austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,

You'll crack 'em up when you stand in front of all the crazy mirrors

I felt my heart sinking when we reached Idlewild: there didn't seem to be anybody at the parking lot, and it was a drizzly 7 pm, and it barely looked like the gates even had attendants. It wasn't that dismal. There was one gate still open. She warned us that the park was only going to be open about two hours, but we weren't going to have a better chance; Sunday we were to head up to Erie and take in Waldameer, what had been intended to be our first park. She scanned our pre-purchased tickets --- discounted, again thanks to bunny_hugger's American Coaster Enthusiasts membership --- and I managed to get lost on the way to parking. I parked at the picnic pavilion parking instead, and we entered the park from what really, really looked like the secret back entrance, not going past any obvious welcoming gate. Since Kennywood we'd been at a lot of Pennsylvania parks where it felt almost like you were being invited to walk on the grass and sneak around back, and Idlewild felt like we were there to sneak into the whole park.

It's a small but handsome park, with an antique carousel, a 1938-vintage roller coaster, an odd vintage [ Edit: it's not so old as I thought ] wild mouse roller coaster, and a setting which seems to be about where George Washington almost got himself killed in 1758. (He was trying to break up accidental shooting between men from his unit and men from George Mercer's.) It's not certain exactly where this bit of the French and Indian War occurred, but it was at least nearby.

The park has a Mister Rogers Neighborhood attraction, designed in part by Fred Rogers himself. Rogers was born near the area and it's exciting to think he might've gone to this park as a kid, and to get to animatronic versions of the Land of Make-Believe ... well, that'd be thrilling. It'd also take more time than we had, though. We'd lost a little time to Knoebels, and more time to a drive which took much longer than Google Maps estimated. As with Story Book Land, we'd have to let Mister Rogers wait for another visit.

The park also had one of the few remaining Caterpillar rides. This is another rotary ride, bringing cars up and down a tight track, with a canvas cover that swings over top to turn the ride into a dark one. Kiddie versions of the Caterpillar are tolerably common, but the grown-up ride is almost extinct. There was one running when bunny_hugger visited the park years ago, but now, no; it was removed sometime, we don't know when. We went to a kiddie section called the Raccoon Lagoon because some features of the map (which doesn't name rides) looked like they might've been a Caterpillar, but to no success. The closest I've come to this ride, at least in grown-up form, is seeing it in a 1940s Dick Tracy sequence where the villain escapes while under the canvas.

Still, there is what we did ride. For one, there's the 1938 wooden roller coaster, named Rollo Coaster. It's not a big coaster -- a mere 27 feet at its tallest, with a 25 foot drop --- but it is intimately tied to the park around it. Even wood for the coaster was, according to the historical plaques (the park celebrated its 125th anniversary more than a decade ago and put markers on all sorts of things), harvested from the park grounds. It's fitted to the ground's contours, and the trees have grown around it, so that even though it's small and slow as coasters go it feels much more exciting and much more intimate than its statistics suggest. If you play Roller Coaster Tycoon much you learn the game improves the evaluation of a ride if it's bound up tightly with scenery, and Rollo Coaster is a great example of how true that is.

Rollo Coaster has cars that don't have seat belts, or any kind of restraint besides a grab bar, so it's very easy to feel the car dropping out from under you. It's also got manual levers to launch and to brake the cars, and it's almost as much fun watching the ride operators work this stuff by hand, like they used to do, rather than pushing buttons. Since there aren't seat belts or swinging restraint bars to deal with it's a very quick ride to unload and load --- people just stand up and sit down --- and this offers for quick turnarounds. Sometimes too quick: on the final ride for the night I was sluggish putting my camera in my pocket, and they launched the ride while I was still standing in the car. I sat fast, of course --- actually I more leapt down like I was trying to make myself fall through the seat --- but the ride started moving before I was sitting down.

The amazing thing is, at the time, I thought that was the wildest bit of crazy roller coaster operation imaginable. I would learn better.

Trivia: Around 1702, the astronomer Ole Rømer used a period of home confinement following the a broken leg to set his thermometer scale, on which the (fixed) boiling point of water was 60 degrees and the freezing point 7 and a half degrees. Blood temperature happened to fall at 22 and a half degrees. Source: Absolute Zero and the Conquest of Cold, Tom Schachtman.

Currently Reading: Easy To Remember: The Great American Songwriters and their Songs, William Zinsser. It's a nice chatty bit in which Zinsser just talks about songs he liked and the composers behind them, and I'm delighted that someone went through and made notes through it all, including pointing out the claim that ``nobody ever wrote a better musical than Guys and Dolls'' in one caption is also made for Annie Get Your Gun. (I can't find where he said that about Annie Get Your Gun but I love this sort of commentary.)

Tags: pennsylvania parks trip

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