Von Roll Seilbahn was a prolific Swiss engineer and builder of suspended, wire-rope systems in the 20th century. One of the most charming and endearing legacies of the Von Roll Company was their line of type 101 Skyways, installed in amusement parks throughout North America. Only a few Von Roll 101 Skyway rides exist today. As most were installed in the late 50’s and 60’s, they have become relics of the cable-car industry today.
The story of the Von Roll Sky Ride at Goofy Golf begins in 1959 when Lee Koplin completes his masterpiece of mini-golf courses across from the Bay County Pier on Panama City Beach. While living in California, Koplin became a great admirer of Walt Disney. In 1947, Mr. Koplin fashioned his first custom mini-golf course in Guerneville, California. He soon began to make his way eastward, building more golf courses along the way. By the time he got to Florida he had built a dozen more.
It is likely that he formulated the idea to emulate Disneyland’s skyway (1956) as he was building Goofy Golf (1958). As the 50s were fading, he contacted the Von Roll Company in Switzerland and contracted to build a Skyway on Panama City Beach. The Sky Ride opened in the spring of 1961. At the time, the Von Roll type 101 at Goofy Golf, over 100 feet tall, was the tallest in the US. It was an instant success as it was the tallest structure on the beach and offered spectacular views of our emerald beaches. During the initial season, the Sky Ride operated in the open without a roof. It was soon enclosed in the famous inverted chevron style roof; naturally, made of concrete and steel. As a magnet to draw in street traffic, Koplin sculpted a “Genie of the Magic Lamp” that stood near the roadside. It was both an enticement and a photo prop. Many thousands of people have a photo of them sitting in the hand of the genie.
While the Sky Ride was under construction Koplin was putting the final additions to his Magic World attraction. Adjacent to Goofy Golf, Magic World was a fantasy land with a castle and many dioramas that featured famous fairy tale stories. A miniature locomotive and passenger cars were used to transport visitors to and from Magic World. Of the three attractions on the Goofy Golf complex, Magic World was the poorest performer. He was on the lookout for something more profitable to replace it.
Establishing a relationship with the Von Roll Company turned out to be very fortuitous. Von Roll officials informed Koplin that a new attraction called Six Gun Territory was opening near Silver Springs in Ocala, Florida. This new frontier-town attraction was to feature a wild west theme with a steam locomotive and a 101 Skyway. This news prompted Lee Koplin to realize that a western frontier town would be a far better fit for his miniature railroad as westerns were immensely popular on TV. He fashioned a massive cliff-dwelling facade next to his train station and replaced Magic World with a frontier-town he called “Tombstone Territory.” The makeover proved to be a remarkable success. Gun slinging desperadoes, singing cowboys and dancing saloon girls proved to have far greater appeal than fairy tales and castles.
Today, the landscape has evolved, with remnants of the past blending into the present. Where the Sky Ride once stood tall, only a solitary platform and a few rusty gondolas linger in the woods adjacent to Shipwreck Island Waterpark (still in operation.) Meanwhile, its sister park, Miracle Strip Amusement Park, once a vibrant part of the amusement scene, has been dismantled, marking the end of an era.