After overseeing Jason’s Woods for nearly 30 years, Bob Hershey is spreading his wings and involving himself in the home construction and remodeling business through his new company, R.L. Hershey Custom Homes.
Bob has a special affinity for Halloween, and for old farmhouses. “He’s loved Halloween since he was a kid,” says his wife, Doreen. Bob is the fifth generation to live on the family farm that sits along Stehman Road in Conestoga Township. “I had a really great childhood,” he says. The farm’s wooded hilltop, a favorite place to play, allowed him to exercise his vivid imagination. And, he loved to spend time at the farmhouse where his grandparents lived. “All I had to do was walk across the field, and I’d be there,” he explains, referring to the route he took from the home that his parents built and where he and his five siblings grew up. “My father so enjoyed building that house that he became a carpenter,” he says.
After high school, Bob did a two-year stint in the Marine Corps and then worked for PPL for nine years. When his grandfather died in 1982, it appeared Bob would be the last generation to live on the farm. “My dad was ill at the time and was in no position to take it on,” he explains. The farm was put up for auction. “I was determined to hold on to it, so with the support of my brothers and sisters, I purchased it.”
Out on a Limb
Bob admits that buying the farm was a dicey move on his part. “I did everything and anything I could to make money and keep it going,” he recalls. “I farmed it. I boarded horses. I offered horse riding. If someone stopped by to ride – I charged $8 an hour – I’d climb off the tractor, get on a horse and take them out.”
Then Bob came up with a new venture: raising American bison. “It was unusual to raise bison around here, so it attracted a lot of attention and press coverage. I had 16 at one point.”
By 1986 it became obvious to Bob that he wasn’t going to make it as a farmer. He had no choice but to put the farm up for sale. But, before he did that, he had one last trick up his sleeve. “I said to my friends and family, ‘Let me try one more thing.’” The one more thing was hayrides that would take visitors across the fields and into the woods during the fall season. “I figured we’d make it a little different,” he says of the scare tactics he’d add. “Nobody was doing haunted hayrides at the time.”
Friends and family were game and agreed to help. “We had no money to buy things, so we made costumes out of burlap bags and used whatever we had laying around to build sets,” he says of that initial endeavor. An advertising budget was nonexistent, so Bob and his team spread the word through leaflets and flyers they created and that area businesses agreed to distribute. That first night, one car drove onto the farm, and Bob told his crew, “We’re going to put this show on!”
Fortunately, the carload of people must have told everyone they knew about the fun they had in Conestoga. From that point on, carloads of visitors descended on the farm. One visitor in particular changed the course of Bob’s life. “A bank manager brought his family out,” he recalls. “We got to talking and he said, ‘I think you’re onto something.’ The next thing I knew, I had a mortgage.”
September 12-November 7 This year’s season will truly be spooktacular! In addition to six terrifying hayrides/venues, the Midway will offer live music, inflatables, Monster Truck Stunt Shows and more. If your stomach can handle it, the Midway will offer plenty of food and drink, too. This year’s special guest will be Ari Lehman, the first actor to don the Jason mask. With the exception of the opening and closing weekends, Jason’s Woods is open Friday and Saturday evenings, 7-10 p.m., and Sundays, 7-9 p.m. For information, visit jasonswoods.com or call 875-5110.
Jason’s Woods 30thAnniversary Season!
September 12-November 7
This year’s season will truly be spooktacular! In addition to six terrifying hayrides/venues, the Midway will offer live music, inflatables, Monster Truck Stunt Shows and more. If your stomach can handle it, the Midway will offer plenty of food and drink, too. This year’s special guest will be Ari Lehman, the first actor to don the Jason mask. With the exception of the opening and closing weekends, Jason’s Woods is open Friday and Saturday evenings, 7-10 p.m., and Sundays, 7-9 p.m. For information, visit jasonswoods.com or call 875-5110.
Bob gave the site a name: Jason’s Woods. “Jason was the most popular horror-movie character of that time period, so that’s how we got our name,” Bob explains, referring to the character in the Friday the 13th franchise. Bob had to up the ante, so he began to build more elaborate sets for the woods. “It was pitch-black in there, so we needed to light them up.” Thus began Bob’s fascination with lighting techniques. “I learned how to create effects and shadows. Creating the right mood was critical. Lighting also allows the audience to see what you want them to see.”
This year marks Jason’s Woods’ 30th anniversary and over the past three decades, Bob figures hundreds of thousands of Halloween fans have come to the farm. On evenings in October, all roads leading to Jason’s Woods are bumper to bumper. “We draw from six states,” he reports. Jason’s Woods’ notoriety prompted Bob and his team to raise the stakes again. He brought in horror-movie stars such as Kane Hodder (the actor who portrayed Jason Voorhees in four of the Friday the 13th movies), Lou Ferrigno (The Incredible Hulk), Don Shanks, one of the actors behind the mask of Michael Myers (Halloween), Butch Patrick (The Munsters) and Dave Prowse, the first man to play Darth Vader in Star Wars. “When I got hold of Kane Hodder on the phone, he said he was aware of Jason’s Woods and that it was ‘about time’ I contacted him,” Bob remembers.
Crowds waiting in line for hours needed to be entertained, so Bob and his team began filling the fields with live musical entertainment, food stands and inflatables. All that eventually translated into event planning and rentals: Jason’s Woods was made available to events such as corporate picnics, family reunions, etc.
A paintball trip to another area of Pennsylvania inspired a similar business for the off-season at Jason’s Woods. “We worked really hard at everything we did,” Bob says. “But, boy, did we have fun! It was a great adventure, but I couldn’t have done it without the support of my family and our friends.”
One of those friends eventually became family. Bob made it a habit to eat breakfast at Willow Valley around 6 a.m. every morning. He couldn’t help but notice an attractive blonde whose timeframe matched his. One morning he asked if he could join her. He learned her name was Doreen and that she was a teacher in the Conestoga Valley School District. The early-morning rendezvous continued for months. Then, Doreen suddenly disappeared. A waitress who knew Doreen told Bob she had broken her foot and was recuperating at home. He showed up at her door with lunch. “That was our first date,” Doreen says. “When Willow Valley was being torn down, I tried to buy our booth, but a company had bought all the contents of the restaurant.”
Doreen joined the team at Jason’s Woods 22 years ago. Two years later, she and Bob were married. “I handled the phones,” she recalls, “and it would ring nonstop. I think I could have directed someone to Jason’s Woods from anywhere in the continental United States! You have to remember, this was before the Internet, before cell phones and before GPS. Thankfully, we’ve evolved with advances in technology. Now, the phone rarely rings.”
Building a Future
Three years ago, Bob turned Jason’s Woods over to his son, Bob Jr., and his wife, Leeann. His grandson, Robert III, is the seventh generation to live on the farm. “Ironically, I now live in my grandparents’ house, and my grandson lives in the house his grandparents built,” Bob observes.
But retirement wasn’t on Bob’s agenda. Throughout the years, Bob had been investing a portion of the profits from Jason’s Woods in real estate. He began with rental properties and moved into flipping and remodeling houses. He’s also bought a few farms and enjoys restoring the homes and outbuildings that define them. He is also venturing into development and new construction and is building a million-dollar spec house in Farview Farm Estates, which is located off Long Lane in Conestoga Township. “The lighting is going to set that one apart,” he says.
“When I sold the event-planning and rental business, I bought my second-favorite farm,” he notes. Located along the Conestoga River, just off Long Lane near Safe Harbor, the 58-acre Bitner Farm had been owned by Harold and Ruth Bitner. “They moved there in the early 50s,” Bob recalls. “I was friends with one of their sons. The farm was like a second home to me.”
Bob bought the farm in 2000 – “It’s special to be back here,” he says – and used it as a springboard into the home-building industry. He’s spent the past 15 years remodeling the house (along with the summer kitchen and various outbuildings). “It’s hard to pinpoint its age,” he says, referring to the farmhouse whose first floor features log construction. “But it’s surrounded by a tremendous amount of history.”
William Penn authorized James Logan to build a trading post in the area. Long Lane essentially follows the route of an Indian trail that eventually evolved into the road west for travelers making their way through Lancaster County. Postlethwaite’s Tavern, which was located along Long Lane, was the site of the county’s first court session (August 5, 1729). Of course, the area is famous for the Conestoga Wagon. Cannons used during the Civil War were manufactured in Safe Harbor. And, a future saint – Father John Newman – was a visitor to the area, as he occasionally traveled from Philadelphia to conduct services at St. Mary’s Mission Church in Safe Harbor.
Bob completely remodeled the farmhouse, replacing the electric and plumbing systems, adding a modern bath, and updating the other rooms. He wanted to do something really special with the kitchen. Inspiration struck while Bob was attending a consignment auction in Maryland. “I saw this dining room suite and the idea occurred to me that I could use it as kitchen cabinetry,” he recalls. “So, I called Kevin Leaman, who was working on a project for me at the house, and asked him to take some measurements.”
The dining room furnishings, which dated to the early 1900s, echoed the ornate look of the late Victorian era. “It was finished with that almost-black varnish,” Bob explains. Still, he liked its lines and thought it would look right at home in the farmhouse. Luck was with him on that day: Kevin’s measurements meshed with those of the furniture, and Bob had driven his truck to the auction, making it easy to transport the furniture home.
Back in Lancaster, Bob and his team – Kevin, Woody Wickersham and Fleming Tile & Marble – went to work. The buffet was transformed into cabinetry that also holds the kitchen sink. A hutch and server were repurposed to function as the base for the large island. Kevin used his carpentry skills to create a “bridge” that unites the island’s two anchors. It fell to Woody to paint the cabinetry a modern shade of creamy white.
The floor is original to the house, while the upper cabinets date to the 60s. Glass found in the barn was used to add a touch of antiquity to a few of the cabinets. Molding designed and crafted by Kevin served the same purpose. Rubbed bronze fixtures add to the look.
A hearth was also recreated in the place where the original fireplace once stood. Bob enhanced the area with brick veneer and incorporated a beam that was discovered in the basement.
Bob’s signature lighting – spots, LEDs, wide-angle floods – is evident throughout the space. “There’s so much you can do with light,” he points out. “The new LED technology takes it to an all-new level as it creates various shades of color and intensities. This kitchen really comes alive at night.”
The house that Bob is building has a castle-like aura about it. While Bob considers himself to be the “president, secretary and trashman” of the company, Heather Musser, his assistant for the past eight years, and Doreen serve as his right-hand women. “I love interior design and decorating,” Doreen says. “I really enjoy helping people find their design style. For us, this is a passion. This project is like building my dream home without having to move.”
The two spend their weekends perusing antiques shops and home stores – as far away as Virginia – in search of the unusual. “His packrat mentality comes in handy, and one thing you can count on is to never hear him say, ‘It can’t be done!’” Doreen says. Their trips also include a winery or two (Doreen also teaches wine classes). “We’re not looking to mass-produce homes,” says Bob. “Custom will be our niche.”
For more information about R.L. Hershey Custom Homes, visit rlhersheycustomhomes.com.