Archive for September 9th, 2009

Lost Oregon: Hydro Tubes

During the early ’80s, a wonderful and dangerous fad swept our state: hydro tubes! These were fiberglass, fully enclosed water slides — commonly found at our better regional malls. I’ve had trouble finding online information about these long abandoned local attractions, but I believe they were located at Eastport Plaza, Washington Square, Janzen Beach, and Holly Farm (Oak Grove). Stacy also remembers a hydro tubes attraction in Keiser and chances are there were others in larger Oregon cities (Eugene had one at their Valley River Center). I don’t remember the exact location of the hydro tubes I visited for the first time, but it was probably Washington Square one since it would have been the closest to McMinnville. I do remember going back to the hydro tubes once for my birthday and the splash pool was located inside of a mall, so that might have been the Eastport Plaza location. I think I got one of those huge donuts at Rose’s afterwards. Why I remember details like that I don’t know.

In contrast to the fun of sliding down these heated tubes, they offered many dangers that would eventually lead to their downfall. I recall serious misalignment between tube segments, resulting in frequent scrapes and bruises. Why these defects were not resolved with sanding or grinding I don’t know. Maybe there was shifting problems after construction due to the weight of water and people? The other issue I remember was variable water flow. Sometime, halfway through a trip down a tube, water would suddenly disappear; leaving you high and dry only to get violently swept away once the water started flowing again and other sliders came barreling down. And then there was always the embarrassing prospect of losing your swim trucks from misaligned tubes. This was really more of an issue for girls than boys who had to contend with flimsy tops fashionable at the time, throwing into question the wisdom of having the splash pool open to public view (at least in the case of Eastport Plaza). God knows how many women experienced their first taste of public humiliation due to swim wear malfunctions.

I tried to dig up some newspaper articles detailing the decline of hydro tubes here in Oregon, but only found something from Eugene’s Register-Guard circa 1984. In that article, it mentions the State of Oregon’s Health Division issuing a warning about the risks for slide injuries. The article also cites instances of people being knocked unconscious and lacerations requiring stitches. I remember lawsuits as being the death of Oregon’s hydro tubes. By the time I was in college, most of the Portland locations had closed. By the late ’90s, I think all of them had been dismantled. Today, one can head north to Washington and find the offspring of our hydro tubes at Great Wolf Lodge, a huge indoor water park offering a more polished (and safer) version of the water slides I grew up with.

Despite all the dangers hydro tubes presented, I still have fond memories of them. The warm water flowing through these translucent tubes on a cold February night offered an exotic escape from the dull grayness of an Oregon winter that didn’t offer much in the way of excitement for kids. Do you have any hydro tube memories?

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