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Not to be confused with the Hard Luck Bears Jamboree.

Hard Luck Bears.jpg

The Hard Luck Bears (originally referred to as the Country Bear Jubilee) was a predecessor show to The Rock-afire Explosion that was created in 1979 and was shown at IAAPA. It was a successor to the Bear Country Jubilee, and featured what would inspire the 3-Stage.

In a timespan between 1980 and 2000, the Hard Luck Bears have been installed at 9 theme parks around the world with the first installation being Carowinds in Charlotte, NC (a relocation of the original show seen at IAAPA). The final, new Hard Luck Bears show produced was installed in 1983 for Mundo Magico in Santiago, Chile. The last currently operating show was at Fantasilandia, Chile (Mundo Magico's show relocated) under the name "Show De Osos," but has since been retrofitted to become “The Robotoons”, and their original cosmetics and body shells have been destroyed as of 2020. Gooney Bird's mechanism was put in storage along with his mask, being the only character that wasn't retrofitted with the others. As of 2021, the second ever Hard Luck Bears installation at Knoebels in Elysburg, PA still has the majority of bots and props in storage or around the park, with the characters of Pete and Repeat Thornsberry currently on display in the park museum with corresponding props and general show signage.


"This is the debut year for the Hard Luck Bears as they begin their tour of the world with their dear sweet mother, Mama Granbags, spreading their own interpretation of 'culture' and decency. In this hilarious first performance our bears tend to stretch the definition of country music to include lovers of rock and classical styles in their mischievous antics behind Mama's back." - Entertainment 1980 Brochure


The show was installed in numerous theme parks around the world between 1980 and the late 90s. The documented places are:

  • Carowinds in Charlotte, NC (May 1980 - 90's?; Space occupied by "Boo Blasters on Boo Hill")
  • Knoebels in Elysburg, PA (May 1980 - 95; Replaced with "Lazer Runner")
  • Blackpool Pleasure Beach in Lancashire, England (1980 - 94; Moved to Frontierland Morecambe)
  • Calaway Park in Alberta, Canada (1982 - 2001)
  • Frontierland, Morecambe in Lancashire, England (1994/95 - 99; Park closure)
  • Mundo Mágico in Lo Prado, Santiago, Chile (1983 - 2000; Moved to Fantasilandia)
  • Playcenter in São Paulo, Brazil (1981 - 98; Replaced with "Castelo dos Horrores")
  • Fantasilandia in Santiago de Chile (2000 - Present; Currently the "Robotoons")
  • Family Showstreet U.S.A in Gatlinburg, TN (1981- 83) (Bought back by Creative Engineering and sent to Mundo Mágico)


  • Billy Wilbur - A bear who played the guitar and would later become the Rock-afire's Billy Bob. Voiced by Aaron Fechter
  • Billy Bill - A bear who played the piano. He used the same mechanics as Fats Gorilla. Voiced by Burt Wilson
  • Billy Boy - A bear who played the drums. He used the same mechanics as Dingo Star.
  • Billy Bob - A bear who played the washtub bass. He was a retrofitted Boom Boom Bosko.
  • Choo-Choo - A baby bear who bounced to the music in a wash basket.
  • Pete and Repeat Thornsberry - Two brother bears that worked at Smitty's Super Service Station on Stage Right.
  • Mama Granbags - The mother of Billy Wilbur, Billy Bill, Billy Boy, and Billy Bob. She was located on Stage Left.
  • Gooney Bird - A bird hiding in a wooden barrel who would later become the Rock-afire's Looney Bird. He was located on Stage Left. Voiced by Aaron Fechter


  • This show seems to be very similar to Disney's Country Bear Jamboree.
  • The opening theme sung by Mama Granbags was parodied by Uncle Klunk (sung by Jeff Howell) in the first Uncle Klunk Abombination showtape (1983).
  • Carowinds' "Honey Bear Bunch Family Reunion" was a retrofit of the first, original Hard Luck Bears show that appeared in IAAPA before being retrofitted and sent to the theme park for the 1980 operating season. It is notable for many things.
    • It is the only Hard Luck Bears show that has major mechanical differences compared to shows produced after (which were made to be more "standardized" and be compatible with parts from the Rock-afire Explosion) including no mechanical pieces that are separated from the fiberglass body shells (they were, however, separate in the case of heads), different sized eyes, and different jaw mechanisms.
      • Because the original masks for the IAAPA/Carowinds show did not meet the requirements for standardization and were unable to adjust in size with Rock-afire parts, this is the only set to use these original masks as all the characters (except for Repeat Thornsberry and Mama Granbags) were required to have resculpted molds in order to fit the new size requirements for future installations.
    • The names of the characters include Ma Bell (Billy Wilbur), Pa Bell (Billy Bill), Na Bob (Billy Boy), Billy Bob, Granny Bell (Mama Granbags), Samantha (Gooney Bird), Aunt Lullabelle, (Repeat Thornsberry) and Uncle Jinglebell (Pete Thornsberry).
    • U.S.-based food company General Mills sponsored this show as the "Big G" logo and small text with the company name was printed on Billy Boy's kick drum front. It can be seen on the picture from the aforementioned news article, but strangely, not in the photos. In this case, it could be assumed that the sponsorship didn't last long and mentions of GMI were removed shortly after.
    • On the 1980 Carowinds park brochure, the Honey Bear Bunch Family Reunion is referred to as the "Country Bear Show" and included an image of Billy Wilbur and Billy Bill in their unmodified, original forms taken at IAAPA in 1979.
    • Around 1982, a two-parter Harmony Hall show production called "The Phantom of the Opry" that spread over two operating seasons reused the figures from the Honey Bear Bunch Family Reunion. In it, the Phantom character uses his powers to kill a few of the bear characters that reappear in the next operating season as ghosts. It is unspecified which characters were used for the show nor have any photos of this surfaced as of currently.
    • For a long time, there was no information behind this show other than pictures from,[1] of which the location was unknown. That was, until February 2021 when Instagram user rockafire_moon posted three new pictures that were sourced from a newspaper article stating the location as Charlotte, NC's Carowinds theme park.
  • Knoebels' Country Bear Jubilee kept the original show name and also first ran in May 1980 like Carowinds. However, due to a threat by Disney, the show's name was quickly changed to the (Country) Bear Show.
    • Two showtapes were made exclusive to the park (but were not made by Creative Engineering themselves). These showtapes were "Country Bear Picnic" and "Rockin' Billy Wilbur & the Bearcats".
      • Instead of working for Smitty's like in the original showtape, Pete & Repeat now work for Golden Arches Burgers in "Country Bear Picnic" (a reference to McDonald's).
      • For "Rockin' Billy Wilbur & the Bearcats", all the characters had costume changes to match the 1950's theme of Rock N' Roll. This was the last showtape they played before being put into storage in 1995. Also, Choo-Choo could speak in this showtape.
    • Outside the theater, an animatronic of the "stupid gorilla" (Fats Gorilla) could be seen in a working display. A special Mama Granbags head would pop her head out of the piano often. It's unknown if separate showtapes were made for the duo. The bots currently reside in CEI.
      • Another gorilla pianist animatronic was built for the Blackpool Pleasure Beach Hard Luck Bears and remained in the park even after that show's removal in 1994/95 where it could be seen at the King Cotton Bar until 2010. However, unlike the Knoebels gorilla, the Blackpool gorilla did not include a Mama Granbags head but rather a typical piano.
    • Similar to Carowinds and previous CEI shows, Knoebels' Hard Luck Bears ran off a primitive "Tones" control system instead of a modified Grey Box system that newer Hard Luck Bears installations later ended up receiving.
    • This installation is one of the only two shows to have tan guitar for Billy Wilbur, with the other being the original IAAPA/Carowinds show. Installations following Carowinds and Knoebels received Billy Bob's guitar from the Rock-afire.
    • After the show was decommissioned in 1995, Billy Boy was repurposed as a figure in an electric chair seen in the Knoebels Haunted Mansion attraction, with a piece of black clothing covering his face mechanism.
  • Creative Engineering has made official documented instructions in the mid to late 80's about how to retrofit the Rock-afire Explosion into a Hard Luck Bears show, with new parts being made for these conversions by CEI themselves. No client has ever commissioned it, leading to this never actually happening in RAE history.
    • This is ironic, considering that Hard Luck Bears shows produced after the IAAPA set were redesigned to be manufactured similar to that of the Rock-afire and even share the same parts as the latter. However, none of these installations were ever converted Rock-afire figures, but rather made from scratch builds.
  • The "Show Dos Ursos" installation of the show at Brazil's (now closed) theme park, Playcenter São Paulo, is notable for many things.
    • It opened in early 1981, and was the second international Hard Luck Bears shows in operation (behind only to Blackpool Pleasure Beach).
    • The Brazillian-Portuguese names of the characters go as follows:
      • Mamãe Úrsula (Mama Granbags)
      • Papagaio Respondão (Gooney Bird)
      • Tiburso (Billy Wilbur)
      • Murso (Billy Bob)
      • Dudu Urso (Billy Boy)
      • Laurso (Billy Bill)
      • Nhõ Pita (Pete Thornsberry)
      • Repita (Repeat Thornsberry)
      • Ursinho Bebê (Choo Choo)
    • Several props are exclusive to the stage, such as different curtains, backdrops, and some instruments (excluding Billy Wilbur's guitar and Billy Boy's drums).
    • In the Brazillian-Portuguese dub, the concept of Smitty's Super Service Station has been phased out, leading to the Super Service Station song topic being changed to chicken omelets.
      • Despite this, a gas pump can be seen on stage reading "Alcohol."
    • Despite Mama Grandbags' preference of civilized, softer music over honky tonk (or rock in this case) being the same, the main ecological moral is stated as "do not mistreat the animals".
    • Pete & Repeat are now cousins of the bears in this dub.
    • Some product placements could be seen on Stage Left and Right in some pictures, although these were phased out for unknown reasons prior to the attraction's closure in 1998.
  • Pete Thornsberry later went on to be known as "Oso Willy" for Chilean audiences and was one of the main mascots of Mundo Mágico (Fantasilandia later on after that park closed), with a walk around character made for him. Mama Granbags and Repeat Thornsberry also appeared in costume form occasionally, but have since been discontinued.