Haunted hayrides have been around for quite a long time. It’s an easy way for farmers (or anyone with a lot of land) to make a little cash during what is usually the end of harvesting season. So you buy a wagon or two and have some of your friends hide in the brush and voila! You can easily charge five bucks a head and make a little extra scratch for Christmas gifts.
Randy Bates of Glen Mills, Pennsylvania had a similar story. In the late 1980’s, he found himself working on his family’s farm and during the summer months he would do hayrides through the fields for local school groups, churches and fraternities. During that time, another farm up the road was doing a haunted version of their hayrides for charity. Randy attended the event and a lightbulb went off in his head.
In 1991 he opened the first Bates Haunted Hayride on his property. He installed car stereos on the side, so he made sure to install a soundtrack onto each of his hay wagons that could be synchronized to the six scenes riders would go through that first year. He paid twenty five actors $5 an hour and 1500 people came to experience that first year’s event.
Randy broke even on his initial investment that year and decided to reinvest even more money into his haunt each subsequent year. He even wired the field with electrical lines instead of renting generators each year to power each of the sets and compressed air for large pneumatic effects. The wagons started to go through entire buildings where they could stop and watch an entire scene unfold.
Riders start their journey by going through the facade of a medieval castle complete with fire burning torches and a drawbridge in the shape of a dragon’s mouth. Along the path riders stop in a slaughterhouse where some of the Bates Farm animals have met their fate. In another building is an insane asylum and they even stop in mine shaft. The wagon pulls into a cave lined with animatronics, live actors, mine carts sliding towards you and of course… explosions!
New for the hayride in 2013 is a replica of the Bates Motel where riders will see custom CGI created illusions in the window and other surprise special effects made specifically for the hayride. Today this hayride operates like a machine. Randy has a total of 14 wagons that can hold up to 45 riders and dispatch 90 seconds apart on busy nights. He can accommodate up to 1400 riders per hour which is the capacity of an average roller coaster!
In 1996, Randy added a second attraction to his property, the appropriately named Bates Motel. This a traditional haunted house based on a haunted hotel. I know that other famous hotel from Psycho pops into your head, but it’s just a happy coincidence that Randy has the last name of Bates and was smart enough to trademark the name in 1998 and buy the URL www.TheBatesMotel.com.
Randy’s investment in the haunted house is no small matter. He invests at least $250,000 a year back into his business each year to give fans something new and exciting every year they come. 90% of the lighting in the house is LED, which not only is more expensive to install, but gives a better effect and lasts longer. His fog machines, lighting and sound cues are all digitally controlled to create just the right mood. There are even scent machines installed in the greenhouse to smell like a rain forest and the wine cellar of the Bates Motel smells like a dungeon.
He doesn’t want to use any movie characters or franchises in his haunt – all of his creations are his own. There is a team of about ten people who work on maintaining and updating the attractions year round. When they aren’t doing that, they are at seminars and trade shows to learn the latest techniques in creating sets, costumes and even make up effects.
The Bates Motel isn’t for the faint of heart either. Randy told me he had a guy come through one year who fell to his knees grabbing his chest and hit the ground. After hitting the ground he went into full body convulsions. A security guard noticed what was happening and radioed the on-site EMT’s to come over.
By the time, they were on the scene, the young man had come out of his seizure. Turns out, he had a heart condition and a built in defibrillator which kicked in when his heart started racing. Randy asked his friends if they were crazy taking their buddy to a haunt with a known heart condition like that. They replied, no, they go to haunted houses all the time. Just The Bates Motel had this effect on him!
If you are ever in Pennsylvania and want to test your own heart rate, check out The Bates Motel in Glen Mills. For more information visit www.TheBatesMotel.com. And for the latest information on the themed entertainment industry follow TPU on Twitter by clicking here or like our Facebook Page by clicking here!