General Information:

This attraction closed in 1977 and I have no address for it. I am using the address of the Silver Lake Sand Dunes Park as that is the general area in which it operated.

By Dave LeMieux | The Muskegon Chronicle - 2011

HART 1954 — A new method of traversing Oceana County’s huge sand dunes at Silver Lake has been developed by William Lathers, operator of a fleet of vehicles for scenic trips over the miles of shifting sand lying between the inland lake and Lake Michigan.

Lathers has converted a 2-ton power wagon into a passenger-carrying vehicle that will carry as many as 16 adults over the 8-mile dune route. Huge tires procured from old airplane bombers provide a cushioned ride and enable the big truck to negotiate the steep hills and mounds of shifting sand across the dunes.

Lathers has installed regular bus-type seats in his car. He also operates smaller cars for the so-called "thrill ride," which emphasizes speed and daring on the steep dunes and has all the thrills of a roller coaster.

Before ascending the big dunes, Lathers’ vehicle winds around the shores of Silver Lake. A gradual approach is made to the big dunes and the car travels several miles up and down the sand hills before reaching the Lake Michigan shoreline.

From there a trip is made down the lake beach.

2011:

Johnny-come-lately William Rush "Bill" Lathers upped the ante in the dune buggy wars at Silver Lake when he debuted the four-wheel drive Dodge Power Wagon in the summer of 1954.

Less than a decade earlier, Lathers had mounted his first challenge to the thrill ride supremacy of Malcolm Hugh "Mac" Wood Sr., acknowledged inventor of the "dune scooter."

Wood had been scaring the pants off tourists since the late 1920s when he turned a garden variety 1928 Ford Model A into the first dune scooter by slapping large tires on front and back wheels. (An earlier experiment with a Model T nicknamed "Grasshopper" often left Wood buried up to his axles.)

"Bill copied us," Wood told The Chronicle in 1977. "He has a good ride, but we’re the only ones with access to Silver Lake."

"Don’t print anything saying I’m knocking Wood," Lathers once confided to The Chronicle, "but I really think we run a better ride. People tell us that. I’m not knocking his ride; maybe people say the same thing about us."

Although some said Lathers’ ride was even scarier than Wood’s, that’s difficult to imagine.

During the 1940s, along with tame ‘educational’ tours of the dunes, Woods offered the No. 7 which, according to The Chronicle, defied description. Stunts included with the No. 7 were the "Spine Shortener," the "Leap for Life" and the "Stomach Remover."

The semblance of danger was always one of the attractions of the dune rides and Lathers’ patented spiel played off his customers’ search for thrills. Piloting a buggy up a steep incline, Lathers turned and warned his riders, "I usually lose two or three passengers right about ... here." At that point, the truck dropped sharply down the opposite face of the high, steep dune trailing the delighted screams and shrieks of his passengers.

The battle for the title "King of the Dunes" was a bloodless one that both men won. Like fudge on Mackinac Island, everyone had their favorite brand of dune ride and there were more than enough tourists to go around — an estimated 100,000 a season in the mid-1970s.

By the late 1970s, the state decided it wanted a cut of the bonanza and bought land from both men which has been incorporated into a 450-acre off-road vehicle park, the only dune area in the state that allows vehicle access.

According to the state, as use of the ORV park by individuals increased, so did accidents, leading to the implementation of safety rules and regulations for the ORV area. According to a 2007 report, there were more than 150 accidents and two deaths in the ORV area.

When Lathers solid his 391 acres of dune land to the state in 1973, he was issued a permit to continue his rides. He closed up shop following the 1977 season when his permit was not renewed by the state. Lathers died June 8, 2005.

Mac Wood’s Dune Rides is still in business at the south end of the dunes. Mac Wood Sr. died Nov. 9, 1984, and his son Malcolm "Pete" Wood, who took over the business in 1958, died Nov. 7, 2010.

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