"So simple nothing can possibly go wrong."
Saturday morning I got up at an uncivilized hour, picked up my traveling companions (John, who you may remember from a few other trips, and his roommate Brad [Footnote 1]. After a surprisingly uneventful drive we arrived four hours later at the crack of Noon. This was my third drive to Kennywood this season, and the first time I've actually made it in four hours, without becoming stuck in traffic. We paid our parking fee ($0.00), hiked down to the entrance, and bought our Ride All Day wristbands ($21.95).
We seized upon our early arrival and headed directly to the Exterminator. Half an hour later we crossed through the berm and tried to hear the pre-show videotape, but the audio is so poorly equalized (too much bass, not enough speech frequencies) that I still have no idea what the dialogue was.
Ride Time: 2:00
Capacity: 758 pph
Fortunately, what Exterminator lacks in pre-show is more than compensated for by the on-ride theming. It is also worth noting that Kennywood is very good about not revealing beforehand that special thing that the Exterminator does in the middle of the ride. This worked to our advantage as one person in our group was not aware of that element of the ride. I think we had the loading a little messed up, though, as it almost didn't work. But the ride is a whole lot of fun. This ride is a really novel concept to begin with, and Kennywood has turned it into a first-rate dark ride. Sorry, purists...I think it is a more than adequate replacement for Le Cachot.
Ride time: 2:06
Load time: 0:47
Dispatch Interval: 1:37
Capacity: 1039 pph
My travel companions are both phans of the Steel Phantom, so we headed there next. The line extended part way down the elevated ramp above the Lost Kennywood entrance, and the ride crew responded by shutting the ride down for all of five minutes...long enough to bring the second train into service. Someone was asking me recently how long wheels last on steel coasters, and while I don't have a firm answer, I can report that all of the road wheels on Steel Phantom are marked with their installation dates. The earliest one I saw was 05/25/95; the latest one was 08/18/99.
I sat in the front of the last car. What has Kennywood done to this coaster? And could PKI do it to Vortex? NO, there is no brake caliper at the top of the second drop as someone suggested earlier this season. So the ride is still fast. Perhaps they changed to a softer wheel compound? Perhaps the turnaround has been partly redone? Whatever they did, it seems to have worked. I remember Steel Phantom being a most unpleasant coaster, one which took an interesting first drop and an incredible second drop and followed them with a most unpleasant series of boxing maneuvers which would leave riders battered and bruised by the experience. The very act of barrelling through a 180-degree turnaround at more than 80 mph with a stiff shoulder bar against your ears is a particularly unpleasant sensation. This is followed by a vertical loop, which is okay, then a Boomerang and a half-Corkscrew, two of the most laterally violent inversion maneuvers available.
But Steel Phantom has changed. The elements are the same, in the same order, still at high speed. But the body-banging is all but gone. Steel Phantom is running great and giving some of the best rides I have ever gotten out of it. If you've given up on Steel Phantom, this might be a good season to try it again.
Load time: 0:28
Ride time: 2:16
Dispatch Interval: 3:12
Capacity: 450 pph
Unfortunately, the same is not true of the Thunderbolt. What has Kennywood done to this coaster? And can they be convinced to un-do it? One of the three trains was running; this one had a very noticeable dent in the back-end stainless-steel cladding right about where a headlight should be. I am guessing that this is the train which was not restored last season. The rearmost of the two other trains, then, would be the other one involved in the collision this spring, as it also lacked headlights and nosecone. The restored front end was great while it lasted. 8-( The third train does in fact still have its headlamps and grillework 8-), but was parked under the operator's booth 8-(. While we waited we watched as ride mechanic Geno moved a lap bar from that train to the operating train to keep all seats functional.
If there turned out to be nothing wrong with the ride control system after the incident, then why, on a day as crowded as this one, does the coaster only run one train? Why is a nasty pothole developing at the bottom of the first drop? Why are the brakes so tight at the top of the lift that the crushing laterals in the spaghetti bowl are almost missing? I was so looking forward to this ride, but an extremely long wait (nearly an hour! Queue spilling out onto the midway and interfering with traffic flow around the Gold Rusher!), the excessive braking, and a generally lackluster ride made this the biggest disappointment of the trip. Such a shame as I really do like the Thunderbolt. Or at least I did...! On this visit, Thunderbolt was not living up to its usual standards...or Kennywood's...at all.
Shocked and disgusted, we decided to visit Noah's Ark. This time I was very near the center of the elevator, and so did not actually detect it's little trick as I did on another occasion. One of the elevator windows was not working but apart from that, it is a most effective gag. That's almost a better drop ride than Pitt Fall. I hope I didn't ruin the experience for anybody else by walking on the glass at the archaeology dig. The artists accompanying me were suitably impressed by the attraction. It was also nice to see the ark fully functional...the last time I was through it was during the NAPHA convention last year where, by popular request, the ark motion was off while we wandered through. I still don't much care for the bathyscape scene at the end, though...it's well done, but it really doesn't fit, and the ending is more than a little anticlimactic.
We took a ride on the Kangaroo, and I noted how Kennywood has very little ride down-time as most of their rides are very simple, with low-complexity high-reliability designs that can go for years between failures. A little grease, a little paint, regular inspection, and these rides literally never break down. Consider the Jack Rabbit, for instance. It has a lift motor that either goes or doesn't; the final trim brakes are gravity-set; the platform brakes are run completely by hand, the safety system consists of two photo-switches and a bell...and it is only used for signalling; the trains have almost no moving parts...there is literally nothing on the ride that is likely to break down.
Capacity: 0 pph
So imagine our shock and surprise when we found out that the Jack Rabbit was closed...and likely to remain closed for the rest of the day! How is this possible? Well, it turns out that the ride was not DDM, but rather DDT [Footnote 2]...Down Due to Tree. Apparently a part of the tree right next to the loading platform simply collapsed unexpectedly adjacent to the coaster. The coaster and its riders were not directly affected by this catastrophic mechanical failure, but the tree's location and the number of branches that do hang over the ride prompted park maintenance to remove the remaining overhanging branches before reopening the ride.
Absent the Jack Rabbit, we decided instead to ride the Racer...
Trains: 2 (1 pair)
Ride Time: 1:52
Capacity: 939 pph
Normally I don't bother with the capacity numbers on a single-train coaster, but Racer's crew was doing a pretty good job of getting the trains out consistently in about 1:15 so it isn't so unreasonable. Anyway, the Racer has traditionally been the most tepid of the three Kennywoodies. While that is still technically true when the Thunderbolt is behaving itself, that is now only because the Racer is in the same league as the Thunderbolt and Jack Rabbit, not because it is outclassed by them. I cannot detect any changes in this ride, apart from the green paint on the one (formerly) red train. But the Racer is running faster and better than ever, with a couple of nice airtime moments in particular the final drop leading up to the brake run at the end of the ride. Riders in the other train still looked at me like I was from Mars (Actually, according to a T-shirt I saw, there was at least one Martian on the other train; I am actually from Columbus...) [Footnote 3] when I stuck out my hand. Nope, this isn't Cedar Point, nor is that train full of ACEers.
We had park food (in my case it was one of those incredible Belgian waffles. Yes, they are worth the almost $3 or whatever) and we visited several flat rides...the Bayern Kurve, the Pirate, the Flying Carpet, and the Paratrooper. We even took a spin on the Grand Prix...Kennywood's bumper cars. These are the only bumper cars I have ever ridden where safety belts are optional. And thanks to a policy change, riding partners are also optional now. That makes for a much more enjoyable ride. John and Brad decided to head for the Steel Phantom again, while I went to the car and dumped my computer...it was beginning to rain, in fact it was beginning to rain quite hard. We decided on a meeting place and time, and I conducted my errands. The rain ended. As I returned to the park I spotted a rainbow over the park, with its end apparently right in the middle of the park. Okay, so it isn't a pot of gold. For me, Kennywood is close enough.
Unencumbered by sensitive electronics, I took a ride on the Log Jammer. I got paired with two other people, but three fit very nicely in those boats. Another dramatic improvement from the days of "FOUR OR FIVE PER BOAT...even if it makes the boat so heavy that it sinks." Now if we could eliminate the no-singles rules on the Turnpike and Thunderbolt.....!
I glanced over at the Jack Rabbit, where I heard chainsaws roaring. I looked over just in time to see a branch fall. I took another ride on the Racer, then a spin on the carousel. It is worth noting that their band organ, which was playing Christmas music again, still sounds great. Unlike Cedar Point, Geauga Lake, Kings Island, and (lately) Wyandot Lake where the band organs sit in silence. And Kennywood's carousel runs very nicely, turning at a downright respectable speed.
I wandered past the Jack Rabbit, figuring I would wander up the exit ramp to the platform and see how the amputation [Footnote 4] was going. I was stopped by an attendant. "Please wait at the end of the ramp." Wait? For what? The ride isn't even operating. As I walked back towards the arcade, I got my answer. The bench had been moved, and a queue was rapidly forming in front of the ride. It was looking like I would get my Jack Rabbit ride after all!
Ride Time: 1:40
Capacity: 875 pph
Jack Rabbit is one of those familiar and wonderful rides that are lots of fun and eminently re-rideable. But no matter how many rides I take, I still love that double dip, and this time around I really noticed how incredibly deep that last dip is. The ride has a certain rhythm to it, and you think you know exactly where the track is going, but the dip goes deeper than that. Kind of like the last outbound hill on the Screechin' Eagle, only in reverse. I've decided it's yet another of those many things John Miller did really well.
Looking around at the top of the lift, I was able to survey the damage from the earlier incident. In cross-section it was easy to see that the fallen tree limb had been in pretty rotten shape. The park staff had quickly chopped down all of the overhanging branches, leaving the trunk of the tree in place; the other limbs, as it turned out, were in better shape than the one that fell. Even so, removing them was a prudent decision on Kennywood's part. The crew had worked quickly, leaving the fallen branches in the Jack Rabbit infield; in fact a few branches were left resting on top of the Jack Rabbit's unusual curve bracing.
As arranged previously, John and Brad reappeared. They were almost as excited about the re-opening of Jack Rabbit as I was, so we cycled a few times on Jack Rabbit and Racer. The brief rainstorm didn't dampen the crowd, but once the Fall Fantasy parade ended, people began to leave the park. The crowd shrunk to a manageable size, and we made a round of the park, re-riding our favorite rides. John was more than a little upset when Steel Phantom closed early as it usually does, and we were all disappointed when Thunderbolt also closed early because of its low capacity. We consoled ourselves by eating Potato Patch fries and riding the Jack Rabbit some more. Finally, as the music played, we prepared to head home. I bought the new Idora Park history book (which I later found out had only just been published), and we made the four-hour drive back to Columbus.
|6||Exterminator||Reverchon||Crazy Mouse |
|4||Wave Swinger||Zierer||Wave Swinger|
|6||Pitt Fall||Intamin||Giant Drop|
|6||Steel Phantom||Arrow||Multi-element looper|
|5||Noah's Ark||Kennywood||Fun House|
|5||Jack Rabbit||Miller/DFH||Wood Coaster|
|5||Racer||Miller/DFH||Wood racing coaster|
|4||Swing Around||Huss||Swing Around T/M|
|4||Flying Carpet||Zierer||Flying Carpet|
|4||Bayern Kurve||Schwarzkopf||Bayern Kurve|
|3||Gran Prix||Reverchon||Bumper Cars|
|4||Musik Express||Mack||Musik Express|
|5||Raging Rapids||Intamin||Rapid River Ride/6|
|4||Swing Around||Huss||Swing Around|
|3||Auto Race||Traver||Auto Race|
|4||Turnpike||Arrow||Antique Sport Cars|
|4||Wonder Wheel||Vekoma||Ferris Wheel|
|3||Gold Rusher||Kennywood||Dark Ride|
|2||Olde Kennywod Railroad||Train|
|4||Old Mill||Kennywood||Dark Ride|
|1||Mini Bouncer||?||Mini Bouncer|
|1||Mini Turtle||Chambers||Kid Tumble Bug|
|2||Boats||Herschell||Wet Boat (center drv.)|
|2||Ferris Wheel||Mangels||Kiddie Wheel|
|2||Cadillacs||?||Tracked car ride|
|2||Mini Swings||?||Kiddie Swings|
--Dave Althoff, Jr.
Footnote 1: Why is it called a "roommate" when that is the one part of the townhouse that they don't share? [Return to text]
Footnote 2: Actually, the only ride I would expect to go "DDT" is the Exterminator......[Return to text]
Footnote 3: It is not unusual to see Martians at Kennywood, as Mars is only about 30 miles away...[Return to text]
Footnote 4: Removal of limbs, of course...[Return to text]
Next: Seabreeze Park
Back to the 1999 Park Visits index
Back to Dave's Adventures
Back to Dave's page...