"I thought I'd never get here!"
What to do, what to do. I have another commitment on Sunday afternoon, which monkey-wrenches my usual weekend plan yet again. That leaves Saturday. And the thought of visiting either Cedar Point or Kings Island on a Saturday, even in May, really did not appeal to me. Then I didn't wake up until 8:00am. Suddenly I realized...Kennywood is four hours away, and opens at Noon. And since I can sleep in on Sunday morning, I can stay late!
So I jumped in the car and started driving. I used city streets to bypass a downtown Columbus traffic jam, then headed out IR-70 to OH-209 to US-22. There are now two interminably long 40-mph construction zones on US-22 in Western Pennsylvania. But the real problem was on IR-376 coming through Pittsburgh, where traffic was backed up about three miles from Squirrel Hill. I waited more than an hour in that mess. My car was not pleased. Neither was I.
| IR-376 Eastbound East of Pittsburgh-- |
AVOID!! AVOID!! AVOID!! AVOID!! AVOID!!
I sat in that mess for more than an hour in the morning. At Midnight, the traffic jam was no better than it had been in the morning. I had thought it was an accident or something, but apparently it was just the construction lane closures.
It was a quarter after two when I finally arrived in the park. Kennywood was already crowded. I took a quick wander around the midways and finally ended up at the Racer.
Trains: 2 (1 set)
Load: 2x24 (48)
Sample interval: 3:03
Ride Time: 1:43
Kennywood is a hundred-year-old traditional park, and there are little things all over the place to remind you of that fact. For instance, the queues for the older coasters are very short. The park has added additional queuing space out at the midway, but still not enough to make for a significantly long wait. I figure Racer can take about 950 PPH, which is not very good by today's standards, but by taking 48 people at a time, the line moves in great huge strides. The interesting thing is that Kennywood patrons seem to behave much like the people in Roller Coaster Tycoon, in that they won't enter a queue which is totally full. At least not to ride the Racer. Perhaps it is because the ride has been around for 72 years and so the novelty has worn off.
The Racer was performing well. It's not a major airtime producer, but the final drop before the brake run produced significant airtime in every seat on every trip. I noticed early on that when I extended a hand towards the other train, the people in that train generally looked at me as if I were from Mars [Footnote 1] or something. I'm more accustomed to the reaction I get on Cedar Point's Gemini, where I see extended hands coming from the other train to meet with mine. Later in the day we got some hand-slapping going.
The Racer is not a terribly fast ride, nor does it produce extreme forces in any direction. All the things you can normally quantify about a coaster seem to suggest that the Racer should be a terribly mediocre ride. But there is another important quality for judging any coaster, and that quality absolutely defies measurement in any quantifiable way. I'm referring, of course to the most important feature of any coaster: FUN. Above all else, a ride must be fun, and if it fails at that, it fails completely. On the other hand, if the ride is fun, it succeeds completely no matter how the other features stack up. And that is the neat thing about the Racer. It is an extremely fun ride. What more could we want?
Ride Time: 1:40
Capacity: 864 pph
Next to the Racer is the Jack Rabbit. Unlike the Racer, which has a queue which spills onto the midway, the Jack Rabbit queue runs alongside the ride and down the hill to the back of the arcade building, then makes a U-turn and heads back up the hill to the midway. So this line extends a bit further beyond the end of the queue railings than the Racer line, but still does not spill onto the midway. Like the Racer, the Jack Rabbit queue tops out at about twenty minutes.
Up on the platform, I noticed that the row of yellow X'es that appeared last season have been painted over. I guess they didn't help that much. Operations here take place at a frenetic pace as riders are quickly but carefully loaded into the unique trains. I no longer foolishly try to raise the lap bar as I once did, and I can fight my way to the back of the train with the most experienced of the Kennyville natives.
It is hardly necessary to give a detailed account of how the Kennywoodies are running. This trio of coasters is so lovingly cared for by Kennywood's maintenance staff that they run dependably well. Jack Rabbit, Racer, and Thunderbolt are the most consistent wood coasters I think I have ever ridden. They have an unusual, solid, quiet rumble which is unique to these coasters, with never the faintest hint of a squeal. Any park with a wood coaster could learn a thing or two from Kennywood. Jack Rabbit was running flawlessly. Well, the bottom of the last dip feels like it's had, or needs, a little tweaking...that is, you can feel a couple of inflection points along the curve...but it's still running nice and smooth. I hope I'm in that good of shape when I'm 79 years old!
The park was pretty darned crowded, so I wandered around. I took a ride on the carousel, then the Bayern Kurve. I don't know for certain, but I think it is running faster this year than in years past. I know I had an awful lot of trouble staying on the seat!
I hiked back into Lost Kennywood and past the hour-long Exterminator queue, and decided to try back later. I figured maybe I could find a group on Thunderbolt with an odd number of people and get a ride there. I happened to look up as I walked under the Gold Rusher. One of the little cars was starting to make its way into the show building. A thought struck me. "That looks like Dooley!" I thought. Wanting to know for sure, I stepped into a shady spot where I could watch the exit stairs.
Imagine my surprise a few moments later when out came, not Dana and Dooley as I expected, but Dave Sandborg and Tim Melago! Moments later they were followed by the elusive Dooley, "Mine Car Buddy" Joe Krapf, and the easy to look over but impossible to overlook Dana. We exchanged pleasant...and somewhat suprised...greetings. With a quick head count, we noticed we had an even number of bodies, so Thunderbolt was the obvious choice.
Ride Time: 2:02
For my first Thunderbolt ride of the season, I rode in the front seat. Thunderbolt doesn't produce much airtime, although there is a really nice pop in the front of the train as you catch the chain lift. That's essentially a double-up there. But for a ride without extreme airtime, I sure do like it a lot, and I can't quite figure out why. I suspect it has something to do with those impossibly deep dips into the ravine. This one has just a hint of roughness at the bottoms of the dips, but still nothing significant. The Kennywoodies are amazing coasters.
Our band of merriment proceeded to move through the park, repeating the wood coasters, carousel, Flying Carpet, Bayern Kurve (Dana also thought it was running a little fast), and past the Enterprise. Dave and Tim expressed their surprise that the Enterprise was actually operating. We examined the Exterminator queue and decided to ride Steel Phantom instead.
Ride time: 2:00
What has Kennywood done to this ride? I sat in the front seat of the last car (that would be 7.1 or 13, depending on your favorite numbering scheme) and I was amazed and astonished. It was far and away the best ride I've ever had on Steel Phantom. I'm not kidding! I prepared to be beaten senseless at the bottom of the second drop, and when we got there...NOTHING. Mantis:TCFKAB was a rougher ride! A few more rides like that one and I may actually have to like that ride!
Oh, for those of you keeping score, the Steel Phantom does NOT have the new safety bracket on its last axle. Interesting.
We did take a quick break for food. Well, it would have been quick, except that Tim and I both had to have the Cheese-On-A-Stick from the "round" stand across from the Potato Patch. the stand was sold out of prepared Cheese-On-A-Stick when we got there, but that's not so bad...it means we were assured of getting fresh ones. I've had the Cheese-On-A-Stick in several variations. Kennywood uses American cheese dipped in Pronto Pups corndog batter, and that's my favorite version. I'm not alone in that preference, by the way...I'd have never even tried the Cheese-On-A-Stick except that the variation served at Kennywood is specifically endorsed by Marty Moltz.
Ride time: 1:54
As the day began to draw to a close, we decided the Exterminator line wasn't going to get any shorter. After about a 45-minute wait, the six of us piled into two of the circular cars...first Dana, Dooley, and MCB, then me, Tim, and Dave. But I should back up a bit.
Access to the Exterminator is through a berm and a long concrete hallway illuminated with what I sincerely hope is temporary wiring. This leads into a bunker full of electrical panels operated by the Kennyville Power Company. At one end of the room is a television set playing some kind of news feed. At this point, between the poor acoustics of the room, the fact that we are moving, the confusing nature of the television program, and the fact that the six of us were all busy talking coasters rendered the themeing elements pretty much meaningless at this point. Around the corner, we step quickly but carefully into the waiting cars. Except that they aren't exactly waiting. The cars move steadily through the station, meaning that when the attendant points to the car you should load, you should not attempt to step towards the car she's pointing to, rather you should step towards the empty space on the platform where the car isn't quite yet, but will be soon. I think this is the only coaster I've ever boarded while it was moving! The cars do look a little like Tilt-A-Whirl tubs, actually. There are two seats, one on each side of the car centerline. The seats are equipped with seat belts (one for each seat) but they are kept fastened behind any riders who are taller than 46". For us taller people, the lap bars drop down from overhead. Kennywood has added a short chain to tie the lap bars together; I presume this is so that if the car is empty or only loaded on one side, the attendant can lower both bars at once; it's not something that affects the ride.
Every twenty seconds, one of the little round cars gets kicked around the corner and into the ride. There is a left-hand turn past something that looks like a big ventilator fan, and the car heads up the lift. It's a little strange because you proceed up the lift at an angle to the direction of travel. That alone is interesting. Tim pointed out that the Exterminator puts an unusual spin on the hero-and-villain concept by giving us the chance to be the villain for a change. So halfway up the lift is one of the Vermin, Inc. exterminators, pointing a strange gun at the car and complaining that he needs a bigger poison tank. I was sitting on the left-hand side of the car, and close enough that I could have touched the gun if I had wanted to. At the top of the lift, the switchbacks started...to the left, to the left again, to the right, past a sparking electrical panel, and under a sign reading, "Danger - Boiler Room". Around the corner, then down a quick, steep drop with some nice airtime, back up again, then pass behind a wall and do it again, this time with the fingers of a giant hand reaching down from above. As we passed behind another partition and around another switchback, the tub let loose and inertially began to spin. Rounding each bend in the track either enhanced or diminished, or even reversed our rotation, depending on exactly how we hit the curves. The tub spun like crazy even as it picked up speed through its zig-zagging descent through the ride. A particular highlight comes seconds before the end of the ride, when the car passes over a sudden rabbit-hop, producing sudden airtime while spinning. Between the incomplete darkness and the spinning motion, the sudden rise is unexpected and tends to happen at a strange angle. This is the finale which ends with the car coming to an incomplete stop at the back end of the loading platform. As for loading, the car does not actually stop for unloading.
With the Exterminator, the now-demolished Le Cachot is scarcely missed...the stunts and props in Exterminator are much better, and the ride is certainly much better. The Exterminator is one of the better new coaster experiences I've had recently. Its main problem is low capacity at 720 PPH, which may prevent larger parks from adopting the Crazy Mouse. But then, some big parks don't seem to mind low capacity these days, so we may well see a lot more of these things. When I first heard about it I thought the Crazy Mouse was a strange concept, but now that I've ridden one I can say for certain that it makes for a darned good ride. I know, we can all lament the passing of a classic dark ride, and Le Cachot and Exterminator could peacefully coexist, but the new dark coaster should make dark ride enthusiasts happy anyway.
When we regained our balance, we agreed on Pitt Fall. As night fell, so did we from some 225 feet up. Only three of Pitt Fall's four ride sections was operating. Do any of the Giant Drop rides ever have all sections operating? We exchanged comments on the appearance of the seats, which were apparently parked at the top of the tower all winter long.
The night was fading fast, and much to our surprise, Lost Kennywood was still open, and music was not playing. We took the last rides of the night on the Exterminator. We headed for Thunderbolt, thinking nothing could be finer than to ride a Century Flyer in the evening. I thought I heard a refrain of, "I'll See You In My Dreams". We noted that they never turned on the headlights on the Thunderbolt. As the last eight or ten riders on the platform, we were told to move down to the exit platform. When the train returned to the platform, those riders whose seats we were prepared to take were asked to leave the train; everyone else got to ride with us or the last train of the night. Dispatched from the unloading platform, we slid brakeless through the loading platform and down the first drop, into the ravine. A good ride on a good coaster to finish the evening. The closing music had ended, and the park was almost totally dark. When Kennywood closes, park workers spend the last half hour of the evening scurrying around the park and turning the lights off. As we hiked from the furthest corner of the park, near Thunderbolt, we discussed the problems of people trying to navigate through the darkened park. We wondered if someone heard us as we walked past the Carousel, as the lights on the adjacent food court were switched back on. Kennywood is such a responsive park!
In the parking lot we said our goodbyes. Dave and Tim went one way, the Jersey bunch went the other, and I headed West, knowing there was 200 miles of highway between me and my home. I had a wonderful time, particularly after joining Dave, Tim, Dana, Dooley and Joe, who I hope I didn't annoy too terribly much... 8-) Kennywood is a fun park; I must get back there again this summer.
--Dave Althoff, Jr.
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