austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,

Let's take your car

So we got our Waldameer wristbands. There's an interesting spread of roller coasters there, one a modern yet oddball form of wild mouse named the Steel Dragon. This is a swinging wild mouse ride, with a car that can rotate freely while going along the track; what's distinct here is that two of the seats start (and end) the ride facing backwards. I've not had the chance to ride a roller coaster, at least partway, backwards, and we took the rear seats on our first ride, for which we had to wait terribly long because it's a wild mouse and those always have long lines. But going up the lift hill and first couple turns backwards is great. We tried on later rides to get the backwards seat, but while the lines were reasonably short, we got paired up with people who themselves took the rear seats, so, we got backwards rides only when chance and rotational mechanics allowed. Anyway, it's quite fun and has this great paired-dragon motif to it.

Their oldest operating roller coaster is the Comet, a fine-looking 1951 wooden coaster with seats that we thought were kind of small, though we were able to squeeze in. bunny_hugger thought they were almost kiddie-coaster-sized seats. This is because it is, well, at least a junior roller coaster, with a lift hill of only 37 feet and a maximum drop of 25 feet (according to the Roller Coaster Database). It's still an ACE Coaster Classic, denoting primarily that it's run the way old-fashioned coasters were (single-position lap bars, no seat dividers or headrests, that sort of thing), but it's still a fun ride. We'd come back to it repeatedly, including to make it our final ride of the night. It's got a lovely curved station and a magnificently late 50s frontage of stars and crescent moons and what's either a meteor or a comet or a Sputnik depending on your tastes.

One of the trees beside the roller coaster has a sign on it, ``I am not a kite-eating tree. I am an ash tree.'' Why? That's an excellent question. It certainly deserves an answer.

Incidentally, that we were able to both fit in a single rows on Comet made us realize that while we'd always sat in separate rows on the Zach's Zoomer coaster at Michigan's Adventure --- another kiddie coaster of roughly comparable dimensions --- we'd never actually tried to see if we could fit together. We'd just assumed it, and because we didn't know Comet was a kiddie coaster we went in not realizing that we couldn't do that. So we figured to try, next time we went to Michigan's Adventure, fitting both in the same row. We can't; we probably have enough space to fit both our hips, but the Zach's Zoomer cars are shorter and there's just no place to put my legs if I'm going to bring them along.

Waldameer's biggest roller coaster, and the one we were the most interested in, is the Ravine Flyer II, which opened in 2008, eight years after its kiddie-coaster version the Ravine Flyer 3 [sic], and 86 years after the Ravine Flyer (not retroactively named Ravine Flyer I) was built and 70 years after it was closed. (There had been a death on the Ravine Flyer I, caused by a man who lost his footing after he somehow got out of his seat while trying to comfort his sister, who was panicking.) It's an odd roller coaster because of course it is; some of that oddity is implicit in how Ravine Flyer 3 was built nearly a decade before II went up.

The roller coaster goes across a state highway, leaping over it in a beautiful (if enclosed) arch bridge. The right to do this was apparently negotiated ages ago when the state sought to expand the highway and needed some Waldameer property to do so; but when it came time to actually build the roller coaster over the highway, well, controversy. So it took longer than anyone expected to settle everything and get the roller coaster opened.

It turned out to be worth the wait. The ride leapt to the top of wooden roller coaster rankings and it's held steadily there since, even as newer and superficially, by-the-numbers more impressive ones were built. And the ride really is that good. It's just exciting, throughout, and has the leap through the blue case of the highway arch --- twice! --- as only part of its wonder. It also offers views of Lake Erie, shocking us by how close we actually were to the Great Lake, which feels so very close in a way that Cedar Point doesn't quite manage with its Lake Erie frontage yet. We'd take many rides on it, and with pleasantly tolerable waits, too, and every one of them was delightful.

We were able to get a front seat ride, thanks to low crowds at that moment and good timing, and figured that had to be the best possible ride. Some roller coasters are better in the front seat, some in the back, and a few even at other locations. The ride operators told us no, actually, the back seat is the best, and we gave that a try. And they were right! Ravine Flyer II is a fantastic ride from up front, and yet somehow, it's an even better ride from the rearmost seat.

The park isn't just roller coasters and the non-antique carousel, naturally. The structure most fascinating to us was the Rainbow Gardens, which bunny_hugger recognized as an old, now abandoned, portion of the park's name. Might the park, which opened in the 19th century, have had a botanical garden as a still-lingering exhibit? The might have. We poked in the door and, no, what it was was a huge ballroom floor, not really set up for anything, with a couple of people, apparently park employees, fiddling around with screens or boards of some kind in the far corner. We felt, as often we did this tour, like we'd gotten away with something in seeing a bit we probably weren't supposed to. Although since the Rainbow Gardens is open and rentable for weddings or anniversaries or whatever sorts of affairs might need a huge ballroom space, perhaps they leave the doors open and don't chase out people on the grounds they might be looking at places to hold their events. Certainly if we'd known it was practical to have a wedding in an amusement park --- one with no parking charge and no charge if you just want to come in and look around, mind you --- we'd have considered it. I recall we did consider having another wedding just to have it there.

The park also has a pair of dark rides, both from Bill Tracy, who'd a;sp done the Black Diamond at Knoebels when it was a different ride at a different park; this is, if the Bill Tracy Project is correct, a quarter of all the surviving Bill Tracy rides. The Pirates Cove is a walk-through haunted house, very similar in spirit to the Noah's Ark at Kennywood --- optical illusions and unsteady floors, rooms built at odd angles, props that leap up and scare you --- and it's a beauty. This is the one that I'd got conflated with the Noah's Ark, because this building doesn't rock; it just disorients you by looking like it is, or has already. Confusing to us is there's a patch that's a glass-and-mirror maze, but which you don't have to enter; you can just walk right past it, using the path you use to go into the maze room at all. bunny_hugger's research found that the ride used to make you go through the maze, but Waldameer changed the layout so that it wouldn't take quite so long and wouldn't get quite so many people lost as they tried to go through it. This is fair but also a bit of a shame.

The other ride is the Whacky Shack, which you ride through in a small car, like the Black Diamond or the late, lamented, Stillwalk Manor at Casino Pier. We'd got a snack while waiting in the ride queue for this, our introduction to just how very cashless the system at the park is, and from there we could see glimpses of their live show with Wally and Wendy Bears, singing as they ever do. The entrance also has an endlessly repeating audio track from one of the monsters warning that if you stick your hand out while on the ride you'll lose your wristband, and possibly your wrist, as a way of encouraging people not to damage the props. This probably works well for minimizing damage to the ride, although if I were the ride operator I'd probably be homicidal within hours. I was getting a bit antsy just from the wait to get in the ride.

The Whacky Shack is, again, magnificent, with a great array of monsters and narrowing-hallway stunts and demons that come from nowhere and a nice little part that took us outside, where we waved to some kinds who waved back, in between a little drop and sudden rise.

It's a beautiful park, but one of the non-destination rides we went on kind of highlighted the feel of Pennsylvania Parks as we experienced them. I'd commented on a couple parks where it felt like it wasn't just all right to leave the cement walkways and go on the grass if that was the best way to get somewhere, but that you were kind of encouraged to do so. Waldameer has much of that feeling, and their Spider ride --- it's one of those spinning rides that's at an angle, so only two cars can be loaded or unloaded at once, so it takes just forever to get the passengers loaded --- is just set atop grass. Outside of fairs, I don't think I've ever been on a ride that was this pastoral. It's got to be a nuisance to keep the lawn mowed, and would certainly be easier if they'd just dropped asphalt underneath it, but they didn't, and I'm delighted they didn't, because it just makes the setting --- particularly as we rode it in the stretch where twilight turns to night, and the grass was seen in the lights of the ride itself --- all the more wonderful.

But night was coming, and we went for the night rides on all the roller coasters, and found souvenirs and looked through one of those Images of America books which gave us the clue about what happened to Waldameer's antique carousel. As I said, our last ride for the night as they closed was on the Comet. As we went up bunny_hugger called out, ``If I go up this lift hill, I'll be having a good time!'', echoing a line from the Zippy the Pinhead comic books she's been getting.

And then, closing … and over the park public address system came the tune, ``Goodnight, Sweetheart''. Yes, they have a closing song, just like Kennywood and just like DelGrosso's. And yes, they have the same closing song that DelGrosso's has. (It's a different version, though, DelGrosso's with a male singer and Waldameer with a group of female singers.) This felt … strange, wondrous, like an amazing little parting moment from the end of our Pennsylvania Parks tour.

Monday, what could there be but the long drive back to Lansing?

Trivia: In 1975 Rockwell built a 0.36-scale model of the space shuttle orbiter, lemon yellow in color and marked with a blue NASA logo, for wind tunnel tests, at a cost of a million dollars. Source: Development of the Space Shuttle, 1972 - 1981, T A Heppenheimer.

Currently Reading: Americanos: Latin America's Struggle For Independence, John Charles Chasteen. I didn't expect it to open with Alexander Humbolt.

Tags: pennsylvania parks trip

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