"Is it hot enough for you?"
On Independence Day, it seems that a visit to the Great American Amusement Park is an appropriate thing to do. I can still remember the jingle, "It's the great American amusement park...Americana." Only it isn't Americana anymore, it's LeSourdsville Lake. Apparently Jerry Couch also remembers the old slogan because he had announced that it would be the Great American Amusement Park at LeSourdsville Lake, but then mercifully went with the shorter name.
I collected Dave Bowers and then headed across Cincinnati towards Monroe. We passed a street clock on a trucking company. The sign indicated a current temperature of 99 degrees and it wasn't even Noon yet.
Visiting LeSourdsville Lake is one of those situations where you don't quite know, as a coaster nut, which you would prefer: A light crowd so that you can take lots and lots of rides, or a huge crowd that is a little less manageable, but that indicates that the park is doing well. Today we would deal with a little of both. Starting with a very long line to get into the park. We noticed a couple of interesting things. First of all, a rule that made no sense at all: Picnic baskets and coolers are not permitted in the park, but apparently picnics are OK. A lot of grocery bags of lunch-makings were making their way into the park. Second, I noticed that the admission policy for the "Olympic-sized" swimming pool has changed. When the park opened, the pool was included in the $3 grounds admission; now the pool is included with the $16 wristband, or available for an additional $3 surcharge over the grounds admission. I guess it is to be expected that an effectively new park will tweak its prices...and as a former carnival operator, the Pugh team would have no problems adjusting prices to match demand.
There was a very large crowd waiting to buy tickets and wristbands. I saw a fully loaded train crest the lift hill on the Screechin' Eagle. Finally we bought our wristbands, crossed the CSX tracks, and entered the park.
Things are still changing at LeSourdsville Lake. Perhaps the most noticeable change is the very large A-frame that has sprung up between the still-vacant old food court building and the Flying Scooter. It still isn't quite a ride yet, but it is starting to look a little bit like a Pirat. Dave and I continued our beeline for the Screechin' Eagle, pausing only for a moment to notice that what had been a food joint is being converted into an airbrush stand. We proceeded to the coaster and climbed aboard. I had been riding just a week and a half earlier, but these would be Dave's first rides on the Eagle. The ride is still smooth and fast. As we pulled out of the station I looked to the left and noticed a large number of very narrow benches which makes me wonder if the park is working on getting a second train put together for the railroad. Coming over the top of the lift hill, I could see lots of Fiberglas panels being laid out for refinishing...the seats and cover panels for the Pirat ride. Over the hills we flew. If anything, the Screechin' Eagle is breaking in a bit with the new trackwork and running a little bit faster. Bottom line is, it's running great.
After a couple of rides we made our way down the midway. We hiked through the Infernal Combustion funhouse (be careful of those entrance stairs!) and noted that the food joint next to the boat landing had several specials going for Independence Day. We rode the Round-Up, noting that with the single long cable stretched through where the lap chains are supposed to be, people have to exit the ride one at a time. As with most of the rides at LeSourdsville Lake, it was a surprisingly long ride cycle. Though the Speedway ride (rail-guide cars) was on the "closed today" list, they were operating so we took a ride. Those cars have two speeds: "FAST!" and "stop". The first time under the overpass I had to literally drive through a bush that was completely blocking the road; a new level of interactivity for the ride! Speaking of interactivity, we also rode the Tip-Top, and though Dave and I are of similar weights, the tub still was really hard to spin. Perhaps the 99-degree heat and the influence that heat had on our willingness to exert ourselves had something to do with it.
We took the train back to the frontier section of the park, or whatever it is called. They have got the Rock-O-Plane back together, so we split up to take a ride. Dave was loaded, then me. The ride ran for a while, and seemed to be working pretty well, although I would have liked a tighter tub brake; I had a hard time getting the tub to hold in certain positions. Abruptly the operator stopped the ride and pulled me off. I wondered for a moment if I was doing something wrong, but then the operator proceeded to unload the ride. Dave was surprised to find me on the ground and accused me of not riding. It turns out that my tub had been flinging black crud at the operator. Closer investigation revealed that the crud had also stained the back of my shirt comemmorating the park's "Serpent" coaster. So I had my proof that I had actually taken a ride. Apparently somehow in the 99-degree heat the axle bearing grease was flowing out of the bearing, across the back of the tub, and out the door, getting flung down the midway during the more radical maneuvers. Reassured at this, the operator re-opened the ride, but I opted not to ride again.
From the top of the Rock-O-Plane it is easy to see that the back of the park is quickly being surrounded by new housing developments right up to the CSX track on the North side. This could be a good thing in that it makes for a ready customer base for a local park (why drive 16 miles to stand in line at Kings Island when you can ride all day without waiting in line at the park next door?). Or it could be a bad thing for the park's future expansion. The good thing is that there is an active CSX line right there alongside the park, and I have never heard a roller coaster or other ride that made more noise than those diesel-electric locomotives.
We rode the Scrambler and watched the rapids ride, promising to ride it later. For now we took the train back to the main park and had lunch at the food stand next to the boat landing. For under $4 I had a hot dog, an order of nacho chips, and a small drink. Dave was a little shocked when I put sweet relish on my hot dog. We watched the overgrown fish in the lake and got to talking about adding a fish and chips joint, preferrably with a cane pole extending out the kitchen door and a line in the water, if only for decorative purposes. I also noted that somebody clearly values the Captain's comfort on the as-yet still disused boat ride. The Captain is accommodated by a dining-service type chair welded to the deck behind the wheel. On the seat cushion is duct-taped a padded seat bench that looks like it might have come out of an old coaster train. On the seat back somebody tied on a life jacket, again to serve as additional padding. I've heard of using your seat cushion as a floatation device, but this seemed to be...well...a little overboard. 8-)
Our actions at this point were carefully planned. We took quick rides on the Screechin' Eagle, on the unusual, slow-running 8-car Whip, and on the Flying Scooters. I still can't get much action out of these Flying Scooters. As for the Whip, the original Mangels cars were apparently lost in one of the park's many suspicious fires, so it is equipped with custom Fiberglas cars that kind of resemble the flying car that the Jetson's cruise around in (minus the glass bubble on top). I think someone tried to give Americana a "space age" theme about 30 years ago, and the Whip and Flying Scooter cars are a throwback to that. We returned to the car...well, we waited for a CSX train to pass, then we returned to the car. Having an active rail line between the park and the parking lot is a bit of a nuisance. Although the park has a candy shop right inside the gate...air conditioned to just South of "freezing"...cheap hard candies, taffy and fudge...sort of a perfect place to wait while the train passes by. They didn't get much out of us, but a few cents here and a few cents there, it all adds up eventually...maybe the CSX line isn't such a nuisance after all! 8-)
We finished our candy as the CSX train passed, then returned to the car. I dumped my video camera; Dave dumped the souvenir stuff he had bought. We returned to the park and headed for the far corner.
The number of boats on the rapids ride/flume had been dramatically increased since my previous visit. I think I counted seven boats this time, and as we waited maintenance guys were adding additional boats, fresh from the boneyard paint shop. I did notice that they didn't quite have all of the timing issues worked out because they had to stop the lift conveyor for almost every boat. There are two station brakes, and the operator controls them both manually using a pair of foot-operated valves. So the ride features totally hands-free operation in the station. We climbed into the two-compartment boat. With the first drop out of the station, we dropped nose-first into the channel and water poured over the sides of the boat. I noticed how cleanly the boat flowed around the curves with very little of the wheel-bumping I am accustomed to with Hopkins and to a lesser degree Arrow flumes. We cruised through the rapids, getting totally soaked. The waterfall gag still wasn't working. Finally we were hoisted to the top of the conveyor where we exchanged greetings with the operator up there. I told Dave to check his seat belt (with which the ride does not happen to be equipped) just before we took off down the drop. It's a nice trip to the bottom, then at the bottom the boat tossed up an enormous wave, high enough that the "rain" continued for several seconds. It's no joke, we got totally soaked.
So we did it again. This time I sat in the front of the boat where I noticed that when water splashes over the nose of the boat, it comes right through the top of the log someplace. Other than that...yup, we got soaked again. Fortunately we had prepared for that. At this point we were plenty wet, but in the July heat we dried off quickly as we walked through the picnic grove and past the crowded pool. Y'know, the park already has a rudimentary water park with the pools, I wonder if the next logical step for them, particularly given the lack of shade in much of the park, would be to add a waterpark-type attraction, perhaps one of those big treehouse things with the dumping bucket on top and the slides on the back. That would turn the pool into a full-blown, if small, waterpark.
We took a couple more rides, including the demented Musik Express and the Screechin' Eagle...oh, and the Serpent, where the operator duly noted my (now Rock-O-Plane stained) Serpent tee shirt. Next to the Serpent was a ditch-digging machine, and I couldn't help but notice its uncanny resemblance to the adjacent Zipper ride. But I wanted to get back to Columbus in time for my neighborhood fireworks show, so I took Dave home, then headed home myself. As we crossed Cincinnati, another street clock indicated 99 degrees. I wonder how hot it really got at LeSourdsville Lake.
--Dave Althoff, Jr.
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