Thrillvania Haunted House Park Co-Creator and Park Manager Jeff Gilbreath, working at the beloved thrill park is more than just a job, it’s an addiction. “We’re ready for this next season to get started,” he says. “I’m having withdrawals. I’ve got to get my fix.”
Jeff has been living with his obsession for over two decades now. Starting out as an actor at the renowned haunt in 1991, Jeff immediately became infected with “haunted house fever,” and knew immediately that he would never want to work anywhere else.
After moving up the ladder to become first a costume supervisor, then technical manager and finally operations manager, Jeff was one of the core family of seasoned professionals who stepped up to the plate in order to keep the show running after the untimely death of the attraction’s much revered founder, Lance Pope.
“It’s hard to fill Lance’s shoes. We try. He sure was a master.”
It may take a village to raise a child, but it takes an extended dysfunctional family to run a haunt as large and extensive as Thrillvania Haunted House Park , with five different attractions on nearly 50 acres of desolate Texas scrub land. Jeff, along with Park Manager Mike Malec and a handful of others closed ranks after Lance’s death and pitched in to help his parents keep the attraction alive, with welcome advice and assistance from Cutting Edge Haunted House owner Todd James, an old friend and college alumni of Lance’s.
It was difficult at first, but some 11 years later Thrillvania continues to grow and thrive, a monument to a dream and a lot of hard work. Jeff compares it to a “family reunion every year that lasts for six weeks.” Although he works on the property during the off season to make repairs and improvements, from December through around May Jeff also does fencing, remodeling and construction work on a nearby ranch. It’s busy work, he says, while he waits for the real fun to resume.
It’s only June now, and the long-time haunt addict known affectionately to some of the crew members as “Uncle Jim” is already getting antsy, in anticipation of getting the family back together for another season of thrills, chills and just plain old fashioned hair-raising excitement. It’s what he lives for.
“To be honest with you, I don’t ever see myself doing anything else. As long as this park stays alive, I’m pretty sure I’ll be here every second. This will be our 27th season; we’re almost to the 30 mark. It’s going to be awesome.”