Unexpected, whirlwind Knoebels trip

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Thursday, August 14, 2003 1:41 PM
If you just want the part about Knoebels, skip to the ***

When we found out my wife was going to be in a wedding in Lancaster, PA I told her I would go as long as I got to go to one park while there. Though I grew up in Virginia, I'd never made it to any of the Pennsylvania parks and really wanted to make it to Kennywood or Hershey. Lower on the list were places like Dutch Wonderland, Knoebels, Dorney, etc. I love wood, dark rides, and classic amusement park feel, so Kennywood is probably my #1 'must visit' park right now. I'd made an attempt to get to K'wood earlier this summer on the way to North Carolina from Chicago, but alas it wasn't to be due to late start, traffic, uncalculates time changes and an 8:45 closing time because of bad weather. I was hoping to get to K'wood on this trip, since we'd be driving past Pittsburgh twice.

As the trip evolved, however, we made plans to continue on to Maine to visit some family, and stop in New York City on the way. It would be my first visit to the city in the summer, so I was hoping to finally get a ride on the Cyclone. Then I discovered that I needed to be back at work by Thursday (today), effectively cutting four days off our trip and turning it into Drive, Wedding, Drive, Maine, Drive, Home with no time for any side trips. I would now be driving within 15 painful miles of endless parks I'd never been to with no time to stop and check them out, including but not limited to SFWOA, Kennywood, Idelwilde, HersheyPark, Dutch Wonderland, SFGAdv, Astroland, Rye Playland, Lake Compounce, Funtown, Santa's Village NH, and SFNE. Even if we had a few hours to spare, I couldn't justify the cost of entry to a place like SFNE to spend an hour or two riding coasters while my non-coaster riding wife sits in the car, unwilling to pay the admission fee. Such is my life.

*** ON Wednesday the plan was to leave Bethel, Maine by 6 AM and make it to Cleveland, OH where we'd be spending the night with friends, and then finish the drive to Chicago and have me at work by noon on Thursday. We took a little side trip to visit my old family farm in Tolland, MA (a little west of SFNE) to visit what's left of my Great Grandmother's house (* see story at the end of TR if you care) and introduce my wife to my Great Uncle and Aunt. That being done, we headed on towards Ohio via Connecticut, New York, and PA. Now, early on in the trip planning I had realized that if we got onto I-80 in Pennsylvania we'd pass near Knoebels. Truthfully, I knew very little about Knoebels except it supposedly had the best classic Dark Ride in the country and, oh yeah, a couple of coasters, too. I'd never read any trip reports about it, and couldn't even remember the names of its coasters (Was it Knoebels that had that one called the Phoenix, or was it Dorney?) It was only on my radar because of the Haunted Mansion. I figured it was one of those places I'd probably never make it to in this lifetime, and I was okay with that. The thing is, looking at the map in my Atlas it looked to be over 20 miles off the freeway. Too far for a 'quick side trip' when we really wanted to get to Cleveland and sleep.

My wife was driving as we passed a Knoebels billboard on 80, reminding me that (1) it was in the area and (2) Admission was free. Still thinking it was a ways off the interstate, I took a look at my Atlas again. At this point, a serious lightbulb went off over my head. I-80 was above the spiral binding, and Knoebels was below. Duh! What I thought was over 20 miles of road was really less than 10, well within reasonable side trip status. Wooot!

No sooner had I hatched the plan than we were headed south towards the park, and I still couldn't think of what coasters I was in store for. Well, no matter if the coasters sucked, I was going to get to ride the Haunted Mansion. We pulled up to a pretty packed parking lot for an evening... turned out it was 'family bargain night'.The plan was to ride the 2 coasters, the Haunted Mansion, and be back on the road in less than an hour.

My first reaction to the park was 'Holy Cow, this is cool'. It had the unmistakable feeling of transporting you to a bygone time and place, where progress has stood still and what used to matter (most namely, family) still does. The free parking and free admission thing is astounding, especially when you consider how cheap the rides are (They max out at $2.00, except for the brand new Chairlift which is $3.00) Even Indiana Beach, my now co-favorite classic park, charges you for the pleasure of walking through the gates. During one of my rides my wife talked to a woman who apparently was friends with the owners, and she talked about how they want the park to be accessible to families, but assured my worried wife that they still manage to turn a profit.

I skipped back to Twister, and tried to figure out the layout. Wait a minute... is that a split lift hill?? I had never seen the likes of that before. I quickly gave up on deciphering the layout, as it was clear it indeed lived up to its name. It was one train operation, but I skipped ahead by riding with a single rider who was waiting for the back seat.

As for the ride itself, it was surely a lot of fun, but not an 'astounding' ride. I'm not a big fan of long, drawn out helixes, as I prefer quick changes of direction and (you guessed it) airtime. This is why I prefer Raven just a bit over Legend. Still, it's a very solid ride. I enjoyed looking from the lift back onto the station, which I realized was quite twisty itself, and very pretty.

I figured Twister was probably the better of the two coasters, so I didn't have my hoped up too high for what looked like the smaller of the two on the map, Phoenix. I'm not quite sure where my brain was. (Although there was no line, I skipped the Vekoma-made Whirlwind, figuring I'd prefer to make the rest of the drive that night without a splitting headache or sore neck. Call me prejudiced.)

Having low expectations may have had something to do with it, but I came off of Phoenix with that 'That was the best ride EVER!!!' kind of feeling that's so rare. From the pitch black LOOONG tunnel to the first drop (I hadn't really looked at the layout, so I honestly had no idea what was going to happen on the drop), to the double up-double down and the airtime-whore-heaven bunny hops, I was laughing my way through the whole ride. I was certain that this is why God created wood. The smile from that one ride still hasn't faded from my face. I wished like heck I could do it again, but I had 'miles to go before I rest', so it was time to take my love through the Haunted mansion and call it a night.

Having had little expectations for Phoenix, I had pretty high ones for the Haunted Mansion, a classic dark ride using pretzel cars and a combination of Funny-Frite and in-house gags (For a walk-through, see http://www.dafe.org/attractions/darkrides/knoebels/hm.htm). I love the idea of dark rides, but so often they come off as lame due to lack of vision or enthusiasm on the part of builders or lack of maintenance on the part of operators. This ride suffers from neither. It was surprisingly scary, with wonderfully timed and amazingly creative effects and great use of blackness. The soundtrack was incredible, and gave the ride a tremendous energy which is lacking in most dark rides. The whole thing is like total sensory overload, and looking at the images on the link above I swear I don't remember half of that stuff. Incredibly laden with detail. What I was particularly suprised by was how close you get to many of the gags, and how the props didn't have any protective fencing or glass. I learned from the DAFE site the reason... apparently the Knobels astutely observed that msot trouble is caused on rides by bored re-riders with nothing better to do, so the Mansion is not included in pay-one-price ride bands. Everyone riding it is a paying customer. Brilliant strategy, as the intimacy this creates truly makes the ride stand out.

We walked through the kiddie area on our way out, where my amusement-park apathetic wife commented 'I can't wait to bring our kids here someday.' SCORE!! We were both impressed by the breadth of rides for kids, and she being a first grade teacher particularly liked the interactive, hands-on and physical nature of so many of the rides and environments (such as the kiddie canal boats and the hand crank carts) . As she said 'It's not plastic, the way DisneyWorld is.' I told her to remind me then not to try and get my kids to ride the Haunted Mansion with me... who knows what kind of damage that place would do.

We'd spent a little more time than we'd meant to in the park and needed to get on with the trip, but I had to beg one more favor of her before we left. I got my first ride on a Whip, something I'd been looking forward to since being a middle school kid checking out every book on Amusement parks I could get my hands on. Like everything else at the park, it did not disappoint.

We were back on the interstate a little more than 2 hours after we left it, and decided we were sufficiently energized by the fun we'd had to drive the whole way back to Chicago that night (We got home about 5:20 east coast time, nearly 24 hours after we'd left Maine) While I was sad to have spent so little time in so wonderful a park, I was gladdened by the certainty that I would, one way or another, be back someday. Many somedays, I hope.

*As to my great grandmother's house:

She lived in a cottage built by my great grandfather, and said she would not leave it till she died. Her health had been deteriorating, but she would not consider moving into assisted living. My great uncle lived on the same land, and took care of her as he could, but the family was worried about her long term well being. One Friday night in March, 1992, my Uncle went out to run an errand at the time he normally would have been with her in her house. An unforecasted, freak electrical storm materialized at about 6:45 pm. It released a lightning bolt which struck a tree near her house (A tree which, incidentally, was at the lowest point in a valley). The lightning entered the roots of the tree, which were touching the gas line that entered her home. It appears the lighting then followed the gas line into the house at which point it caused an enormous explosion. Debris was scattered for hundreds of feet... her heirloom China, the enormous library of books she'd been collecting her whole life. What was left of the house collapsed into the basement, where my great grandmother was found by my uncle. The coroner believed she must've had a heart attack before the explosion even occured, which gave our family some comfort. The last time I saw the house was when I was in high school, during the funeral. It was still smoldering, and the material pieces of her life were still broadcast all around the valley. For those of us in the family who believed in an active, caring God it was the most clearly we had ever heard his voice in our lives. It was time, we knew, and the finality with which her life ended was at once both shocking and comforting. This was how it was meant to be, we knew. To go back was eerie, the foundation still there, the strong chimney still standing two stories above the now back-filled basement. Her plastic welcome mat had melted and fused to the concrete stoop, and was still there over a decade later. The whole experience made me value the memories that I have of our time with her, and made me realize how precious our time with our families is.
Touchè, teacher, touchè.

Thursday, August 14, 2003 1:55 PM
"The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
but I have promises to keep,
and miles to go before I sleep,
and miles to go before I sleep

Robert Frost, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

my favorite poem, EVER.

Nice TR!

"Here's the thing about living in the past. If it was so good, then how come it didn't last? If it helps you, I'll put it in a phrase. Those were the times, but these are the days." - The Human League

Thursday, August 14, 2003 2:21 PM
nasai's avatar Dude. That story at the end made me all misty. Nice TR. Miss you too!
They're not even sure it's a baby.
Thursday, August 14, 2003 3:01 PM
I had the exact same reaction to Phoenix when I first rode it. Be sure to get back there. They have so many classic rides. Did the bus lights get you? They get everyone;)

-Sean Newman

Thursday, August 14, 2003 3:13 PM
nasai's avatar Brian, the fact that you didn't know more about Phoenix cracks me up! ... and to think I actually stayed at your house. ;)
Rob - Jerk/Loser Standing up for the unfunny and unattractive. - Click here for details
Thursday, August 14, 2003 4:37 PM
Great TR Brian. That place is fantastic. Was there a play by play on Pheonix ( ala Twisted Twins )? :)

By the way, good to here that you're still employed.

In my CD player: Centaur - In Streams
Queens of the Stone Age - Songs for the Deaf
Fu Manchu - California Crossing

Friday, August 15, 2003 9:37 AM
nasai's avatar OH! Congrats on that Brian. I admit I was wondering too, but didn't want to ask. :)
Rob - Jerk/Loser Standing up for the unfunny and unattractive. - Click here for details
Friday, August 15, 2003 11:32 AM
coasterqueenTRN's avatar Awesome TR!! Knoebels is just very unique, and I can't wait to get back up there in early October for PPP!


<-----who will GET the ring this time!

Gimme speed, height, airtime and plenty of LAUNCH!!!


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