My father, my friend Linette and I left NJ around noon and arrived in Elysburg around 3:00 after the miserable drive out west. Wet and dreary is not what you want to see as you're heading to a coaster event, but we tried not to let if affect the mood, as it wouldn’t have been the first “miserable” PPP Saturday we ever had, and the latest weather forecasts had indicated that the rain would end in time for the start of the event, leaving us with cool and damp air but no rain.
For once, they were right.
I started at the swap meet while my father and Linette headed over to the fair to check out the rows upon rows of people selling just about every kind of craft conceivable. I finally got the chance to meet Matthew "Mammosh" Sullivan and bought a couple of his (and Carrie Drabek's) fantastic 2004 Wood Coaster Calendars. After a brief look around, the rain turned into a light drizzle and I decided to take a peek around Knoebels (certain areas of the park feel so “secluded” on PPP Saturday) before hearing the call of the Phoenix. I bought two tickets and took front and back seat rides as there was hardly any wait, even with one train in operation. While not running as great as it has in years past (I think that the coaster was running its all-time best last October, but that's just my opinion), the Phoenix still gave one hell of a ride. With a great dark tunnel, respectable first drop, fast turns filled with good laterals and tons of airtime (especially on that unique double-up/double-down), the Phoenix remains my ultimate wood coaster experience. I honestly can't think of anything that would make it a better ride... its just about as perfect as can be!
After we met and before we registered, we took advantage of a chance to meet Knoebel's resident coaster fanatic/designer/engineer, John Fetterman. We chatted for about an hour about a bunch of different things and left wishing that I had another five or six hours to spend with him. He is a great guy and definitely knows his coasters... he was telling us about another Schmeck coaster called the Meyers Lake Comet which was almost identical to the Phoenix in profile (it even had a double-up/double-down)- he said that, if a park were to build it, they would have a Top 10 wooden coaster, and I believe him. Now I have to find some info on the Comet… I find it surprising that the Phoenix had a “brother” that no one seems to talk about!
We registered a little later than we usually do (about 5:45), which meant that we missed the normally-obscene line at Cesari’s Pizza. While it was nice to not have to wait, it was a shame that we missed the usual "parade" of people that floods the area at registration time. After we inhaled the delicious (as usual!) pizza, we headed over to Knoebel's wonderful Haunted Mansion, which proved, once again, that it truly is one of the best haunted houses out there. It seems to take every “classic” dark ride idea and mixes them with a whole slew of ideas that are unique to the Knoebels ride. And I never noticed how appropriate the soundtrack is… it adds so much to the experience!
We followed up the Mansion with two more spins on the Phoenix (gotta love the coaster crews- despite the vast number of people, they really move the crowds through), then "masked" ourselves en route to the Twister, which to our surprise had no wait whatsoever. Too bad for all those people who weren’t waiting in line for Twister, as it was running phenomenally, probably the best it ever has. Linette thought it was a little on the rough side, but I thought it was just right, with an aggressiveness of a caliber that it hasn't had in years past. We took front and back seat rides- I couldn't believe the airtime I got at the top of the hill following the first drop when seated in the front! Better than any air I have ever experienced on the Phoenix, that’s for sure. I could have stayed there on Twister all night, but with the hours quickly ticking by, we had to move on.
We took a spin on the Pioneer Train, which is probably one of the most unnerving rides you could ever ride, at least at night. For those of you who have never ridden it, it takes you underneath the Twister, beneath the access road to the campground, and wwwaaayyy out into the woods, past all of the cabins and Knoebels family houses. Those woods are DARK at night! There is something very odd, something very creepy, about being in the middle of the woods with nothing around you- its just you and a handful of other people who seem unnaturally quiet under the clack-clack-clack of the train as it travels deeper and deeper into the woods, guided only by a dim headlight shining through the walls of trees. You either wonder what’s out there around you, or wonder if you really want to know what’s out there around you!
Getting back to civilization for a brief moment, we took a walk over to the new chairlift ride, which creeps up the side of a mountain, Lake Compounce-style, above a bunch of rough terrain. The chairlift takes you to the top of the mountain and turns you so you can see the beauty of the area around you on the way down. Twister looked absolutely breathtaking with its chaser lights illuminating its perfect curves! I can understand what Dick Knoebel said about it being two different rides… next summer, I am definitely taking a spin on this during the day. I’ll have to remember to bring a camera.
The line for the Skooters was unusually long, but we rode anyway… these are bumper cars that you simply can’t pass up! Plus, there is nothing like a good bumper car ride with a bunch of people like those that regularly attend PPP... there is an energy that comes from a bunch of enthusiasts that makes each ride so very memorable! Where else but at PPP can you spend a few minutes ramming each other into oblivion, only to walk off the ride holding your sides not from pain but from laughter? And keep in mind, hose Lusse cars hit HARD!
We still wanted a few more coaster rides before the night came to an end so we passed on the Carousel and headed back over to the Phoenix to grab two more rides. For the last ride of the night, we strolled over to the Haunted Antique Cars, which had the longest line I have ever seen at a PPP… its obvious that this ride has established quite a reputation throughout the years. A rep that it unquestionably deserves, as the people that “haunt” the ride really go all-out with this thing. This isn’t just a case of a person or two hiding behind a tree to jump out and scare you- the crew that does this thing each year manages to create a true dark ride-quality experience, which is astonishing when you consider that it only operates for a few hours! As usual, they out-did themselves this year, and their creativity more than makes up for the dizzying smell of gasoline fumes that dominate the loading area! I don’t know how the ride ops deal with that overwhelming smell all day!
As is always the case, PPP ended with a gathering under the pavilion at the Phoenix Junction Steak House, where Knoebel’s Jim Martini thanked everyone for coming and then introduced Dick Knoebel, who announced the event’s attendance and a few other things. After stating that the park went all-out for 2003 additions (which they did) and that 2004 plans were not yet finalized, he introduced Tom Rebbie of PTC, who was one of the four judges at the costume parade and did the honors of announcing the winners. He was entertaining to listen to, and his presence (as well as the presence of ACE president Carole Sanderson and former ACE president Bill Linkenheimer) shows just how “big” this event has become throughout the years.
Following the gathering, the majority of the crowd headed up to the campground for the traditional post-PPP bonfire, complete with hot dogs and buns that were generously provided by the park (as if they didn’t already do enough!) There is something magical about standing in front of that raging fire, watching the sparks from the inferno shoot into the cold October air… it wouldn’t be PPP Saturday without it! It was there that I got the chance to meet Coasterbuzz’s very own Coasterpunk, the ‘Buzzer who probably wins the imaginary award for living closest to the park. Lucky guy… wish I was on a first-name basis with the ride ops!
All in all, it was a fantastic day, just as it always is. The weather cleared, seemingly right on queue around 5:00, leaving everyone with a chilly but precip-free evening to enjoy. While attendance was down a little compared to last year, there were still a lot of people, and we can thank Knoebels for keeping a ton of rides open to satisfy all of them. Gone are the days when six operating rides was considered a reason to celebrate! The only problem with the crowds and the vast amount of open rides is the fact that it spreads a LOT of people over a very big area… I have friends who were supposed to be there, but because of everyone being scattered all over the place, I have no idea if they even showed up. There is something to be said for the smaller crowds of years past, where you got a chance to talk to everyone there, saw all of the costumes there were to see (no need for a parade) and got to ride everything as much as you wanted without having to worry about missing a ride or two.
I can’t imagine a coaster season with PPP, and I’m sure that all of this year’s newcomers will agree!
A.C.E. member since 1990
Posting @ Coasterbuzz since 2000
E.C.C. member since 2002
*** This post was edited by Rob Ascough 10/6/2003 2:37:13 PM ***
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