"Happy Birthday, Racer and Turtle!"
A week ago, Scott Short had suggested taking a trip to Kennywood. Because of the Phantom Theater situation I suggested Kings Island instead, and it worked out very nicely. Because it was at Kings Island that we learned about a hastily-concocted informal event at Kennywood the following week, the 21st. The particulars? 2002 is the 75th season for Kennywood's Racer, Turtle, and Kiddieland, and the park opted to designate July 21 as the official birthday for all three attractions. Better still, the park did something almost unheard of: They arranged for special discounted admission: General Admission for $0.75, or a Ride-All-Day pass for only $7.50. Not for everybody, but for all ACE members, and for anybody who happens to be 75 years old, born in 1975, weighs 75 pounds, or happens to be 6'3" (75") tall. No special bonus for Scott who fits three of those categories; I'm just happy that they included ACE members since that was the only category that applied to me!
Since when does Kennywood open at 10:30? I remember when the park opened at Noon. I left home before 7:30 in the morning, which is uncivilized. It took me nearly four hours to get there, which is longer than usual, but I'm not sure why...there weren't any unreasonable delays. Oh, a couple of slow spots...2 miles of 45 MPH on IR-70 and another 2 miles of 40 MPH on US-22, but none of the usual delays on IR-279 at the Ft. Pitt tunnel or at that shopping centre [Footnote 1] on Braddock Ave. When I arrived at the park, being my usual cheap self, I avoided the $4 "preferred parking" area and was waved on to one of my least favorite parking areas, Kennywood's lower tier Lot #2. I collected the appropriate gear from the car and headed for the escalator. Folks, it took them years to do it, but Kennywood has FINALLY installed that second escalator for Level 2 parking. That makes that level far less unpleasant because you no longer have a 50% chance of getting there and finding that the escalator is running the wrong way. You still have a 50% chance of finding that it isn't running at all, but there are now two escalators, one going each direction.
I still like the chairlift (from Lot #3) better, though!
I entered the park and headed indirectly for the Jack Rabbit as is my usual pattern [Footnote 2]. I noticed that the Jack Rabbit has changed a bit since my last visit in that the trim brakes at the end of the ride have been noticeably loosened up so that while the magnetic trims still slow the train, the train really doesn't reach its minimum speed until it gets to the friction caliper. More than ever, the new high-tech braking system feels exactly like the low-tech skid brake system it replaced. Which, I suppose, is the intent. As Kennywood updates these old rides, we customers really aren't supposed to notice. Which is why I tend to seek these things out. 8-) That the new system is very different from the old system became really obvious when a train dispatch was delayed because of a loading difficulty: The pink train sat on the loading brake waiting to be dispatched as the white train completed the course, then rolled to a stop as usual in the unloading station. Never before have I seen the Jack Rabbit stack two trains in the stations; now it is still unusual, but when it has to happen, it happens with complete safety, without causing operational trouble. Well, this is what they went through all that mechanical trouble for in the first place! Of course, out on the course where it really counts, nothing has changed. The brake fins add quite a bit of weight to the train, but those trains are so heavy to begin with that it doesn't seem to make any difference at all in the ride.
In accordance with the Kennywood Law #1, I proceeded from the Jack Rabbit to the Racer. As I entered the boarding platform, ACE regional rep Gary Baker handed me a ticket. Gary really gets around, as it wasn't that much earlier he was standing at the specially marked ticket booth checking ID's, heights, and weights in order to grant admission discounts. Meanwhile park historian and recent NAPHA executive director Jim Futrell was setting up a book-signing table at the Racer exit. Anyway, as I boarded Racer, Gary handed me a ticket, which is unusual as the person standing in that location is normally supposed to collect tickets from the riders. The idea was that for each ride on either the Racer or the Turtle, riders receive a ticket good for a chance at unspecified prizes in a drawing later in the day. Racer gave its usual competent ride, and as usual when I stuck my arm out to 'high-five' the riders in the other train, all of them looked at me like I was from...well, not from Mars, as that's right up the road...but you get the idea. Point is, this isn't Gemini and I'm not in Sandusky anymore.
When I got off I chatted briefly with Jim Futrell (I still need to buy a copy of his book) and generally hung out for a bit as the Racer birthday celebration was scheduled to begin shortly. Which it did. Kenny and Garfield and the Kennywood marketing department and a huge birthday cake, a small band, and a handfull of dignitaries all assembled on the midway across from the Racer. Words were spoken, trivia questions were asked and answered, we all sang "Happy Birthday" to the Racer, the cake was cut (we were all warned that Garfield was not to have any until later in the day!). It was more or less at this point that the 75-inch-tall Scott Short appeared and said hello. He had been riding Phantom's Revenge all morning. He joined me for a ride or two on Racer and Jack Rabbit, then we circled around to Thunderbolt for a front seat ride.
When Phantom's Revenge was built, it was fitted into a new cut in the ravine right below the Thunderbolt station, and glass patio doors were installed along the downtrack end of the Thunderbolt station to protect the Phantom from people waiting in line. Last year it made good sense, but for this year Phantom has received a proper concrete retaining wall that accomplishes the same thing. Meanwhile the patio doors serve to perpetuate the "TV ranch house" feel of the Thunderbolt station. The ride, meanwhile, is running very well, once again proving that the Kennywoodies ride like no other wood coasters in the land. There used to be a real nasty pothole at the bottom of the first drop, but that's gone now. Unlike the last time I rode, the trims were hitting at the top of the lift hill, but the long ravine drop was simply amazing as usual, then the final drop has something strange going on, like the track isn't quite level at the bottom. I guess that goes along with the general quirkiness of this ride, just like that little right-hand kink near the top of the lift hill. I don't know how that got there, but it's significant enough to notice, but it doesn't seem to hurt the ride any...
Scott and I proceeded to Phantom's Revenge. With only one train running, the station wasn't full, so it was only a brief wait for the back seat.
Phantom's Revenge is, for the moment, the only Morgan coaster I have ever ridden, and as such it makes me wonder about all of those Magnum XL-200/Steel Force comparisons I have heard. Over the years I have mostly concluded that, based on others' descriptions of Steel Force, I would prefer the violence of Magnum XL-200 to Steel Force...that is, that I would prefer Magnum for precisely the same reason that many others would prefer Steel Force.
With that in mind, Morgan's contributions to Phantom's Revenge call all of that logic into question [Footnote 3].
Phantom's Revenge starts simply enough, with the long, noisy trip up the Steel Phantom's old lift hill. On the way up, I took a glance behind me and to the right to get an aerial view of Lost Kennywood and its now-roofless Whip. It really does look like it's been running that way since Day #1, so even the emergency ride modifications carefully blend into the park just like the planned ones. At the top of the hill, we whip around to the right and down the first drop, just as on Steel Phantom, but without the traditional headbanging, there being nothing to bang your head against. Through the low flat and back up to leap over the station, and there is a hint of airtime just as we roll over the top, then a very slight aspect change, not as severe as the ones on Dragon Mountain or Tennessee Tornado, pulls the train out from beneath us. But so far it's all pretty gentle; this is a visual experience, shooting down the long drop and through the openings in the Thunderbolt structure. The drop is longer than Steel Phantom's drop was, and I suspect that the added distance here is what allowed the second ravine drop. The drop rolls to the left as a setup for a sharp left-hand upward-swooping curve positioned in an area that Steel Phantom left alone. This curve turns the ride around to face upstream for a dive back down into the ravine about where Steel Phantom's high speed turnaround used to be. A catwalk has been constructed alongside this dip, which finishes by climbing through the trench immediately adjacent to Thunderbolt's first drop. In an impossibly short space, the track comes from beneath the Thunderbolt to leap over the 75-year-old Turtle. Circling quickly around the Turtle, the Phantom then plunges through a double-dip, the coaster element which is probably more closely associated with Kennywood than any other. But this is different. After coming out of the double-dip, Phantom keeps going around the hill, dipping under the station return track with a second double-dip! The train zips around a circular mound, then leaps to the brake run with two consecutive camel-back hills. The ending...basically from the time this ride comes up out of the trench until it hits the final brakes on the transfer table...is easily the wildest steel coaster I think I have ever ridden. And since my last ride, Kennywood has made it even wilder: they have loosened up the magnetic trim brakes on the transfer table so that the train comes into the station a little faster.
Scott and I exited Phantom's Revenge and went back to look at the Whip and the Exterminator, but the Exterminator was not operating. After some debate we oted to have lunch at the cafeteria at the center of the park, where I had what amounts to a sub sandwich. You can get good food at Kennywood without paying a whole lot because the park has to compete with the picnic baskets welcomed at the front gate. It's a strategy that seems to work. The selection of drink options is pretty disappointing for someone who doesn't care for Pepsi. No root beer or Dr. Pepper thanks to two equally vile variations on Mountain Dew. Ick.
The Pirate is operating again, as is the Flying Carpet and the Enterprise. The fish and chips stand is also open now, right behind the Pirate, and while I drank lots of water from that stand, I didn't try the fish and chips as I had lunch in the cafeteria.
After lunch, it was more rides all over the park, including a ride on the Turtle, which, like the Racer, involved the operator giving tickets to all the riders. The Exterminator opened up, and we waited nearly an hour for it. The platform attendant noted that they now limit the ride to two adults per car, which I thought a little surprising. Our car stopped completely on the first trim brake, but otherwise was pretty much un-trimmed. When we returned to the station I noticed that four cars were stacked up in the station, suggesting that perhaps we were among the last riders before the ride went down. As a matter of fact, as we left the ride I noticed that the queue had been shut down, though not emptied. In accordance with the Kennywood Law #2, we went from Exterminator to Whip. The Whip is a little different without the roof over it, but on a day like today, my first thought was that I was happy the upholstery was red instead of black as it sat in the blazing sun.
It was rides and more rides, and I had just enough time to eat one of those fantastic Belgian waffles with the strawberries and ice cream before the Racer drawing. Unfortunately I didn't have any winning tickets. Ah, well...
The time was approaching 9pm. Scott went home; I decided to take one more lap of the park and see if I missed anything important. I had, as I hadn't ridden the Kangaroo (Aeroaffiliates Flying Coaster) yet. I corrected for that omission, took a quick ride on the carousel, and then it was time for me to go home.
Many thanks to Kennywood for throwing a wonderful party for their 75-year-old attractions. I had a great time in the park once again, and the rare discount was a special treat. Getting home was a little bit of a challenge thanks to the continued closure of the outbound Fort Pitt tunnel, but it still only took me about four hours to get home.
--Dave Althoff, Jr.
Footnote 1: Why is it that in the USA the word "center" is almost always spelled "center" unless a real-estate developer is involved, in which case it becomes "centre"? Are they all Canadian or something? And why do developers subject us to such pointless abberations as "towne", "shoppe", and "olde"? [Return to text]
Footnote 2: Of course I headed directly for the little building across from the Kangaroo, but that's not so interesting to write about... [Return to text]
Footnote 3: Which, I suppose, just means I need to get back to Dorney Park! [Return to text]
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