"NEVER ask for directions in Pennsylvania."
On July 9, 1755, General Edward Braddock attempted to drive the French from Fort DuQuesene. Not only did he lose that battle, he was mortally wounded in the battle, and Colonel George Washington had to direct the survivors from the battle, crossing the Monongahela River somewhere near Turn #3 of Phantom's Revenge.
On July 9, 1967, David and Victoria Althoff were married near Columbus, Ohio.
On July 9, 2004, both events were commemorated on a bluff overlooking the Monongahela River, as Dave Althoff, Sr. stood in front of a statue of George Washington and noted the odd coincidence of dates, pointing them out to his wife and son.
Let me back up a bit. Several weeks ago, Mom invited me to ride along to take Dad to Kennywood for Father's Day. Naturally, I accepted. Unfortunately, Dad was not quite so accommodating, and the trip got postponed, and it turned into an anniversary weekend for my parents, and a Pennsylvania roller coasting weekend for me. They took off on Thursday evening and spent the night in Washington, PA. I took off on Friday morning and met them at their hotel. This year, Kennywood has package deals with several Pittsburgh-area hotels for a room and a couple of Ride-All-Day tickets for a good price. Check the park's website for details. We compared the best rate we could get for the room to the rate we got for the room and the tickets and it turned out to be a really good deal. The catch, of course, was that we had to check into the hotel first to get our tickets. The hotel was allegedly located in West Mifflin, but for some reason didn't appear on any of our maps. So we called the West Mifflin hotel from the Washington hotel. Between desk clerks at the two hotels, we got directions to get from the one to the other. Incorrect directions, to be sure, but directions, none the less. Why is it that when you ask where a business is located, the first thing that comes back to you is, "Where are you coming from?" Why is it that when I want to know where a business is located, the person giving me information always wants to tell me instead how to get there? Sure, I want to know how to get there, but more often than not, if you tell me where I am going, I can figure out how to get there. But if you give me directions, you're going to keep me totally lost. And if you give me incorrect directions, I may never make it!
Anyway, once I figured out the exact proper way to ignore the supplied directions to get to the hotel, we got our tickets and proceeded along a maze of back roads to the park. Those big yellow arrows come in handy sometimes! We pulled into my preferred parking lot just as the chairlift started running. Not the preferred parking lot, mind you, where we could park two blocks from the gate for $4.00, but the parking lot that I prefer, where I parked about 20 feet from the CTEC Garaventa chairlift for $0.00. We rode the lift down to the front gate. On the way down, Dad and I told Mom about the videotape we had seen of a load test of a ski lift where an E-stop sent a fully-loaded lift careening down the hill and throwing sandbags as the chairs flew around the bullwheel. Just the thing to boost Mom's confidence in the ride. 8-)
Once inside the park, Mom revealed that she was mad at us for dragging her out of the park last time without a ride on the Old Mill. I think she was a little disappointed when I told her the Old Mill had been renovated. Nevertheless, she insisted that it be our first stop. The park was a bit busy, and it was almost an hour-long wait to ride through Garfield's Nightmare. Garfield's Nightmare has replaced the sort of mismash of ancient flourescent-painted stunts. Yeah, it's always been a neat old ride, but in spite of the history, it was never really a great ride. I'm sorry, but admit it, you DAFE people, there was never any kind of a story, most of the stunts weren't very good, and most of the ride was little more than "dark". The new ride is a complete overhaul of everything except the ride system. The queue has been re-done on the inboard side of the loading platform, with a stile over the return trough, and a nice waterfall and pond under the stile. In the queue, a pair of monitors plays a show about the history of the ride, right up through this season's makeover. As we boarded, we were handed a set of "3D" glasses. That isn't quite the right term for them, but that's the common term. Instead of colored lenses or polarized lenses as are commonly used for 3D movies, these are "fireworks glasses" using diffraction lenses (I think) which will typically split out color fringes on white light, and on color will give interesting swirling effects and make for differential color positioning. It's an interesting idea, and not exactly what I would normally expect from Kennywood. Inside, we watch as Garfield falls asleep, then a pattern develops. We see a three-panel Garfield strip which demonstrates one of Garfield's less-than-angelic behaviors, followed by an elaborate scene showing how the tables are turned on Garfield. A kind of a graphic morality play, I guess, in a form safe for the Sunday funny pages. I'm not a big fan of Garfield, but I have to admit, they have made this into a pretty good ride. And perhaps best of all, they didn't go 'high-tech' with it. The integrity of the classic dark ride, if there is such a thing, was nicely preserved with the Garfield makeover.
On down the midway, we rode the Jack Rabbit, another ancient ride with a recent update that was carefully crafted to maintain the ride's historic integrity. Most people probably don't even notice that the ride now has magnetic approach brakes. What I noticed, though, was the distinct lack of urgency on the platform. Even with the magnetic brakes, Jack Rabbit was always operated with a general feeling of urgency, so that the train in the station would pull out as the other train cruised around the last turnaround. I was surprised, then, when I saw the second train sitting on the unload brake as I boarded. I was even more surprised when that other train was still sitting in load when our train got back! What has happened to this ride? Before the computer, it would have been unthinkable to have two trains in the station at the same time; now it was seeming almost normal. That can't be right!
Of course, after riding the Jack Rabbit, we had to ride the Racer. Racer is a fun ride, and I like it a lot. There was a large picnic group just ahead of us in line (we could tell by their matching commemorative shirts) that took over most of both trains. Clearly they REALLY liked the Racer, judging from the hooting and hollering that came from the trains during their ride. Enthusiasm can be a lot of fun. Racer got a bit of an update this year. The trains are now red, blue, and green, as they were last season, but the trains have been dressed up with 'go faster' stripes...orange on the blue train, silver on the other two. It looks pretty neat. I don't know if it makes the trains go any faster, though.
We watched, but did not ride, the Aero-360, and we took a ride on the train. The "endless rail" train billboard wasn't working, but the rest of the ride is a nice way to look down the cliff and see the new locks on the river.
We walked through Lost Kennywood, skipping the Exterminator due to a very long wait, but we did ride the Whip, which is still roofless, and the Wave Swinger. I took the opportunity to ride Phantom's Revenge, but I couldn't talk Mom or Dad into riding it with me. Someday, they are going to understand that Phantom's Revenge is an utterly unique ride, it's a whole lot of fun, and it is absolutely worth riding. For now, though, I just can't seem to talk them into it.
I had a Belgian waffle at the old carousel pavilion. It wasn't quite as good as I have had in the past; I suspect because the waffle wasn't fresh...it had sat around just long enough to be a little on the chewy side. Next time I'll know enough to ask for a fresh waffle. I know I should have known better. Still...does any other park have a delicacy to compare to this? Mmmmmmmmm. And with the strawberry topping, I can almost convince myself that it is "healthy".
In the "new" carousel pavilion, I noticed a few things that deserve a mention. First of all, since I've been ridiculing parks for this all season, I should mention that the horses all have belts on them which have been there forever and which most people wisely ignore. More important, it is yet another carousel on which the horses do not have any kind of stirrup or foot rest. Oddly enough, there are metal steps on the poles beneath the horses, but they are intended only for boarding, as they are positioned so that they run parallel to the horse's body, and are thus worthless during the ride. As I looked around the ride, though, I noticed something else. My statement was not entirely true. Many riders found ways to support their feet during the ride by putting their legs and feet on the fragile carved wooden front legs of the carousel horses. Dad pointed out that almost every horse on the ride has "skinned knees" where the paint is badly damaged if not completely worn off on the horses' front knees because of people putting their feet there. You know, if the insurance carriers don't strongly suggest rigid foot pegs or stirrups for safety reasons, I'm surprised the maintenance departments don't strongly suggest them just to protect the paint on the ride! Dad would revisit this idea at our next stop on this trip.
I also noticed that the carousel mechanism seems awfully noisy this year. I wondered if the ride had been updated with a new motor controller, but Dad noted that the operator was using a trolley-handle control, suggesting that it hasn't. I did clock the ride at around 6 RPM, making Kennywood's carousel about the same speed as the one at Geauga Lake.
The Kangaroo has received some interesting modifications this year. Previously, its center used a single electric motor which turned an Eyerly-style countershaft which drove two half-differentials whose output shafts drove a single chain wrapped around the main center shaft. The first thing I noticed was that the two differentials and the countershaft are all GONE, replaced with two brand-new electric motors, each with an inline reducing gear, positioned in place of the differentials, set to drive the original-type drive chain. I can see how that probably fixes a number of maintenance issues, not the least of which is the fact that the downward-pointing shafts on all Eyerly-type centers always leak oil down the shaft. But what surprised me was the four new prox switches on the ride's jump ramp: one a the bottom of the ramp, one at the usual parking position for the tub on the ramp, one at the top of the ramp, and one at the base of the "cliff" side. The new motors and electronic motor control I can completely understand. But I don't know what the prox switches are for. After all, when the ride stops, basic mechanical principles will park it in the usual place just as they have since the day the ride was built. The only thing I can think of is that perhaps there are one-way clutches in the gearboxes and now the motor controller has to stop the motor at a particular spot because without a clutch, maybe it can't roll backward anymore for parking. It's just a theory, but it is also about the only explanation I can think of that makes any kind of sense.
We rode the ride, which gave the same ride as always, with that neat pop of explosive airtime on each revolution. The only other change, which I am not sure whether it is a change or not, came at the end of the ride: The ride stopped, I pulled the latch lever, and the lap bar failed to open until the operator came around and reset a pin that was sticking out the end of the bar. Our tub was the only one that did that, and I don't know if it had something to do with ours being the one parked on the jump ramp, or if it was just an automatic (and nearly invisible) interlock that just happened to malfunction.
We toured Noah's Ark, where it seems that a new barrier has appeared just before the open floors...or perhaps I am remembering it wrong. Anyway, I used that section of the attraction to practice my levitation skills. I noticed that most people were, as usual, taking the short route through the open floors, but I turned left and took the long way 'round, and Mom and Dad followed me. What surprised me was that a whole crowd of other people followed them, as though the only reason people were going the short route instead of the long route was because it never occurred to them to go the other way. Maybe there is something to that idea, as it is the one point in the attraction where there is not a hairy simian [Footnote 1] indicating that we should, "Go That Way." The attraction is as it has been since it re-opened, and this time I managed to not get squirted by that @#$! snake. Oh, and I think the strobe lighting in the Sea Storm Room is new this season. Speaking of storms, I still think the bathyscape/flooding room exit is a pretty weak ending for the attraction. There ought to be a better way to give the Ark a big finish......
The Gold Rusher was next on our list. Back in 1998 I had the privilege of walking through the Gold Rusher with the NAPHA convention, so I have had a pretty detailed look at the scenes and stunts inside, many of which are themselves pretty detailed, especially the first couple of scenes and the dinner scene at the end with the coyotes. But Mom and Dad didn't have the advantage of that look, and for them, it was just quick glimpses as the lights came on briefly in each scene, usually not long enough to get a good look at whatever was about to happen. They both commented that the ride was good, but the scenes were too quick.
This brought us around to the Thunderbolt. We only got one ride, with very little waiting, but quite frankly, one ride was plenty. There is something very wrong with the Thunderbolt this season, something completely out of character for Kennywood. The ride has picked up the "NAD Bounce", which I have never before felt on Thunderbolt, and there are two spots on the ride...at the bottom of the first pass through the helix, and at the bottom of the last drop...where something very wrong is happening, resulting in an extremely rough, extremely harsh ride in those two spots. Overall, it's better than an awful lot of wood coasters out there, but in those two spots, Thunderbolt is really bad right now. After riding, Dad and I examined the spot on the helix, which is easily visible from the midway. It's not that either of us knows a whole lot about wood coaster construction, but having felt what the ride did at that spot, we figured it was an educational opportunity. What we saw was a bit surprising. As the enormous NAD train goes through, the track flexes outward and downward between the bents. Watching the track as the train went through, we were able to immediately identify the rough spot: at one point, there was significantly more movement between then bents than at any other point through the helix, even at the adjacent bents. What I noticed here was that the bad spot is NOT at the bottom of the hill or at the apex of the turn, that is, it isn't at what I expect to be the point of maximum force; instead, it is right BEFORE the curve starts at the bottom of the hill. Oh, and lest we think that Kennywood isn't well aware of this, we noticed a lot of hardware on the ground below the offending track section: one bolt bent into something that looked more like a steel pretzel, and a lot of washers...but no nuts, no broken bolts, and no open holes or missing fasteners on the track. That told the story right there. The washers on the ground suggest that either the ride is breaking bolts at that spot, or there has been a bit of recent repair in that location. The fact that there are no bolts, nuts or bolt fragments, and perhaps more important, the fact that there are no empty holes in the track, indicate that this is ongoing maintenance. I just hope that the park figures out what is wrong with this spot of track and actually fixes it. I'm sure they will; the way Thunderbolt is running both here and on the bottom of the final drop is very un-Kennywood-like.
We opted for dinner in the venerable Casino building. We would have sat outside on the porch, except that Mom deferred to my usual misgivings about sitting on plastic resin chairs (and ignored my lack of willingness to simply grab a "real" chair from inside and take it outside with me). I had the chicken strips, which are a generous portion, served with cole slaw and a more than generous portion of fries and for a moderate extra cost, a huge serving of cheese sauce. A word of warning: The fries served in the cafeteria are coated fries, and hence are not very good. My advice is to skip the fries in the cafeteria and send someone over to the Potato Patch. Does anybody actually *like* coated fries? I think they're just a gimmick to keep the fries crisp even after they've become cold. The cheese sauce helped a lot.
After dinner we rode the rides we hadn't visited yet, including the Auto Ride, and the Gran Prix (bumper cars). Yeah, I know, those are in opposite corners of the park. Somehow we completely missed out on the Turtle, and I know I've long lost the actual sequence of what we rode and when. But that's not as important as the details of how things went. Dad kept asking what time the park closed, and I had to keep reminding him that Kennywood's closing time on any given night is easily the second best kept secret in the amusement industry. The park was busy and getting busier once the evening admission plan started. Dad and I rode the Swing Around, and it was getting late. The three of us did some shopping, and it was nearly 11:00 by the time we boarded the chairlift for the ride back to the car. It had been a long day, and we'd had a lot of fun. I didn't spend as much time on the coasters as I often would, but that was as much a factor of the large crowd as anything else, that along with the Thunderbolt's unusually poor condition and my parents' refusal to ride Phantom's Revenge. I still think they would both love that ride if I could get them on it.
Finally, I was the one charged with the most difficult assignment of the day: figuring out how to get back to our hotel. You know, those yellow arrows aren't much help when you're going to a specific point AWAY from the park! Is it any wonder we all fell asleep shortly after returning to the hotel? Besides, the adventure would continue the next day...
--Dave Althoff, Jr.
Footnote 1: Didn't he do a famous recording of The Little Drummer Boy back in 1959? [Return to text]
Next: A wild ride across Pennsylvania, and a new coaster not ridden
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