"No cash accepted at this location."
Conneaut Lake is a very interesting park. And it represents a rare opportunity for me...I thought I had forever lost the chance to visit this traditional park. Conneaut is a little different from a lot of traditional parks; instead of being an old trolley park such as Camden Park or Kennywood, Conneaut is a seasonal resort in the style of Cedar Point or Chippewa Lake. It sprang up as a result of a natural feature (the lake) and the work of its founders. Unlike Cedar Point, which now looks like a traditional amusement park with attached resort elements, Conneaut Lake still shows evidence of its resort beginnings. The midway is laid out along several streets, which are closed to automobile traffic...but which line up neatly with streets that are open. And in fact, there are areas within the park where you can find vehicles parked literally on the midway. In addition, there are several cottages within the park grounds, and it is not obvious whether these buildings are owned by the park or by residents. Several are obviously vacant, but I suspect that may be a result of an earlier move by a previous park owner. A fence obviously existed around the park at one time, and in fact, some areas are still fenced. As a matter of fact, the park's miniature train ride exits the fenced park grounds through a no-longer-functioning electric gate, but there is no gate for the train to come back in. There is an obvious main entrance, but it is left wide open, and it would be just as easy to walk around to the side of the park. Apparently, the current owners thought the general admission idea was a bad one, and did away with it. They were obviously right, given the fact that the park looks more like a small town than an amusement park. Now the only area which is actively fenced is the waterpark.
I bought the inexpensive P-O-P (about $15) and entered the main gate. I started with a ride on the railroad, which gives some up-close-and-personal views of the Blue Streak coaster. Lots and lots of new wood on this coaster. The new wood is obvious because it is treated lumber that has not been painted blue. The track seems unusually thin, but at the high-stress points, the supports under the track ties look just like wood coaster track, which would make up for the loss of rigidity caused by using thinner track. Then, while riding the railroad, I saw the train. I thought Camden Park's Big Dipper looked good...the Blue Streak train is absolutely gorgeous. Except for the extended seatbacks on the last seats of each car, the train looks like a brand-new NAD Century Flyer. Okay, so the stainless steel on the side panels has no tooling, all the grillework is in place, and gleaming brightly. I had to go take a ride.
I climbed aboard the Blue Streak and sat in the third seat. I had the video camera strap over my shoulder; I sat in the lavishly upholstered seat, the attendant checked the lap bars, pulled the handle, and sent us on our merry way. The ride begins with a mostly-dark tunnel, through a very long S-curve leading to the base of the lift. Heading up the lift, I realized that the track is more unusual than I had thought. That this is an Ed Vettel coaster became more obvious when I realized that all of the layers of the track are the same width, yielding a rectangular cross-section rather than the usual inverted-L shape. Bolted to the inside edge is either an angle-iron or a T-iron (I'm not sure which) to serve as an up-stop. Okay, coaster experts, can anyone tell me where else I have seen this kind of track? Hint: It is a place where the wood coasters were maintained by people named "Vettel".
Well, the Blue Streak may be an Ed Vettel coaster, but it only took the first two drops to demonstrate where Ed Sr. learned his craft. It is a distinctly John Miller profile, with tall hills and steep drops nearly to the ground on the "out" side, a more-than-180-degree turnaround followed by a dogleg at the top of a hill, and a return run over a series of short hills. The ride is a lot like the Screechin' Eagle at Americana, but a lot rougher. This thing is due for some trackwork folks...the train bounces and shuffles a lot. Its ride reminds me of Screechin' Eagle the first time I ever rode it, only it isn't quite that un-re-rideable. In fact, Blue Streak is very re-rideable. As I exited, I asked about video. When I re-entered, I was in position to take the front seat. So I did, and having received an affirmative answer to my request, I proceeded to do a video ride. Then I got off, moved to Seat #10, and tried it again. The extended seatback on Seat #9 was something of a nuisance, but it did work out. I just watched the video, and the ride is quite violent...even my 8mm had trouble maintaining a good signal through the dips, and I was suprised I managed to keep the camera that steady. Looks like I need to run that footage through a TBC to clean it up a little...
One other thing I noticed about the Blue Streak, before I move on to the rest of the park (apart from the fact that they didn't fire up the headlights after dark). There is a train storage track adjacent to the final brake run. There are brakes on both sides of the transfer table, which lines up with the unloading station. There is an additional storage track adjacent to the loading station, and another one in a tunnel adjacent to the tunnel at the start of the ride. And there are six train position indicators in the station, and three sets of brakes between the last hill and the unloading station, in addition to the trim brake on the turnaround. This leads me to wonder...how many trains was the Blue Streak designed to run? The only references to it in Conneaut's history book only indicate that it ever ran two. But Conneaut currently has three trains (one of which I think is the original; two of which are NAD Century Flyers, though one is missing the nosepiece), and storage for three, maybe even for four though that would make train rotation difficult. I wonder if Vettel didn't design the ride so that it could be operated with three trains. Hmmm...Well, on this day, one was enough. Oh...I also noticed that there is a refrigerator sitting in the junkpile/storage track/shop downtrack of the main station. How many other coasters have their own food service? 8-)
Although I bought the P-O-P, Conneaut Lake operates on a pay-per-ride basis. But they don't use tickets; they use tokens. The tokens are $0.50 each, and they have a park logo on them. They are also stamped with the year, and a notation that they are the '1997 Blue Streak Commemorative' edition, noting the re-building of the Blue Streak. This is important to know if you visit Conneaut, because if you plan to play any games or buy any park food, you had better buy some tokens. It is an interesting cash-control tactic, where all cash transactions are handled in tokens. It is a neat idea, since the tokens have no cash value outside the park; it would certainly make employee cash theft very difficult, and would make a robbery kind of pointless. I'm suprised that we don't see this kind of thing more often, particularly in the waterparks. Old-time park nuts: Didn't Euclid Beach operate on this kind of system? The only other place where I have seen it was at Columbiana Park in Lafayette, Indiana...and they used tickets. I think the tokens are a little classier. And in the long run, probably cheaper for the park, as they are reusable.
The food, by the way, was decent, and suprisingly cheap. I got a full meal for 9 tokens ($4.50), which is comparable to what I could get at a fast-food outlet.
Conneaut has a decent (and growing) ride complement, including...
|Ride Name||Manufacturer||Common Name|
|Bessemer Railroad||Allan Herschell||Iron Horse train|
|Blue Streak||Ed Vettel, Sr.||Wood roller coaster|
|Dodgems||Dodgem Corp.||Dodgem cars|
|Dr. Moriarity's Wild Ride||Pretzel||Dark Ride (gravity)|
|Ferris Wheel||Eli Bridge Co.||HY-5 12-seat wheel|
|Scrambler||Eli Bridge Co.||Scrambler|
|Tumble Bug||Traver Engineering||Tumble Bug|
I rode most of those, and took an inventory of the kiddie rides, which include a Herschell Little Dipper that I was not permitted to ride. Conneaut's Scrambler is one of the best I have ridden, comparable to the one at Americana. I failed to ride their infamous "Dodgem" cars, though...these are the ones where bumping of cars "WILL NOT BE TOLERATED." Hey, I did enough dodging on the trip up, when it seemed to me that more than the usual number of people were trying to crash into me (none succeeded). I also took a number of Blue Streak rides with email@example.com.
All in all, Conneaut is a wonderful park. My biggest complaints about it are
that it is four hours away from me, and that there is no direct route to get
there from here. I even considered checking into the Hotel Conneaut for the
night, but as it is easier for me to stay up late than to rise early...and I
planned to spend the next day at Geauga Lake, I decided to drive to Cleveland
instead. That turned out to be a good thing, but that is the subject of a different
Next trip: Geauga Lake
1997 Trip Report index
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--Dave Althoff, Jr.