The Abbreviated Western PA Trip- Part 2- 8/25

Associated parks:
None

Thursday, September 1, 2005 3:23 PM
Warning, this is a pretty gosh darn long TR, do not read if you have certain medical conditions!

Anyway, my original plans for the second day of my trip were to head further west along I-80 then up I-79 to visit Conneaut Lake and Waldameer Parks. Unfortunately, the day before I left, I wrote a nice sized check to the local tax collector, so I decided to cut my trip back by one day, one less hotel room, and a few miles.

So while in Altoona, I decided to indulge one of my other interests—railroading. I figure they’re pretty similar to coasters, except the cars are larger and the hills are smaller. I had heard a lot about the famed Horseshoe Curve, which is located a few miles west of the city. I found out that they have an arrangement with the Railroaders’ Museum in town where you could purchase admission to both facilities for only $7.50. For that price it would definitely be worth spending a few hours checking both places.

A little after 9:00, I entered the museum parking lot. It was easy to find from the interstate. This was a great museum dedicated to the Pennsylvania Railroad and its workers at the Altoona facilities. It was really informative and fun—I played a few interactive games where I got to play railroader.

I was planning on being out of there by 10:30, but it was almost 11 when I headed into the gift shop. Got some Christmas gifts for various family members, and got myself a T-shirt too. While I was checking out, I noticed a display of Boyer candies. Anyone remember Mallo Cups and Smoothies? I remarked to the clerk that I hadn’t seen Smoothies in years. Just as I was about to buy a few, she pointed out that the museum brochure contained coupons for a free candy bar at the Boyer Factory Outlet. Hey, if it’s for free, it’s for me. She told me the factory was only a few blocks from the museum, right on the way to the Horseshoe Curve. At the store I found out I had 4 coupons in my brochure. So that’s admission to two museums and 4 candy bars for $7.50. Woohoo!

Not wanting to appear totally cheap and snag the freebies and leave, I browsed the store a bit and bought a box of Chocolate-covered-peanut-butter-coated pretzels. I figured they would hold up the best in the car since I wouldn’t be getting home for another day and a half. So armed with my free Mallo cups and smoothies, I was off to the Horseshoe Curve.

The directions told me I had to follow Broad St. to 40th St. then head west on 40th. I was doing that until I came to a Y with a wide road that curved to the left and a narrow one that went sort of straight. I headed left since that looked like the main road—only to find that the not so broad street really was Broad Street. No big deal, as I was able to find a cross street quickly and was again headed out to the Curve.

To keep this from getting even longer, here’s a link for anyone who may be interested in reading about the curve: http://www.railroadcity.com/hc/index.php

I got to the site just before noon. It took a few minutes to climb the nearly 200 steps up to the tracks themselves. There were a lot of people up there, including a few with 2-way radios I assume listening for any trains headed in our direction. I hung out for a few minutes thinking, OK this is nice but is this all there is? Just then, you could hear a faint rumbling in the distance. Down the hill comes a train, a long SOB at that, with 5 locomotives hauling hundreds of cars filled with coal headed east. It’s pretty amazing standing there watching a train taking up 270 degrees of your vision.

Feeling much better that I got to actually see a train, I headed back down the steps to check out the gift shop there. I figure I needed a postcard with an aerial view since my camera couldn’t capture the extent of the whole thing. Well I wasn’t in the shop for 3 minutes when again there was a rumbling. This time a train headed uphill. Missed most of that one though.

I grabbed lunch at the snack bar there, and just after 1, I was heading up the mountain ultimately toward Pittsburgh and Kennywood. I was told that 22 West was my best bet traveling between Altoona and Pittsburgh instead of using the turnpike. There were a few times I wondered though. Lots of construction going on—somehow it seems they’re always working on 22, but it never gets any better. Do they keep ripping up the same section over and over? In an ironic moment, I drove slowly past a billboard complaining that this part of the state doesn’t get any money for road construction. Whatever.

One other road-related comment, I think Route 22 in Westmoreland County has the highest concentration of adult bookstores, massage parlors, and exotic dance joints I’ve ever seen. I even saw a “gentlemen’s club” that advertised a “drive-through.” Anyone care to explain that one?

OK, on to the actual “coaster” part of this report. Right around 3:15, I crossed the Rankin Bridge and turned onto Kennywood Blvd. It’s always a great sight to see lift hills, free falls, and other tall structures from a distance as you approach a park. It was exciting; as this was my first ever visit to the park. I was debating whether to go for the free or paid parking when I pulled into the lot, but when I saw the ski lift sitting idle, my mind was made up.

The new entrance is really impressive and definitely has a traditional feel to it. But after another 2+ plus hour drive you know what I was looking for first. “Oh what a relief it is.” Matters taken care of, and ticket in hand, I was headed down the ramp and through the tunnel. When you exit the tunnel into the park itself, all I can say is Wow! What a beautiful park.

I looked around for a bit and saw Jack Rabbit just off to the right, and what looked like a very short line. OK, what better way to start the day than by riding a classic? One of the teenage girls in front of me kept insisting to her friends that this was the best coaster to ride in the front at night. I stored that fact in my memory bank for later. Only 4 trains later, I was taking a seat, second from the back and off we went. I loved the way the ride worked with the terrain, ignoring the traditional start with a lift. Nice first drop, tunnel, cool… I knew what to expect from reading so many many TR’s in here, but it’s totally different actually experiencing it. I absolutely loved the double down and ending the ride at the top of a dip… This immediately became a favorite.

I got off the ride and looked for what to hit next. Turning the corner, I came upon the Kangaroo. In direct defiance of the poster here who told me it was a lame baby ride, I got into line. What a fun little ride! I’m sure it would’ve been more fun riding with someone to act like a total idiot with. Best part was that my car got to end the ride sliding down the ramp.

After that, I realized I had no clue where I was headed next since I didn’t grab a map at the entrance (if they even had them there). The one I printed from the website was sitting in my car along with extra film, and I wasn’t heading back up that hill already. I asked an employee where I could find a map, and she kindly directed me to the service center. Map in hand, and basically alongside Phantom’s Revenge, I decided that was next. Well my next quest was finding the entrance to this thing. One weakness of the map is that it shows rides, but not necessarily queue entrances.

Well, eventually I got there, and the lines weren’t long at all—totally contained on the platform. Pretty soon, I was in the second to last seat again, and we were slowly chugging up the lift hill. The first two drops were fantastic—again tricking the unsuspecting rider who expects the first drop to be the biggest. The descent into the ravine was totally wild. The rest of the ride was mostly good, except I wasn’t quite prepared for one of the dips. Let’s just say I nearly bruised my male ego.

But I was able to walk normally off toward Thunderbolt. As I got into line, I found myself in the middle of a family where the kids ran ahead and the parents and littlest child lagged behind. I slipped ahead of the kids when the parents told them to stop. Once on the platform I heard them wonder how they would ride since there were five of them. Immediately, I piped up—“I’ll ride with somebody.” The parents were cool with it; it was just a question of whom I'd be riding with. Well the 13-14 year old boy didn’t want to ride with a stranger, and just when it looked like I’d be riding with dad, little sister said she’d ride with me. Now this girl, around 8-9 years old, didn’t shut up from the time we stood waiting for the next train until we got off the ride. She was a riot—asking me if I could guess what ride she was just on (she was dripping wet), then telling me what else she rode, what else she was going to ride, asking me what I rode… I honestly don’t remember too much of the ride, I was laughing at this kid. Just another drop right out of the station, mid-ride lift and big drop at the end. The parents and I thanked each other for helping out and I walked away while the girl pestered her Dad to ride again.

I walked around a bit more, passed by a closed Gold Rusher, went past the Rapids as I wasn’t in the mood to get soaked. Next place I ended up was at the train. I generally like to ride trains at amusement parks—as long as I don’t have to ride with my knees against my chin-- since you get to see a good bit of the park along the way. This was a really good ride, as it traveled along the edge of the ridge above the Monongahela, giving great views of the locks and mills below. I also got a kick out of the Burma Shave type signs by the Army Corps of Engineers. OK, it’s the engineer geek in me. I even liked the history lesson of the region and park you get, which works since you can actually hear and understand the voice coming through the speakers. Kennywood really plays up its history and tradition all throughout the park. It’s their niche and they work it well.

Next came time for a food break. I snapped a few pics of the architecture and some rides on the way over to the legendary Potato Patch. Yeah, they were pretty good (with seasoned salt), and definitely several cuts (pun intended) above the usual park molded pseudo-potatoes, but not quite to die for. Ignoring any attempt at real nutrition, I followed that up with a corndog.

After that I figured it was a good time to walk back to the car, drop off the used film and pick up a new roll. The walk would give me some time to digest all the starch. Before I got my hand stamped, I decided to visit guest relations to ask about Idlewild tickets. They told me I could get one for $15.00. Sold!

By the time I got back in the park, it was past 5:30, and there were a lot more people there for the twilight admission. Jack Rabbit had a much longer line, so I passed on the re-ride for now. I decided to try out Racer, where the line was out to the end of the queue. It was a decent, fun ride, but probably the weakest of the parks’ coasters. But it’s a must ride for the history and the uniqueness of the single-track layout.

Next was Log Jammer where the line wasn’t long at all. I thought this was a really great flume ride, interesting layout and pretty long, especially the elevated section. After that I watched Aero for a couple of cycles. Then I decided to nab another ride on Jack Rabbit before the parade started. About a 20 minute wait, not bad at all. When I was “on-deck” I was behind a group of 5, two couples and another guy. When the first couple headed to the back seat, I thought I’d be able to get the front, but the other three took the first two seats. (snassum-frassum) Oh well, the third seat still gave a great ride. I liked this coaster even more now. Loved the air.

I checked out Noah’s Ark, interesting but could have used some more effects or something. There were too many sections of walking down plain hallways. Went over to Exterminator, but the line there looked like it was a few cycles long, so I decided to try out a few flats-- Pirate ship, Flying carpet—smaller than Knoebels 1001 Nacht, but packs a mean little kick. Sometime in there, they announced that the park would be open until 10:30. Is life good or what?

Then I took another ride on Phantom. I got to ride in the second seat with a one-train wait courtesy of groups who wanted to ride together. Well I certainly wouldn’t want to screw up anyone’s alignment. Much smoother second half of the ride this time, and the first two drops were even more awesome at twilight. Decided to push my luck and try T-bolt again. After only 2-3 minutes on the platform, along came 3 kids from the band that played the parade. No sooner had the one kid said there were 3 of them then I yelled, "I’ll ride with you." This coaster was also a lot more fun to ride in the dark, and this ride is DARK.

Figured as long as I was lucky, I’d try Exterminator again. The line was much shorter and I ended up chatting with a guy who was there with two of his sons. (He had 3 more kids, and he looked all of about 30.) When he discovered I was in line alone, he invited me to ride with him and his kids. So they put the two adults on the outside and the two kids on the inside. Now this ride has the same exact layout as DelGrosso’s Crazy Mouse except it’s enclosed and has the effects. I don’t know if it was the weight distribution or what, but when we hit the spinning part, we absolutely took off and didn’t stop. We didn’t just take the dips sideways or backwards; we were rotating. Holy vertiginous vermin!

After that, I needed to walk around a bit more. I saw the line for Phantom extended all the way past the entrance to Lost Kennywood. Bought a hot fudge peanut parfait at the Pagoda, and the young gal who worked there asked me if I wanted that with peanuts. Was this a trick question?

Walked around some more and noticed the Paratrooper was idle. I thought I’d make the kid work a bit. Well when I got closer I saw why the ride wasn’t operating—a generous pile of pixie dust (or is that pukie dust) under one of the cars. Whoops! Figured I’d try the Swing Around instead. It’s a fun ride, and it’s kind of weird seeing the car behind you almost swing past when you swing out and it swings in.

By this time it was around 10, and I figured I was ready to leave. But first there was the matter of a nighttime ride on the Rabbit. Line was a bit shorter this time, and as luck would have it, I would be first to board on my train. There was a woman with a little girl behind me, and the girl asked if they could ride the front seat. Mom said, either the front seat or back seat, we’ll have to see what this man does. I smiled at them both and thought “It’s a five hour trip for me to get here-- over my dead body, kid.” Front seat, totally dark, it was the best ride yet.

Before I made the trek through the tunnel and up the hill, I stopped at the gift shop, where I updated my fall wardrobe with yet another new T. After that I was on my way back to the Comfort Inn, hoping that the way out was the same as the way in.

Overall, I was very impressed by Kennywood. Great ride selection, very good food, clean grounds and facilities, friendly employees—even the other customers I chatted with. Like Knoebels’ you could just strike up a conversation with someone in line, and they won’t look at you like you have two heads. It’s hard to explain, but it’s the smaller parks like these that strike a chord with me. There’s an atmosphere that just exists, it totally permeates the park without feeling processed or forced like the big corporate parks try to do.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to ride the Turtle or AutoRace (the lines were so long) and I don’t know how I missed Garfield—I only walked past it about six times. Oh well, a good reason to visit again.

Thanks again for indulging this lengthy TR. Part III soon to follow, including a park that’s neither too idle nor too wild, and an unplanned but moving side trip. *** Edited 9/1/2005 7:27:55 PM UTC by RatherGoodBear***

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Sunday, September 4, 2005 6:29 PM
I'm glad to hear that you enjoyed Kennywood, RGB! Too bad you missed the Turtle, Auto Race, Gold Rusher, and Garfield's Nightmare, but, like you said, it gives you a reason to go back someday.

Just curious, what did you think of the park at night?

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Monday, September 5, 2005 8:37 AM
I think Garfield's is just something that you either hate it or love it. I thought it was disturbingly hilarious.

Yeah, too bad you missed the turtle. That thing is a blast and there are not many of them left in the world. But it's obvious Kennywood takes exceptionally good care of their so it will probably be there for a long time.

-Tina

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Monday, September 5, 2005 11:55 PM
Other than the turtle line being so long, I figured it wouldn't be too much fun riding alone or tossed in with some other group. One person I can deal with on T-bolt.

Dave, I think the park is fantastic at night. Then again, every park is much better at night than during the day. That's when you get the dream world effect, IMO. I think most parks don't take advantage of that fact because they close too early to see all the lights on the rides and buildings in twilight or darkness.

I can't wait to get my film developed-- hopefully before Christmas. Not only did I take a lot of ride pics, but I took a lot of architecture pics, particularly at Kennywood and Idlewild.

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