The 2002 season has been a little light on exciting new attractions in the amusement industry. But that doesn't mean there haven't been any eagerly awaited openings. Tomb Raider at Kings Island. Superman: Ultimate Flight at Six Flags over Georgia. Wicked Twister at Cedar Point. The Screechin' Eagle at LeSourdsville Lake.
Heck with the Screechin' Eagle...LeSourdsville Lake itself is the eagerly awaited opening around here! The park opened in 1922 as little more than a swimming hole and picnic ground along the Miami River. Along about 1928 or so, the park moved the roller coaster from Moxahala Park near Zanesville to the site. The coaster was built by John Miller and the Dayton Fun House and Riding Device Company. I know it was Dayton Fun House at the time rather than National Amusement Device because a few years ago when Park River Corp. updated the lift drive system on the coaster from the old flywheel reduction to the present reduction gearbox, they left an old pillow-block sitting on the ground with the legend, "DAYTON FUN HOUSE" cast into the side. Anyway, the park developed for decades, operating in the shadow of Coney Island and later Kings Island. It was re-christened "Americana Amusement Park." It survived a couple of disasterous suspicious fires and changed hands more than once. Along about 1996, Park River Corp, a Citicasters company that somehow fits into the Carl Lindner organization, acquired the park and started making significant improvements. New rides were added for the first time in decades and in its 75th year (1997) it looked like Americana had a bright future as a sister park to Cincinnati's re-born Coney Island picnic park.
Then without warning in the winter of 1999-2000, Park River announced that Americana was no more. They would not operate the park in 2000, and if a buyer was not found in short order they would simply sell the rides or move them to Coney Island. It looked like the end of Americana. A couple of developers proposed buying the park. A ride broker was given photographs of all the rides. Frustratingly, nothing happened. Well, that's not entirely true. The Tempest ride, the latest addition to Americana, was set up at Coney Island.
Enter Jerry Couch.
Jerry Couch is a recreational vehicle dealer in Hamilton!, who apparently is also a long-time fan of Americana Amusement Park. For reasons known only to himself, Couch spent a sizeable, undisclosed sum of money to buy Americana Amusement Park. He then announced plans to both re-open the park and to relocate his RV dealership, Couch's Campers, to the property. Every so often word would come that indicated that he hadn't forgotten about Americana. But there was little or no evidence of any activity. The 2000 season came and went. So did the 2001 season. In 2001 I heard a rumor that Couch had hired a concessions firm to run the park for him. Buildings at Americana were rented out. The kiddie Ferris wheel was removed from the park and placed in the parking lot next to the park's sign.
Then something happened that was one of those bad news/good news things. In Columbus, much to everyone's surprise, a bankruptcy court judge decided that Pugh Shows, a Lancaster-based carnival and one of the nicest shows in the area, could not reorganize, but had to be auctioned. This effectively put a bunch of people named Pugh out of business, and idled a certain amount of equipment that either didn't sell or belonged to Pugh Shows entities that were not forced to sell. A major carnival was no more. But somehow, something got Pugh Shows connected with Jerry Couch. Deals were made. Couch spent lots more money and Americana Amusement Park suddenly became a very busy place. By April it actually started to look like Americana might rise again.
On June 6, Americana re-opened, once again renamed "LeSourdsville Lake" as it had been 80 years ago. Of course I wasn't there because I was at Cedar Point for CoasterMania. But apparently they attracted 20,000 people for the weekend with no help from me. I delayed my visit for a week, which gave the park a chance to get out of "preview" mode and into more-or-less normal operations. Parking cost me $4, and as was the case in the Americana days, it wasn't collected at the toll booths just inside the parking lot, but rather at a larger booth closer to the park. It was about 12:30, so the early crowd to buy tickets had been handled, and in a few moments I had my wristband.
I carefully crossed the CSX tracks and entered the gate. The park has this nice stucco wall with arches in it and disused square pillars on top. It looks like it really should have a big sign over it or something. Immediately inside and to the left, visible through an opening between the gate and the customer service office was a mess of large white steel pipe and other parts that may eventually become a Huss Pirat. Ahead and to the right, the old gift shop building is empty for the moment. Directly ahead, the carousel now turns under a canopy that once housed a set of bumper cars. In the middle of the midway, a couple of rented generator-light sets stand ready to supplement the park's meager illumination. And behind that a handful of people waited to ride the Serpent.
The Serpent is an SDC Galaxi coaster, one of two operating in the Cincinnati area these days (the other is the Python at Coney Island). Earlier in the year someone was saying that Pugh wanted to run four single cars on it this season, but for my visit it was running a single two-car train. The two-man crew was being pretty efficient about it, though, and the one guy implied that he used to run the ride at Americana. There has been one major change on the Serpent in that it is now totally unbraked through the course. There is one brake just before the final turn into the station, the brake that is ALWAYS set on any Galaxi or Zyklon, which was OFF on this one. Woweee!!
On down the midway toward Screechin' Eagle I failed to ride the trailer-mount Zipper, I made note of the Flying Scooters, bypassed the Whip, and boarded the back seat of the Screechin' Eagle.
I have not ridden the Screechin' Eagle in more than two years. For this year I noticed that the lift hill has been re-tracked, as has the first drop. I also noticed that the bolts that serve as ratchet catch points on the anti-rollback have all been replaced. In addition, the wood wedges that used to sit under those bolts in an effort to quiet the anti-rollbacks a bit have been removed. They never really quieted things down anyway. It is an unusual arrangement, but it seems to work. Over in the boneyard behind the lift hill there was a lot of activity, and lots of ride parts stacked up. I saw a bunch of flume boats, the long-derelict sombrero ride, and a big steel skeleton frame that I finally recognized as the stripped-down passenger tub for the Pirat.
The three-car NAD/PTC hybrid train cleared the lift and smoothly zipped down the first drop. There was no harshness at all as it made the transition into the second hill. At the top I was gently tossed into the traditional lap bar. The ride sets up this nice rhythm with the John Miller signature dips that go all the way to the ground. Then the last drop on the outbound side proves to be a perfect fake-out: it has the same rollover as the other drops, but it is a very shallow dip leading into the high turnaround. The turnaround actually goes beyond the expected 180-degree right-hand turn and brings you face-to-face with the structure before diving to the left for the return run parallel to the outbound track. That dive combines a lateral kick with a really strong pop of airtime, then a couple of small hops, an odd flat turn over the Speedway ride, and a sudden stop just uptrack of the station courtesy of the computer. Yeah, Coney Island/Park River Corp. had these grandiose plans of converting the ride to PTC trains (the present train is NAD running gear with the PTC-built seats, bodies, and lap bars salvaged from the Elitch Gardens Wildcat) and running two trains, and in preparation for that they installed a block control computer.
I wandered on down the midway. I stopped and took a ride on the Calypso, a ride that Couch said a couple of years ago he was planning to get rid of. I think the mural behind the ride is new, as is the paint on the ride itself. The ride hasn't changed much, though. It's running smoothly enough, and the tubs aren't dragging on the platform as they once did, but the thing is running backwards, which has the effect of turning a high-force ride into a pretty forgettable experience. It would be better to run forward at reduced speed rather than running backward. Across from the Calypso, the Tilt-A-Whirl and the Electric Rainbow...a Hrubetz Super Round-Up...were doing their thing. I bypassed them both and boarded the train. The miniature train was built by NAD, and runs a dogbone loop around the back corner of the park, between the Round-Up and the rapids ride, serving as transportation between the main midway and the obligatory "Western" themed section.
Back in the "Western" themed area, all was not well quite yet. The Rock-O-Plane anchors the back of the section, and it stood with its passenger tubs removed. I also noticed that the branches of one tree were actually touching the ride frame. Next to the Rock-O, the old kiddie bumper boat pool stood, partly collapsed, with its liner torn. I presume this ride is being removed. A row of shop-buildings stood closed. The end building was actually open-air to the midway and I could see that the eight Rock-O-Plane tubs were inside, freshly painted in four bright colors, but had not yet been reassembled. Next to this makeshift warehouse was the yard that Dave Bowers and I had called the "used car lot," where the disused Elitch Gardens Wildcat cars not being used on the Screechin' Eagle had been stored, along with the PTC chassis that were removed from the car bodies now running on the 'Eagle. I peered over the fence; it appears that the 'used cars' have been cleared out.
Across the way is the park's Scrambler. In 1997, the ride got an extensive rehab, and as a result even today it is possibly the best-running Scrambler I have ridden. It comes up to full speed quickly and smoothly, there is very little noticeable lash in the gears, it runs very smoothly, and it's in remarkably good shape. I realize it's hard to tell how well a ride runs by watching it on videotape, but I opted to videotape a cycle anyway. Then I walked on around behind the railroad tracks to watch the rapids ride.
The rapids ride was built by Barr Engineering, and is almost certainly one of a kind. With only three boats running, it had the longest line in the park, but that was for good reason. It was a rather warm day. I didn't ride it, as I was carrying loads of electronics with me. But I can describe the ride. The first unusual feature of the ride is the boats. The wheeled boats look like hollowed-out logs, and seat about four people. Because of these long, narrow boats, most people mistake this ride for a log flume, but believe me, it isn't really. From the station you begin with a steep drop that tends to drive the nose of the boat under water just briefly, then as the nose goes back up, water pours in over the back of the boat. You then proceed through a five-stage rapids run which ends with a steep dive into only slightly calmer water through a tunnel. In the middle of this tunnel is a waterfall which is supposed to shut off just as the boat approaches. That feature isn't working at the moment, as the waterfall is entirely shut off. From that point, the channel emerges from the tunnel and runs through a calm log flume-like channel to the base of the lift. The boats are carried to the top of the lift, then dropped down the other side into the splash pool, a catchbasin which is the highest point in the channel, fed with very large pumps. From here the channel flows down to and through the ride's station. This means that the water flow through the station is a bit faster than on most flumes, it also means that as the boats come down the chute, the station floor occasionally gets innundated.
I watched for a bit, then walked through the picnic grove around the lake. In a couple of the shelter houses, ride parts were set up for priming and painting, most notably selected parts from the Pirat. Beyond these shelters is the pool complex which includes an Olympic-size pool and a kiddie pool. On this particular afternoon, the pool was extremely popular.
Between the pool and the park gate is the kiddie ride section. Many fences in here have been replaced with new ASTM-compliant chain-link fences. The Herschell Little Dipper coaster still doesn't permit adults and still has (get this!) seat dividers. A Mini-Indy bumper car ride has been added. And upon arriving at the Mini-Indy I had completed my circuit of the park. I continued on around, this time taking a ride on the Flying Scooter. I keep reading good reports about that ride, but I found that the heavy Fiberglas tubs were harder to maneuver than the lighter-weight metal tubs at Kings Island. I think the heavy, flat, square-nose sail makes a big difference compared with the smaller, lighter, aerofoil-shaped sails at PKI. I was able to get the tub to steer a bit, but no significant snapping action.
The Bertazzon Musik Express is set up near the Whip. I am almost certain this is the same Musik Express that I saw at the Fairfield County Fair a couple of years ago. Only there it had a cover mechanism so that it would work like a Caterpillar. I've heard that the plan is to do that here at LeSourdsville Lake. For the moment there is no cover, but that doesn't change the fact that this is a particularly demented Musik Express, operating at sustained high speed (around 15 RPM!) for an insanely long ride cycle. Long enough that about halfway through I'd had enough. I guess since it is a two-ticket ride the operator wanted to make sure that everyone got his money's worth. That kind of cycle made me just as happy to skip the Zipper.
I took a ride on the Sky Ride, I got a bunch of rides on the Screechin' Eagle, and I stopped in at the gift shop where I bought both an Americana golf shirt and a LeSourdsville Lake T-shirt. It was getting late and so I opted to have dinner in Monroe and then spend the last hour of the day at Kings Island.
LeSourdsville Lake is looking positively great this year and there are lots of signs of even better things to come. It was most certainly worth a visit, and while there are some things left to do, the park is ready enough for the season. So far it looks like the park is enjoying moderate success, even with no advertising, and no promotion. This is exactly what many of us hoped to see this season.
--Dave Althoff, Jr.
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