Yes, that's 5000 words, you've been warned.
August 32 – September 1
"Come along, come along, to the Castle Hug and Song!"
All summer, I’ve been eager to leave Columbus, Ohio, and make a visit to some Pennsylvania amusement parks. Now, having acquired and read a new book by Jim Futrell, entitled Amusement Parks of Pennsylvania, I was more ready than ever to experience some old-fashioned fun. My fiancé Sara and I made the hard decision to skip Kennywood to go to Idlewild, near Ligonier, Pennsylvania. I had heard a lot of good things about this park, had read about it, and had seen it on TV. It was beyond time for a visit. We decided we couldn’t drive as far as Ligonier and not take the extra hour to drive to Altoona to visit another Pennsylvania park, Delgrosso’s Amusement Park, for the first time. While in Altoona, we also visited Lakemont Park for some rides on one of our favorite coasters, Leap the Dips.
Thanks to a couple of misbehaved pet cats, we got off to a late start on Saturday, but eventually began the 4-hour drive to the Ligonier Valley. We were making pretty good time on I-70, but luck was not on our side as a misbehaving gas gauge caused us to run out of fuel just outside of Washington, PA. We sat in the car for a while, hoping that a cop might drive by, or somebody with a cell phone would let us call AAA. No such luck, so we were forced to walk down the interstate for about two and a half miles to find a gas station. This little hike ranks up there with one of the scariest things I’ve ever done. It also added one and a half hours to our travel time, but what’s a journey without a little adventure? Fortunately, the rest of the trip went smoothly. We turned off I-70 at the junction with US-119, took that to the junction with US-30 at Greensburg. US-30 is a pretty ugly road through the outskirts of Greensburg and Latrobe, but it eventually descends into a heavily wooded and scenic valley. It wasn’t long before I spotted the (very full) parking lots of Idlewild through the trees. The time was now 3:30.
Yikes – the sheer number of cars was unexpected. It was a warm day, and with any luck, most of the guests would be in the waterpark. We drove past what looked like the main entrance - and it may have been at one time - but now it was an exit only. The entrance was a bit further down the road. We pulled in and were faced with a row of parking booths. Wait – doesn’t Idlewild offer free parking? Turns out that you pay your park admission charge at the parking booths and parking is, indeed, free (or at least concealed in the admission fee). Idlewild is a little unusual in that it has no main gate. The parking lots sprawl all along the length of the park in the wooded area between the park and US-30. The parking lot was really full and we drove through the winding parking lot roads for quite a while before finding a space. Despite the large sprawling lot, there really isn’t a bad parking spot, as you can enter the park from just about anywhere. We ended up at the far end of the park and entered down a steep path behind the park’s wooden roller coaster and near the entrance to Soak Zone, Idlewild’s Water Park. Soak Zone was indeed crowded but the rest of the park also looked quite full.
Idlewild has seven themed areas. In addition to Soak Zone, the other areas are "Olde Idlewild," the original park where most of the rides are located, Raccoon Lagoon kiddy ride area, Hootin' Holler – a western themed area, Jumpin' Jungle – an elaborate playground, Mister Roger’s Neighborhood, and Story Book Forest. Looking at the park map and guide, we noted that Story Book Forest, Jumpin' Jungle, and Soak Zone closed at 7, while the other attractions would be open until "at least 9." Deciding that we were not interested in water rides or the playground but were interested in Story Book Forest, we headed there first. Unfortunately, it was at the other side of the park. We contemplated walking, but then thought this would be a perfect opportunity to take the train ride – the Loyalhanna Limited. We crossed the bridge over Loyalhanna Creek to the Raccoon Lagoon area to board the train. The train, a Chance C.P. Huntington, takes its riders on a scenic winding path through the forest and ends up at the Hootin’ Holler Station. We disembarked and headed for Story Book Forest, passing by the interesting looking Jumpin’ Jungle playground. Story Book Forest is a delightful stroll through a wooded area populated by re-creations of the characters and sites from children’s nursery rhymes. Costumed characters interact with the children and several displays broadcast the nursery rhymes. Live animals such as goats, lambs, pigs, and chickens are present where appropriate for the story. Caution to adults: The doorways here are low and some of the nursery rhymes may get stuck in your head for days ("Old King Cole was a merry old soul…".
We left Story Book Forest and walked back through the Jumpin’ Jungle Area. A large number of picnic pavilions are located in the area and most of them seemed to be in use. We came upon Hootin’ Holler. This nicely done "Old West" area consists of a number of rustic buildings housing games and shops. A large complex dubbed the "Mineshaft Kitchen" was a neat area themed to an old mine that housed a number of different food stands. In addition to the train station, Hootin’ Holler is home to two other "rides," one of which is Confusion Hill, which stands just across from the Mineshaft Kitchen. We got in what looked like a small line, but soon saw that they were only letting in groups of 20 at a time for a guided tour. We had to wait quite a while for our turn and once we got inside, we realized why the wait was so long. Our guide, using a thick, hard to understand hillbilly accent told a story about Confusion Hill and attempted to get the group to interact. The group was uncooperative and she spent a long time staring down guests and scaring the children. Finally, we began the tour. This attraction is one of those tilted house deals where various optical illusions are performed. It was interesting enough, but the wait was excruciatingly long.
The other attraction in Hootin’ Holler is Dizzy Lizzy’s, another optical illusion attraction whose location seemed like enough of a trick. The entrance to the attraction is not visible from the center of Hootin’ Holler and is instead facing the entrance to Olde Idlewild. It also doesn’t have a very prominent sign, but a line of guests tipped off its location. The wait for this wasn’t nearly as long as that for Confusion Hill and our tour guide was a little easier to understand, even if his story was a bit hard to swallow! It seems that Dizzy Lizzy’s lies at the intersection of the four sections of the Earth’s "Quadrasphere," resulting in some strange occurrences. Our group of 20 was ushered into a room made to look like a Hotel Lobby, complete with memorabilia of the "rich and famous" who stopped by to witness the strange occurrences. Several magic tricks were performed before we were moved into the next room. We sat at long bench facing each other. After a brief speech by the ride attendant, we were slowly turned upside down – or were we? Just an average occurrence of the Quadrasphere!
It was finally time to hit the meat of the park. Olde Idlewild, the original section of the park where most of the rides are located. It is a fantastic area filled with trees, white picket fences, and old wooden midway buildings – most of which date back to the park’s early years. The paths are a mix of both pavement and gravel. Everything is clean, with no litter in sight. Up on the hillside sit more picnic shelters, including a grand old pavilion complete with a bandshell. This part of the park has so much character, I would have almost been content to just wander around, or sit on a bench and soak it all up.
Anxious for a coaster ride, we headed towards the park’s Vekoma Wild Mouse. The ride is hidden in a dense grove of trees and situated right against the banks of Loyalhanna Creek. The queue was about half full when we got in line. The shaded and scenic location made the wait easy and the ride was so much fun to watch that the line seemed to move quickly. We noticed that the cleverly themed mouse cars tilted to the right as they rode up the lift hill. It was a bit unnerving at first glance, but a closer inspection reveals that the track was designed this way. We boarded our little mouse in the rear seats and started up the lift. We observed while waiting in line that the amount of on-ride braking seems to be a crapshoot. We lucked out and got a very minimally braked ride. All the trees under, above, and next to this coaster really make the ride fun. It looks like you’ll get a face full of leaves on more than one occasion! The ride ends with a couple of hard quick brakes.
Next up was the park’s 1938 woody, Rollo Coaster. Two-train operation and a short line made for a very quick wait. We boarded the handsome old PTC trains. These cars are probably the most comfortable train outside of Leap the Dips. Nice, thick upholstered seats with no dividers, or any active restraint – just a stationary grab bar! This coaster is small, only 27 feet high, but its location along a small ridge and the trees that surround it make it seem bigger and faster than it really is. The out-and-back ride has some nice curving drops and some hints of airtime. The outbound leg of the ride is markedly more exciting than the return, as the train seems to limp back into the station. After Rollo Coaster, hunger overcame us and we headed back towards Hootin’ Holler for some food at the Mineshaft Kitchen.
Stomachs full, we excitedly crossed Loyalhanna Creek, and headed for Raccoon Lagoon next. Sure, it’s a kiddyland, but it’s got an adult version of the handcars. I’ve never ridden these before and was very excited to find a version I could fit onto. There was virtually no line and we hoped on board. The operator gave the car a small push and off I went. You can really pick up some speed on these things, as they are very easy to crank. Stopping them is another matter. I somehow calculated how much room I’d need to coast to a stop; Sara wasn’t so lucky, and crashed into the car stopped in front of her. I wouldn’t mind a set of these for the backyard! We took note of the Mister Roger’s ride, and noticing the long wait, opted to skip the attraction for the time being
We took some time to try out a few of the park’s classic rides and soon found ourselves at the entrance to the Caterpillar. This classic ride has the operating canopy as well as a blower under a section of the track. A complicated tangle of wire attached to the canopy and wrapped around the ride’s center column seems to control the opening and closing of the canopy, though I couldn’t quite comprehend how it worked. Neat ride. Idlewild has a beautiful carousel that sits under an equally beautiful pavilion. There is a band organ and a calliope, with the calliope providing the music on our visit. We wandered past the Tilt-A-Whirl, the Paratrooper, Roundup, and the Scrambler and ended up at the Whip. This 12-car model would be the 6th Whip I’ve ridden. Idlewild’s would be the first without a pavilion over it. We waited about 2 cycles before boarding the fiberglass cars (which aren’t as comfortable as the traditional upholstered steel ones) and got a very good ride. Fast and with really good whipping action. A big improvement over my previous Whip rides at Lesourdsville Lake.
The time was now nearly 8:30, darkness had just about fallen, and I remembered the signs that said the park would be open until "at least 9." We decided to head for Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, assuming that it would probably be our last ride of the day. A small crowd had gathered in the waiting area for the Neighborhood trolley. This queue had the benefit of benches, a very nice touch. It was also under a cover that would make a wait in the hot sun a lot more tolerable. The children were full of energy and ran around the grassy area in front of the ride. An attendant came around and assigned everyone seats. We were to be seated in the front of the trolley. The trolleys are beautiful brass and wood vehicles that, according to Jim Futrell, were originally built as horse drawn trolleys for the Indianapolis Zoo. But they proved too heavy for the horses, and so ended up at Idlewild. Coincidentally, they are almost identical to Mr. Rogers’s trolley. The ride began with the trolley backing up and going forward a bit to mimic the way the TV trolley "communicates." We entered the tunnel and soon emerged into the Neighborhood of Make-Believe. King Friday XIII urged us all to invite the rest of the neighbors to a "Hug and Song" party at the Castle Courtyard. Our trolley stopped at each of the character’s houses, and with the help of our guide, we invited them to the party with a hearty "Come along, come along, to the Castle Hug and Song!" It was a charming ride on a beautiful trolley through the woods, but I don’t think the teenage girls on the seat next to us were as quite as "charmed" as we were.
It was now after 9 and we thought the park would be closing up. It wasn’t, and everything was in full swing, so we opted to take another spin on the Wild Mouse. This ride isn’t located far off the midway, but the dense surrounding trees make it a great ride in the dark. We exited the ride and wandered around the midway. The old Skooter building intrigued me. You don’t find too many bumper cars operating in a cool old building like this. Unfortunately, the "cool old building" held a set of slow-running bumper cars that really were not much fun. We skipped the ferris wheel, spider, and balloon race, and went for another spin on Rollo Coaster. Like the Wild Mouse, the trees really make this an excellent night ride. By this point, it was nearing 10 and the park still wasn’t showing any signs of winding down, but we had a bit of a drive to our motel in Altoona. We could have used a lot more time here. Sara stopped for some Ice Cream, I played a few rounds of Skee Ball, and we walked through the gift shop to purchase a couple of postcards before heading out. We left the parking lot at 10:30, and the park was STILL going strong. When does this place close anyway? Amazing that a park designed primarily for the under 12 set would stay open so long. We drove out of what is probably the most heavily wooded parking area I’ve ever seen, and we were on our way to Altoona.
We took a scenic ride to Altoona and arrived at the motel at just about midnight. We awoke to a cold, cloudy, and rainy day. We weren’t in a rush, as Lakemont would open at noon, Delgrosso’s at 11. We partook of the motel's continental breakfast and made our plans for the day: We would stop at Delgrosso’s first because they opened sooner. Delgrosso’s was about a 10-mile drive from our motel. The main park is on the west side of the road while the water park, miniature golf course, go-cart tracks, and parking lot is on the east. It was early on a Sunday morning, but a lot of cars seemed to be headed for the park and they all seemed to be turning to the West! We drove up to a booth and were curtly informed that only those dropping off items for the picnic area were allowed to enter there. Back out to the road we went, headed over to other side of the park and entered the vast (and free) parking area on the east side of the road. Pedestrians enter the main park by way of a bridge over Rt220.
Rows of ticket booths line the entrance to the bridge, but none of those were open – the park has free admission. We would just have to buy our ride tickets elsewhere in the park. We descended down the ramp from the bridge, turned to the left and entered the park. We passed several game stands and eventually found ourselves in Kid’s Kingdom, where the castle-like entrance gate served as a ticket sales counter. Ticket sales had just begun and a large line had formed. We decided to avoid the line and just stroll around the park and decide what we wanted to ride to see if we were better off with individual ride tickets or a POP pass. Delgrosso’s sells tickets for 50 cents each, with the rides taking 1 or 2 tickets. The POP plan is an economical $8.95; $12.95 with the waterslides included. We wandered the park and took stock of all the rides. The park has 3 main ride areas. Kid’s Kingdom which consists of 11 kiddy rides (1 ticket each), a main midway consisting of food and games, and Tipton Creek, a western-themed area. Rides in the main midway are the Scrambler (1 ticket), Balloon Race (2 tickets), Sea Dragon (2 tickets), Carousel (1 ticket), an indoor caterpillar, dubbed "Space Odyssey" (1 ticket), and Tilt-A-Whirl (1 ticket). Tipton Creek rounds out the back of the park with some more food and game stands along with several more rides: Zyklon Roller Coaster (2 tickets), Paratrooper (1 ticket), Flying Bobs (2 tickets), Train Ride (1 ticket), Casino (1 ticket), Round-up (called the "Super Spiral" (1 ticket), Dodgems (2 tickets), and a pony ride (2 tickets). The park didn’t seem very full, which was odd, as we had followed a large number of cars into the parking lot. We finally found all the people in the picnic area that lines the back of the park. Many of them sat listening to a band play the Sunday morning "Praise and Worship" service on the park’s concert stage.
Since we had planned to visit Lakemont later in the day, we thought that ride tickets would be our best bet. We each bought $4 worth of tickets and headed towards the rides. Our first stop was the Space Odyssey. This is an old caterpillar ride that Delgrosso’s acquired from Lakemont Park in the 1970’s. It doesn’t have a blower or canopy like the exquisite version at Idlewild. It is located inside an odd domed building with loud music and an elaborate light show instead. The ride started up with us as the only riders on board. I was disappointed with the ride at first because it seemed to run relatively slowly, but about halfway through the long ride cycle, it speeded up considerably. It was a fun ride, but I think I like the operating canopy better.
Next, we headed to the park’s 1924 Herschel carousel. Complete with a band organ, the carousel spins under a unique domed structure. Sara commented that this would be the perfect park to operate a brass ring dispenser.
Behind the carousel looms the Zyklon. This compact steel twisting coaster runs a 3-car train. We boarded the front seat and started up the noisy lift hill, went through a turnaround, and swooshed down the steep first drop. Another turnaround led to one more steep drop before entering the helices. A set of brakes grabbed the train hard before the final turnaround that led back into the station.
I always make sure to ride the miniature trains at amusement parks, and Delgrosso’s was no exception. The train itself can be seen from several points in the park, but finding the station is quite a challenge. It is hidden behind the row of Tipton Creek false-front buildings. The train is a Chance C.P. Huntington, pulling a train of open-air cars. We were the only passengers and chose to sit in the very last coach in the rear-facing seats. The train makes runs in a large oval through a grassy field and a small wooded area. It makes a pass by the live ponies before returning to the station.
Bumper cars are another ride I always make sure to ride, so we headed to the park’s Dodgem ride next. This ride runs newer Majestic/Barbieri cars with an awkward lap bar. The usual shoulder belts were there, but we were informed not to use them. The arena had a center barrier and the edges were complete with springboards. We got a great ride on this – probably the best bumper car ride I’ve had since Camden Park back in June, markedly better then the ride at Idlewild and much better than those at any of the large theme parks.
After the Dodgem, we each had one ticket left and debated between the Paratrooper and the Scrambler. Since I have a tendency to get nauseous on Paratroopers, we headed for the Scrambler.
We rounded out our visit with a quick walk through the gift shop and a stop for some pizza. The quality of the food as well as the prices here are nothing short of amazing. We couldn’t resist taking one more walk around this beautiful little park before leaving. As we walked, I noticed two stone pillars alongside the road behind the pizza building. Could this have been the original entrance?
Delgrosso’s is a beautiful little park with impeccably maintained grounds, rides, and buildings. The park is small, but they have managed to pack a lot of activities into the space without making it seem overcrowded. With the free admission and the excellent and inexpensive food, Delgrosso’s is the type of park that one can go to for an evening stroll, a bite to eat, and a couple quick rides – all for under $10!
We could have spent more time at there, but we wanted to hit Lakemont before heading home. Lakemont is about a 10-mile drive south of Delgrosso’s. It’s a small park with a nice collection of rides and an interesting history. This was our second visit to Lakemont and we were eager to get some more laps on Leap the Dips – celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. We parked in the free lot and headed to the large, elaborate, and mostly unused entrance plaza, a relic from the short lived Boyertown Theme Park. Lakemont, like Delgrosso’s, has free admission. A ride all day pass costs a very reasonable $7.95. Tickets are also available for 50 cents each, with rides requiring 2-3 tickets. We were a bit dismayed to discover that Leap the Dips was not included in the Lakemont Ride Pass this year. We bought ride passes anyway, entered the park, and decided to head right for Leap the Dips. The station now contains a small gift shop and a restored Leap the Dips car inside of a glass case. Both of these had been located inside the nearby Lakemont Park Museum, which apparently has been closed. We walked up to the gift shop counter to buy our ride passes. A single ride on Leap the Dips costs $1.50, or ride all day for $2.50. For us, the choice was easy! The girl operating the ride seemed a bit surly as she pushed the big comfy car to the loading area. The ride was pretty much as I remembered it from last year. I noticed that all the anti-rollback boards were in place this time and there was a lot of new wood around the ride. A new addition is an on-ride camera on the big 9-foot drop towards the end of the coaster. We rode several more times, probably annoying the operator, although the girl in the gift shop seemed to enjoy our funny poses for the on-ride photo.
I could ride Leap the Dips all day, but we did pay for the rest of the rides at Lakemont. Much to our chagrin, the Mad Mouse coaster wasn’t running. Neither was the Toboggan. Sara refused to ride Lakemont’s other wooden coaster, Skyliner, because of the violent ride we got last year. I made plans to ride it a little later. We decided to hit the flat rides for the time being. Lakemont has a nice collection of flat rides, and we headed to the Round-up. Like most of our rides today, we had a long cycle. We also took rides on the Scrambler, the Swings, the 24 car Monster, the Ferris Wheel, Tin Lizzies antique car ride (which travels through one of only two wooded areas in the park) and the Bumper Cars. The Bumper Cars run in one the few original buildings from the old Lakemont Park (before the Boyertown experiment). We took a ride on the train (another Chance C.P. Huntington running through the other wooded area). I noticed that the park’s old NAD train coaches were still sitting in the station – same as last year, but the engine was missing. We opted to skip the SkyDiver this trip, along with the Octopus. Sara planned to ride the Tilt-A-Whirl or the Twister, while I made my way past the go-cart tracks towards the Skyliner. I had seen this coaster operating earlier in our visit, but the station looked deserted now. A man appeared as I started to walk away, and said that they had to close because of the rain, but would reopen later on. I met up with Sara we wandered the park. I wanted to walk by the waterpark just to see what it looked like, but it was closed. We noticed that a lot of the game booths in the small midway by Leap the Dips had been closed permanently – the windows bricked or sided over. Replacing them are several new game buildings placed throughout the park.
By this time, it was nearly time to go, but we made sure to get several more laps on Leap the Dips. After Sara bought more ice cream, we left the park through the Boyertown Main Street area – now a business park. It seems to be well constructed and moderately attractive but it does have sterile feel to it. Lakemont’s old Casino building still exists. It sits at the end of Main Street right on the edge of the lake. On this day, it was being used for a wedding.
Lakemont is an odd park, and in some ways, it is amazing that it and Leap the Dips have survived. It isn’t a very attractive park. The failed Boyertown conversion wreaked havoc with much of the park’s charm and its heavily wooded atmosphere. Its appearance is not unlike a traveling carnival set up in a field. On sight, the whole place seems to be missing something to really make it look like a legitimate amusement park. Even so, the park does have its good points, as it is probably the cheapest full-scale amusement park anywhere, it has a good ride line-up, and it has Leap the Dips! Improvements come slowly, but they are there. Newly planted trees and landscaping are very much in evidence and once they mature, the park will be vastly improved. It is painful to look at old pictures of Lakemont and see what used to be but amidst all the changes, there are still rides there. People still come to the park for picnics and fun just as they always have done. In that way, Lakemont is a success and I rather like the place, even though I never did get a ride on the Skyliner.
We considered the weekend a success. Visits to three traditional amusement parks and what we lacked in coaster rides was more then made up for in atmosphere, character, low prices, good food, and a slew of antique amusement rides. These parks are a refreshing change from the high-energy and high prices of the big chains. The only real fault with any of them is that they are aren’t closer to me!
I started out with nothing and still have most of it left.
Actually, it's only 4,825 words, or 4,837 words with the quote. LoL. :)
Nice TR. I wonder if anyone will read the whole thing.
I'm sitting shiva for CCI.
I read the whole thing, just like I do with pretty much every trip report posted here. :)
'Let's fly close to the sun. Let's do it just 'cause it's fun.' - The Wedding Present '2,3, Go'
You must be logged in to post