John and I arrived at Americana by about 5:30pm. For those of you just tuning in, we had spent the afternoon at the annual Stricker's Grove public day, and had only left there because...well, first of all the rides had all shut down for an hour to allow for dinner, and second, we wanted to visit Americana.
"I'm on the...top of the world..."
Say, isn't that Cedar Point's new ad slogan? In any case, I think this is the first time I've ever been to a park where the piped-in music featured the Carpenters. We paid our admissions ($5.00 each!) and entered the park.
The first thing we noticed was that the Serpent (an SDC Galaxi) had an unusually short line. We entered said line and took a ride on this Italian model of teal splendor. Not much you can say about the ride; it is a production coaster, this one is in decent shape, but only runs one two-car train, meaning long waits even with a short line. It also suffers from the Americana Short Seat Belt Syndrome. More about that later, after we take a long walk through the picnic grove.
From the Serpent the next logical stop was the Screechin' Eagle. We entered the short line, and waited for the train to arrive, not quite sure what to expect. Remember, Americana has a habit of making major changes to the Screechin' Eagle train from year to year. When the train arrived, it looked the same as it did last season, with one exception: at this particular moment, David Bowers was sitting in the back seat. We waved a greeting as he exited, and a few cycles later we were taking a ride ourselves.
The Screechin' Eagle is a very special coaster. It is one of those now-rare John Miller/Dayton Fun House "Deep Dipper" coasters, with lots of high hills with camelback dips all the way to the ground. When I toured the coaster with NAPHA...umm...I think it was last year...we got to see just HOW close. At the bottom of one of the hills, the track rested directly on concrete footers until, in the recent retracking, Americana raised the dip by about four inches. Anyway, you slip into the heavily padded train...three PTC car bodies attached to National Amusement Device running gear. These car bodies came from the Elitch Gardens Wildcat and they have an unusual addition in the form of a 3"-diameter padded roll at the top of the seat-back cushion. I don't know its specific purpose, but to me it just adds some padding and does away with the hard edge usually found at the top of a PTC seat. There is also a seat divider, one of the old-style dividers that only stick up a couple of inches. For solo riders, this component tends to be quite hazardous as the forces on the Screechin' Eagle tend to send a rider airborne, then move the train laterally a bit before the rider has a chance to land, so that the landing will be on top of the seat divider. Did somebody say "airtime?" Screechin' Eagle is a monsterous airtime producer. Every drop, the train is dragged right out from under you, leaving riders to do their best Wile E. Coyote impersonations. And this isn't even Six Flags!
We took a couple of rides, then headed on down the midway. The Calypso looked promising, so we climbed aboard. This one isn't running right, though. The Calypso, you may recall, is a German ride with a rotating platform and four sets of cross-arms mounted on the platform. The cross-arm assemblies rotate at about double the platform speed, and in the same direction. Riders sit in cars mounted on the ends of the cross-arms. So it is a relative of the Scrambler, except that the whole thing is mounted at an angle. For some reason, the cross arms on Americana's Calypso are turning backwards, and at about half the rated speed for the platform speed. The result is that the rotations of the cross-arm and the platform cancel each other out, and the ride produces almost no appreciable forces. Yawn! At the end of the ride, young kids were jumping off long before the platform had a chance to stop; this seemed to be a common sight at Americana. I don't know how many kids I yelled at to "WAIT!! SIT DOWN!!" on various rides during this visit.
We wanted to get rides on the Rock-O-Plane and Tempest before the day was over. Americana is built around a fairly large lake. The entrance is at one end, and the Screechin' Eagle and the midway run down one side. At the opposite corner is the once-themed area with the Rock-O-Plane, Scrambler, flume ride, and Tempest. At the one corner, where they are closest together, the two areas are connected by the NAD railroad. The picnic grove runs down the opposite side of the lake from the midway and train. Pedestrians are not permitted on the path adjacent to the railroad track, so the only options for getting from one section of the park to the other are the path through the picnic grove, the train, and the boat across the lake, which is often not running. With only one train running on the railroad, the wait between trains is about fifteen minutes. We waited in line as two full trainloads of people boarded the train and rode around to the back of the park. This train is about the size of a Chance CP Huntington, and so it fills quickly. The train returned and unloaded. It looked like we might actually get to ride; there was just enough space.....
No. We were cut off at the station. We fully expected to be allowed onto this train, especially since we'd been eyeing some empty seats. One of the attendants walked to the back of the train allegedly to see if it was full. He signalled the engineer, and the train was off. As the train left the station, we noticed that the bulk of the last car was completely empty. Most disgusted, the three of us stormed out of the train station. Americana already has a severe transportation bottleneck to the back of the park...they really need to open a footpath along the railroad track or extend their Sky Ride. At the very least, they should be stuffing as many people as possible onto the train. We waited more than a half hour, only to be denied entry to the train because the operator miscounted and was too lazy to drop the chain. Very poor performance for a park that puts up billboards that say, "Lose wait! Ask me how!".
We backtracked down the midway, stopping at the Super Round-Up. Here, we took a ride on this classic Hrubetz ride. Here I have to complain about the operator's lack of understanding about the ride. You see, the Round-Up generates very strong outward forces, forces which can be quite unpleasant. It just so happens that as a rider, if you feel ill effects from the extreme forces, you can better withstand them by bending your legs at the knees. On a particularly well-running Round-Up such as this one, I find that almost necessary...so I end up with my feet flat against the back of the tub. I don't know why it works, but I know it does. Unfortunately, the operator running the ride clearly did not understand this, as I heard her yelling at me. Mmm hmmm...I complied, but I also slid down the wall a few inches. Operators need to know about these tricks.
We proceeded on around the park the long way, and I took the opportunity to write up a ride list. There may be a few omissions among the kiddie rides, but I think I got them all...
|The Brass Ring||Chance||Carousel|
|Flying Scooters||Bish-Rocco/Berni||Flying Scooters P/M|
|Sky Ride||?||Sky Ride|
|Screechin' Eagle||Miller/Dayton Fun House||Wood coaster|
|Ferris Wheel||Eli Bridge Co.||HY-5 Wheel|
|Tilt-A-Whirl||Sellner||cable drive Tilt-A-Whirl|
|Electric Rainbow||Hrubetz||Super Round-Up|
|Liberty Train||National Amusement Dev.||Train|
|Raging Thunder||Sam Kapplinger Int'l||Flume|
|Scrambler||Eli Bridge Co.||Scrambler|
|Rock-O-Plane||Eyerly Aircraft Co.||Rock-O-Plane|
|Space Age Hampton||Hampton||Space Age|
|Tumblin' Turtles||Chambers||Kiddie Turtle|
|Honey Bears||Venture||Bear ride|
|Skyfighters||Allan Herschell||Sky Fighters|
|Ferris Wheel||?||Kid Ferris Wheel |
|Little Dipper||Allan Herschell||Little Dipper coaster|
|Baby Bumper Boats||Foster?||Kiddie bumper boats|
|Melon Madness||Venture||(Tub Ride)|
|Critter Track||Venture||Critter Track|
|Jumping Jumbos||Allan Herschell||Helicopter|
|Merry Go Round||Allan Herschell?||Kid Carousel|
We finally reached the back of the park, where we all declined trips on the Rapid River Ride. It is actually a Rapid River Ride, even though it looks more like a flume. I mean, you get wetter going through the rapids than you do in the final splashdown. Americana has the wettest flume ride around, and we all knew it already. Instead, we headed for the Rock-O-Plane, prepared to do Evil Things. John and I are both Wyandot Lake veterans, having taken lots of rides on that Rock-O; Dave is more of an Americana guy, but he can make the Rock-O-Plane do strange things, too. Besides, we wanted to check out Americana's used (coaster) car lot.
Alas, the Rock-O-Plane was down mechanical. I found the operator, who was examining a small spring...I believe one of the hold-down springs used to keep tension on the set-up cable which no longer exists on Americana's Rock-O-Plane. He said he was having trouble getting it to hold for loading once he got a couple of people on the ride. I asked him if he was balancing it. He looked at me like I was from Mars. Um, yeah. Right. I showed John a dirty little secret about the *-O-Plane door assembly, and the three of us headed for the Scrambler.
Americana's Scrambler was refurbished either last year or the year before, and now it is easily the best-running Scrambler I've been on in a long time. It runs at the right speed, it is smooth, the cushions are in good shape, the pins are tight, the bearings are solid, and it is a whole lot of fun.
I remembered that Americana used to have a Cyclone pinball machine, so I went looking for it. Apparently, it is now gone. We took a quick look at Americana's new fish tank, then tried to ride the Tempest.
Try is the operative word here. Americana has installed new seat belts on several rides, including the Tempest. There is nothing inherently wrong with that, and they have not gone as nuts about it as, say, Cedar Point or (worse yet) Fun Spot. But what Americana has done is to generally make the straps too darned short, to the point that we could not load the Tempest tub with as many adults as wanted to ride, and once the three of us shared a tub with a couple of smaller people, we could not balance the tub because all the long seat belts were on the same side. There exist standards for this kind of thing; why doesn't Americana look up some standards and come up with ride seat belts that are long enough to go around typical riders? I mean, some of these belts were so short that at full extension they had to be stretched to be fastened over an empty seat!
We did finally get a Tempest ride, and we did manage to get enough balance for the tub to spin. For those of you who have no idea what I am talking about, the Tempest is a ride with a long trailer propped up to sit at a fairly steep angle. A long beam rotates on the center of the trailer, and two shorter beams are mounted on the ends of the long beam. These beams also rotate relative to the beam they are mounted on. Attached to the ends of these shorter beams are large ride tubs. The tubs are round, enclosed tubs which can hold seven or eight adults each, sitting around the inside perimeter of the tub. These tubs are free to spin inertially, and when the ride gets going...if the tubs are balanced, they will spin like crazy. It's a really good Whirl 'n Hurl classic from Watkins, a ride that you don't see very often.
After two consecutive cycles on the Tempest, even Dave were feeling a little queasy. I don't know about Bowers, but it was the first time in a long time that Althoff felt bad after a ride. The three of us decided to make the long trek back to the Screechin' Eagle. We took a ride on the Flying Scooters. I was able to get some reasonable swinging action out of the tub, but no cable snaps. I guess I need to go back to Kings Island again. We wanted to finish up on the Screechin' Eagle, but got frozen out...they had closed the line ten minutes before park closing. We consoled ourselves with a ride on the unique 8-car Whip, then drove over to Kings Island for late rides on Vortex and The Beast.
Americana Amusement Park has come a very long way in the past couple of years. At the moment their biggest problem seems to be staffing, in that most of the rides were being run by fund-raising volunteers (that would be "casual labor") with little or no support from normal staff. The lack of training and experience in these operators is terribly obvious, and a bit worrisome. Apart from that, and the operational problems that result from that, the park is looking better than ever. They desperately need some form of continuous transportation back to the back of the park, even if it is just a path to complete the loop around the lake. Under Coney Island's ownership, I think we can expect good things from this park in the near future.
[Who would have believed that the park would be closed for the next two seasons? Fortunately, it did re-open in 2002.]
--Dave Althoff, Jr.
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