Due to a quirk of the calendar, I got a day off on July 3 this year in observance of Independence Day. That's 'Secessionist Day' to you Englishmen. With around 211 parks to choose from...one for each year of the Republic...some are clearly more appropriate than others. And given that I had every intention of attending the spectacular fireworks presentation in downtown Columbus tonight, the number of appropriate parks dwindled to only one: Americana Amusement Park. That's the Great American Amusement Park, home of All The Fun Things you Love to Do.
I actually slept in this morning, then had some difficulty finding film for my camera. So I didn't get to the park until almost 1:00pm. But I presented my ACE card at the gate, and got in for $7.50. What a deal! Thanks, Americana!
My first stop was, of course, the Screechin' Eagle. It seems that the retracking is finished. For the second straight year, it is running a 3-car Mutt train...NAD chassis with PTC car bodies. Interesting, in "The Incredible Scream Machine" (p.205), Andy Vettel notes...
Each train is different. One that Vaszin built won't do the same thing as one that John Allen built. You've either got to design from the point of view of what the train will do or design the coaster and then make the train do what the coaster does. You've got to go one way or the other. Invariably you design from the car. The train exists so you design the coaster to do what the train will do. For instance, John Allen's train will bank quicker--go into a sharp bank faster because it's smaller and the wheel-base is shorter than Mr. Vaszin's.
Now, knowing that Allen designed trains for Philadelphia Toboggan and Vaszin designed trains for National Amusement Device, that would imply that the PTC cars would be smaller than the NAD cars, right? Well, apparently not. Perhaps they have a shorter wheelbase, but the PTC car bodies actually hang over the front of the NAD chassis a couple of inches. Hmmm...
Well, the mutt runs well. There is some noticeable shuffle on the turnaround from the station to the lift, but from that point on, there is no shuffle and no bounce. Most of the coasters I have ridden with NAD trains (Kennywood Thunderbolt excepted) exhibit an objectionable rhythmic bounce on the course to a greater or lesser degree, but there is none of that on the Screechin' Eagle. What the Screechin' Eagle does have is a lot of extreme, you-up-NOW airtime. Every hill, Mr. Miller does his thing, yanking the train out from under you, particularly in the back seat. Whee! The ride is not without its problems, though. Unfortunately, the generously padded seats include short seat dividers. Riding by myself, it took some effort to keep from being bounced back and forth during the ride. Americana needs to decide whether dividers are needed on Screechin' Eagle. If they are not needed, they should be removed. If they are needed, they need to be replaced with ones that are a couple of inches higher. On the other hand, the seats are generously cushioned, and the seat belts seem to be a bit longer. The last seat has an extended seat back, again not because the Screechin' Eagle needs it, but because the Wild Cat had that feature. And it is generously cushioned, so it isn't really a problem.
Most important, though, the Screechin' Eagle delivers loads of airtime. The new track makes it a coaster one can ride and reride. This stands in sharp contrast to my first rides on the Eagle, at the ACE Preservation Con a few years ago. That year, even the seasoned enthusiasts would ride once, then stand around in the sun for a while. Now if they could just get the height requirement back down. Americana now requires 52", which is better than the 58" required the first time I rode, but still way too high for a small park's signature woodie.
I wandered on down the midway, past the slide, the cable drive Tilt-A-Whirl, and the Round-Up. I stopped in the arcade to play the Cyclone pinb-- uh...where'd it go??? I played Rocky & Bullwinkle instead, then rode the NAD train back to the themed area of the park, duly noting the Ryder truck packed full of explosives [Footnote 1]. There were lots of people waiting to ride the train; fortunately, they were running two trains. This park really needs yet another means of transporting people from the main midway back to Logger's Run (or whatever it is called).
I skipped the flume this time, as I was carrying lots of electronic equipment and didn't want to get drenched. But I did ride the other rides back there, the Scrambler, the Rock-O-Plane, and the Tempest. A word of advice for riding the Rock-O...most of the seat belts (for lack of a better term) on Americana's Rock-O are either disconnected or very loose. As a rider, you can spare yourself considerable discomfort by insuring that the strap is snugly attached to the lap bar. This way, when inverted, you will be held in place by the 3" wide fabric strap rather than the 3/4" diameter metal bar. The ride was decent, but the tub brake was a bit worn. From the ride, you can easily see the blue PTC train sitting behind an adjacent stockade fence. Most of the lap bars have been removed from that train, but the back of the last car still has "Elitch Gardens" painted on it (where the Screechin' Eagle train says, "Dare To Fly"), and the lead car still has the kite catchers attached. There is also a single red car still intact, and three PTC chassis assemblies. Speaking of derelict trains, the NAD car bodies are still on site beneath the slide, along with a second Serpent train; the old Serpent trains are sitting in the boneyard on the other side of the Screechin' Eagle.
The Tempest is one of the two new rides this season (the other is an Eli HY-5 Ferris wheel). For those of you who are unfamiliar with it, the Tempest consists of an angled trailer with a long beam mounted on it. At each end of the beam is a smaller beam. As the long beam rotates parallel to the tilted trailer surface, the short beams rotate as well, producing a motion similar to that of a Calypso. Unlike a Calypso, each end of each of the short beams supports a large tub. This has several seats around the perimeter, and is free to spin on its center axis. I took two rides; the first kind of stunk, as all the heavy people sat on the same side of the tub, so it didn't spin. But the second ride, with a better balanced tub, the tub spun mercilessly. Woo hoo! Mr. Bowers sent me what he suspects to be the provenance for the ride, but as I am composing this off-line and I didn't download his message, I don't remember who he said used to own it. Nobody I talked to at the park seemed to know.
I committed a sin and failed to ride the Serpent (GASP!), an SDC Galaxi. But I did notice that the Serpent has been repainted a nice shade of teal, and that there are now all-new Serpent and Screechin' Eagle tee shirts available. I already have two Screechin' Eagle shirts, so I bought one of the Serpent shirts for $10.99. I also wandered past the Little Dipper, a Herschell kiddie coaster, and was amazed at what I saw. I still can't ride it as I am taller than 52". But it is the first Herschell coaster I have ever seen with (are you ready for this?) seat dividers! Clearly I can't ride this one now! Yikes!
I also found that Cyclone game, and noticed that it is now set for a $0.50 play (Sheesh! It's a 10-year-old 1-ball game, for crying out loud!). It was in pretty bad shape, and I managed to get a ball hopelessly jammed. On the plus side, the 'match' routine is very generous, awarding me a free play 50% of the time.
The Coney Island influence is really taking hold. Americana still needs shade, but everything in the park is sparkling. The ride package continues to slowly expand, and the park's reputation has to be on the mend. Admission and merchandise prices are reasonable, but I personally think the $4 parking charge is way too high to be parking on grass. I had a good time. Americana is well worth a visit for the Screechin' Eagle and the log flume alone. But the park's collection of flat rides is also rather impressive, and becoming more impressive every year. It's still not an all-day visit, but if you're in the area, it's well worth stopping for a few hours.
--Dave Althoff, Jr.
Footnote 1: For the scheduled fireworks show. Of course. [Return to text]
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