Holiday World – An American Treasure; TR May 14-15 2007

The drive from Louisville, Kentucky to Santa Claus, Indiana requires commitment, not because of the length of the trip, but in the agony of waiting. Highway 264 playfully hops, like a John Allen woodie, beckoning me to ascend the next hill before the sun goes down. Each rolling hill on the highway disappears behind the next, daring me to speed up to 80 miles per hour. I'll tell the state trooper, if he stops me, "I'm going West, young man, to Holiday World! I'm on vacation, alone, and I'm taking a risk—I flew into Louisville, and now I'm flying, by car, to this park!" I'll show him my Shivering Timbers t-shirt. He'll understand. Maybe.

The wind on the highway blows my rented Chevy Aveo like a tin can as I pass a semi-trailer full of cattle. I get scared and slow down.

There is a park, I've heard,
nestled in the gently rolling hills of Indiana,
where trains, topping southern yellow pine,
carved, bare naked, bolted and hinged,
dance among the Indiana conifers,
thick and dense, muffling the roaring trains
like a thatched roof muffles rain
back in the slow-black forest.

I'd swear that these highway 264 turns are ever-so-­slightly banked, just to mock me. But, I'll have to wait for tomorrow to ride. It's Sunday at dusk. I pack it in to a Motel 6 in Dale, Indiana, just six miles northwest of the park.

Monday morning comes, cool and damp, the first day of Holiday World's regular season, and I follow the signs for the park, past churches and farmhouses. The parking lot appears, and yonder, Raven's fan turn peeks out from the dense patch of trees next to a serene lake. There are about 60 cars in the parking lot. And a handful of yellow school buses in the adjacent lot across the road.

Mrs. Koch greets me at the ticket booth. I tell her I've flown in from Los Angeles for vacation. (The words "Los Angeles" come out of my mouth like a soot cloud landing on the freshly paved Indiana ground.) She pretends not to notice and warmly welcomes me. She tells me that it's so early in the season, they have volunteers in the kitchen and less than a full staff. Will Koch joins in and I tell him I'm a coaster enthusiast, and he gives me a park update, and if there's anything I need. "Anything I need? I say to myself, "They must have me confused with someone else." I am wrong. I don't realize it, but this my first taste of the new standard in American customer service, and it is real.

Pleasant midwestern moms tear your ticket here, and ask you if you need anything. They tell me where I can store my backpack, and I walk, lightheaded, toward the locker counter. I'm so surprised by the conversation, their poise and warmth, that I leave my backpack on the counter, not realizing that I have to walk across and put it in my locker. I head into the park. Aaron Copland's "Rodeo" pours out of every corner. I'm overwhelmed.

There is a park, I've heard,
nestled in the gently rolling hills of Indiana,
where the ghost of Aaron Copeland
rests after a long life,
and thinks on his American experience.

The park sparkles crisply and cleanly, with fresh, clear evergreen air and scrubbed sidewalks. I want to ride the coasters in ascending order of their ranking. I head toward the sign that says Halloween and get in line for the Legend. Wait time 4 minutes.

I sit in the front car for the best view of the track and landscape. The lift hill reveals a view of the surrounding log ride, and other attractions at the park, hidden, though, by trails of tall trees dotting the hillside. The first drop, and it is clear, the Legend is smooth like butter. It's a relentless, finely-tuned thriller, with tremendous g-forces, and lively air time. The layout of this gem is impossible to figure out when you're on it. The turns are forceful and it never loses speed. Each hill artfully delivers air time and surprises, from tunnels to pops of ejector air. A magnificent, twisted wonder.

There is a park, I've heard,
hidden in the trees of this, your Indiana
where a black bird lands on fresh-cut grass,
to glance at you, head cocked, saying,
"I know why you're here. "

I proceed to the Raven, which is down the path. The raven begins with the lift hill near the entrance. I can see the parking lot on the left, and the extended parking down the street. This coaster packs a punch, with tight, air-time filled hills with curved tops and banked bottoms. I love that this coaster takes a moment to swing over the lake in an elegant fan turn, a brief respite on this world class coaster (ain't it grand). Then, it retreats back into the woods for another succession of raucously banked turns and hills. This coaster is over before I know it, and takes my breath away with its intensity.

I realize that I've lost my backpack with my laptop in it. Not to worry, I'm taken care of. I pick up my backpack at Lost and Found, where my long lost aunt from Evansville playfully asks me to ID the backpack before handing it to me, with a knowing smile. She knows what it's like to be enchanted by this place, and to forget things while you marvel at it all. You can walk up to anyone who works here, out of the blue, and say "Thank you" and their response is "You're welcome." The employees know what you mean. They know. They know what it feels like, and what they have here. There is a pride of ownership and a pride of what they've created.

I store the backpack in the locker, and head toward the mightiest of the mighty—The Voyage.

I walk toward Thanksgiving, and the sounds of early American choir music waft from the thicket.

Ye shall have a song,
as in the night when a holy solemnity is kept,
and gladness of heart,
as when one goeth with a pipe,
to come into the mountain of the Lord.

Through the trees emerges the magnificent mountain. This coaster rises defiantly, impossibly, out of the Spencer County forest clearing. I see a train descend the ridiculously steep first drop, ascend the second hill, whipsaw over the top, and it is gone. The dense forest silences this Herculean marvel as soon as it moves into the woods. The strange and wonderful thing about this coaster is that it disappears for such a long time. Where does it go? Sometimes, it seems like six minutes, when you hear it finally roaring back, faster than it left. There's a clearing near a new restaurant, yet unopened, where I sit and watch the Voyage trains ascend the lift hill and get swallowed up by the evergreen jungle.

The Voyage station is nautically themed, with a cool breeze coming through the netted windows. There's an afternoon wait time of about 7 minutes. I buckle up and tighten the lap bar around toward my plump midsection. I'm older now, and I think about how I don't ride as much as I used to, and before long, I probably won't ride much at all, so I need to savor every moment. The lift is fast, with the requisite pause as the train lumbers over the top. The first drop is incredibly steep, with hang time forever as I rush toward the ground at enormous speed. The track is smooth like you're riding on water. The train climbs the second hill with a vaulting air time, and the second drop appears even bigger than the first.

Faster and faster. I'm deep in the forest now, there's no turning back. Pitch black cold tunnels. The track veers left, with tight left-leaning curves and all hell breaks loose. Hairpin turns, and the train is hopping like an escaped bucking bronco who won't be harnessed, with each hill cleverly banked for maximum surprise. Another, and another, and another! And another! This is two Shivering Timbers, together! Ney, this is three Ghostriders, together! When will it end? The triple down is a cold blast like a dip into a deep ocean wave that's been forming for a week. Each hill gains in speed and intensity as we roar toward the station in the distance. The intensity increases still, with a final powerful semi-helix ending. I am 42 years old, not entirely out of shape, but absolutely breathless as we enter the brake run.

What a intense course this ride is! Each time the train sets out for its voyage, you wonder, like the pilgrims must have, whether it will return. There is deep silence, until the train finally comes roaring through the trees in a triumphant return. I wonder, as I ride, what it must have felt like to build it— there must have been dark days when they said "Are we doing the right thing?"

And the answer is yes, of course. In fact, this whole park is a crazy, unlikely experiment in the middle of Midwestern nowhere. And out of that ridiculous, blind devotion comes the payoff. Holiday World is an American triumph. It is a defiant, proud underdog in the world of amusement parks, poised in an Indiana cornfield, rebelliously declaring entrepreneurial victory with its crisp-clean image, commitment to ride quality and it's knock-down, drag out, pull out all the stops customer service.

The miracles in this park are no accident. The sidewalk sweepers, like personal concierges attend you and impart news of line queues and changes in weather. The classic music emanates from every corner, and beckons you to ruminate on your American experience. The ride operator of the Voyage conversant in The Gravity Group, relays the history of the park. The owners of the park, themselves, greet you at the entrance. These miracles were forged the way Frank Lloyd Wright designed Fallingwater, the way Aaron Copland wrote "Fanfare for the Common Man" and the way Will Rogers quipped "You've got to go out on a limb sometimes because that's where the fruit is."

Forged through defiant spirit, and belief in dreams.

Oh, fragile limb, perched on the Indiana hills
Where I climbed and tasted fruit,
There is a park, now I see.
You wonderful world, you Holy day,
You blessed American life,
May you beckon others as you beckoned me,
to linger among your trees.

I cried when I left this park. It's overwhelming. The spirit of the American entrepreneur thrives here, in the rolling hills of Indiana, just past those trees, yonder.

BILL LYNN *** Edited 5/23/2007 6:07:01 AM UTC by Bill***

Great Poetic TR Bill.

Glad you had fun and GOT IT!


There is a poster- I have heard, Who makes the most of every word... who fills my head with with classic tales... of track and wheels and lifts and rails...

And like the others who have past... whose memories are shared to last... I know this much is true because... I soon must head to Santa Claus!

Great report! Well done!

Here's To Shorter Lines & Longer Trip Reports!

Josh M's avatar
Thanks for this TR! Very well written. On a side note, I appreciated your reference to "Ye Shall Have a Song". I did that piece as a double choir in college. A beautiful song.

Josh M.

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