Friday, January 31, 2014

Big Announcement at Eastcoaster and Sunday's Moravian Book Store Signing!

Tomorrow we will make a major announcement at Eastcoaster about our book, so stay tuned!

Don't forget to vote in our new poll on the right hand side of the page "Favorite Pennsylvania Terrain Coaster."

On Sunday we will also have a book signing event at the Moravian Book Shop in Bethlehem from 1:00 to 3:00.

Seeing this whole book process come together has been so rewarding. It was great talking to park managers like Dick Knoebel and Paul Nelson (of Waldameer) along with ride builders and designers such as Mike Boodley and Chris Gray of GCI, Tom Rebbie of PTC, Charlie Dinn, Chad Miller of the Gravity Group and others. We cannot wait to share our book at Eastcoaster along with our announcement. Stay tuned!

"Favorite Existing Schmeck Not Named Phoenix" Poll Results! And the new poll, "Favorite Pennsylvania Terrain Coaster"

So the idea of this poll was that if I included the Knoebels Phoenix, one of the few unanimous wooden coaster favorites, that none of the others would get a vote. Schmeck was a pure genius, an American master. He was the Van Gogh or Monet of roller coaster building. You could even say he was the MacGyver of roller coaster building, having pieced together the Idlewild Rollo Coaster during the Great Depression using lumber taken right from the site and utilizing the hilly terrain to make a great ride at minimal cost. The following are the results:

1: The Hersheypark Comet. I really love this ride. This poll is tough for me because Schmeck's designs are so good. The drop is wonderful along with the elevated turnarounds and airtime hills. Schmeck really mastered the art in the 40s between this and the Knoebels Phoenix or as Schmeck knew it, the Playland Rocket. 

One of the really cool character things about this ride is the neat bend in the lifthill chain. You can see it towards the top of this picture. 
The Comet is my favorite coaster to close out a day at Hersheypark, although our last ride is always the Chocolate Ride. Comet really comes alive with the tracer lights. 

Tie for Second: The Dorney Park Thunderhawk and the Great Escape Comet
This was a relatively early design for Schmeck and one in which he worked to perfect his skill. Initially this ride was an out and back coaster when it was built in 1923, but due to stiff regional competition Schmeck had a chance to rework the ride in 1930 to add the wild figure eight twister section with amazing ejector airtime. 
This pathway was initially right-of-way for a troley. At one point, the cut out for this path where a trolley passed through.
I really love this ride and the great airtime it provides. There is a trim brake in the middle of the bunny hop airtime hills returning to the station that cuts away some of the airtime, but it is still a wonderful ride.

Tied for 2nd with Thunderhawk is the Great Escape Comet. This is one ride I really would like to get to at some point. This classic Schmeck design was originally built for Crystal Beach in Ontario, Canada. When the park closed, the ride was moved to Great Escape at Lake George in New York and it still lives on as a favorite today.

Photo credit to our friend Bob

The coaster that comes in fourth is the masterful Rollo Coaster at Idlewild. We talked earlier about how this ride was built during the Great Depression with wood cut down on site and into the hilly terrain of the park, making a great ride at minimal cost during that tough economic time. This is an excellent ride that you need to get to. It packs a mean punch, even with an only 27 foot tall drop and 900 foot long length. 

The Waldameer Comet, Lake Compounce Wildcat and Yankee Cannonball round out the rest of the votes.

Be sure to vote in our new poll "What is your favorite Pennsylvania Terrain Coaster?" on the right hand side of the page. Some of them may not be considered terrain coasters, but I believe that they have elements that hug their terrain. 

Also don't forget to check out our book, "Great Pennsylvania Amusement Parks Road Trip," through ordering one using the dropdown menu at the top of the page.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Time is running out! Don't forget to vote for your favorite existing Schmeck!

Don't forget to vote for your favorite Schmeck on the right hand side of the page. If you are looking to vote for Yankee Cannonball, vote for the Little Dipper. Time is running out, vote now!
Idlewild Rollo Coaster

Also, don't forget to check out our book. You can get a copy of it using the dropdown menu at the top of the page. We will also be having a book signing this week on Sunday February 2nd from 1-3 at the Moravian Book Shop and we will be at ACE's Eastcoaster on Saturday. We are very excited!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Less than a week until ACE Eastcoaster and our "Great Pennsylvania Amusement Parks Road Trip" book signing event at Bethlehem's Moravian Book Shop!

We are full of excitement! It is less than a week until we get to visit our first ACE Eastcoaster Convention, Saturday February 1st, and have our book signing event at Moravian Book Shop, Sunday February 2nd from 1:00 PM to 3:00 PM.

The culmination of all efforts creating the book including taking photos for about a decade, researching, interviewing important park management, ride designers, historians, lifelong fans of parks and more is so rewarding. Below are a few reviews/notes of our new book "Great Pennsylvania Amusement Parks," available through the dropdown menu at the top of the page.

"I was really impressed with the content in your book.  Once I saw that interviews with park and ride company owners and representatives were in it, I just had to get this one for myself.  Heck, I learned things about my own place of work, Waldameer, while reading your book.  Your section on Knoebels was a favorite as well. Overall, the content itself was more than worth the price and those interviews are something you can't find in other roller coaster or amusement park books. Congratulations!" 
-Andrew Felice of Waldameer Park

"I really enjoyed your book. Of course knowing me, my favorite section was the Knoebels chapter. I also really enjoyed the PA ride manufacturers history. I liked hearing how hard the guys at PTC are working as well as Great Coasters International. They are the spirit of the amusement industry. The Waldameer bit was good too. The owner (Paul Nelson) reminds me a lot of Dick Knoebel being a hard worker and really putting a lot of effort into his park. I really would like to visit Waldameer. I keep saying SOMEDAY!! Conneaut Lake Park reminds me of Bushkill having such a unique and very rich history. I know they can survive and I hope ever attempt is made to keep it preserved. Dorney has a very unique history and I NEED to get there. Its close to me, probably about the same distance as Hershey, maybe a bit more. I want to thank you for taking the time to write a book, especially with the unique history PA has to offer."
-Leighton Brown 

"I recently bought and read,  "Great Pennsylvania Amusement Parks Road Trip".  It was a hard book to put down.  Not only was it chock full of interesting information, it was well written and fun to read.  This book enabled me to recall cherished memories of my own visits to amusement parks, and visit others through the eyes of the author.  Anyone who loves amusement parks will LOVE this book.

I hope there is a sequel. "

-Lynn Staude

Thank you for the kind words guys. Be sure to get a copy of our book, "Great Pennsylvania Amusement Parks," for yourself using the drop down menu at the top of the page. 

Friday, January 24, 2014

Easton's Island Park in Retrospect: A Lehigh River Adventure

If you have a boat, canoe, kayak, raft (although I would probably not recommend a raft since a dam is nearby) or some other flotation device, or you want to walk or bike down the old Lehigh Canal tow trail, I would highly recommend going to the Route 33 Boat Launch on the Lehigh River to see something pretty cool, Smith's Island, the former home of Island Park in Easton, PA.. This is located near the terminus of the Lehigh River and the former Lehigh Canal that ended at the Delaware Canal. This canal was primarily used to carry coal down from the coal regions in Northeastern PA with much of it going to use at the former Bethlehem Iron Works (Later Bethlehem Steel) several miles upriver from this point. A trolley came to this park to create a nice getaway from the cities of Easton and Bethlehem.  A long time ago, we are talking 1919, this park was closed due to the heavily damaging floods of the Lehigh River. Frequently ice jams would damage the trolley trestle and ride attractions in addition to the large floods that this island sustains. We have dealt with these ice jams this winter already and it looks as if with this cold spell that we will be dealing with them again very shortly.
This video is not from Easton, but it shows the damage these dangerous ice jams can cause. It took out an entire bridge on the Susquehanna in Harrisburg after the Blizzard and subsequent meltdown floods of 1996. The power of nature always wins over the power of man. A 140 ton bridge completely destroyed and crumpled like a soda can with the power of an ice jam. Truly incredible. We can see how much damage this would do to a bridge like that.

Anyone from the Easton area knows about floods, with this being right near the end of the mighty Lehigh River and on the banks of the Delaware. This point is only a few miles up from the heart of Easton where the Lehigh and Delaware meet. The floods in this town are unreal and the city's McDonalds just may have taken the most beatings of any McDonalds around, having been flooded to roof several times.
If you are from Easton or the region, chances are that you know famous boxer Larry Holmes is from the region. He once ran a restaurant in the town and had a road named after him. This is an AP photo showing just how extreme the floods are in this area. 
I am not sure how these near century old buildings have withstood this many floods, but whoever built them did a great job, that is for sure. This photo is from the hometown college, Lafayette College, and their archive.

I could not find a photo, but the Delaware flooding has been known to take several homes right off of their foundations and then the homes get caught on the near century old Easton free bridge that crosses between Easton, Pennsylvania and Phillipsburg, New Jersey.

Now back to the park. You can see the power of these floods and why this trolley park only lasted 25 years in that spot. It was built around the same time in which other local competitors including Bushkill, Allentown's Central Park and Dorney Park got into the amusement business. The rides this park built were competitive to that in addition to being in a very picturesque location. This was (and still is) an extremely long island, possibly half to three quarters of a mile long. It is narrow, but wide enough to have housed amusements and more. To quote the Easton Express Times

""Built in July of 1894, Island Park on the Lehigh River was a popular amusement park advertised as "the most beautiful recreation resort in eastern Pennsylvania." 

Advertisements in early 1900s editions of The Easton Express also referred to the park on Smith's Island as "The People's Popular Playground" and "Nature's Beauty Spot." 

For nearly 25 years, park-goers enjoyed rides such as an early figure-eight-style toboggan roller coaster, a Ferris wheel, pony rides and the old mill. 

There were concerts, Vaudeville shows, minstrels, and plays in an open-air theater known as the Casino and a nearby band shell. Among the band shell's many concerts was one featuring legendary march composer John Phillip Sousa. 

The 100-acre island was also home to a bathing beach, sand pit, boating and picnic areas for visitors to enjoy. 

Open-air trolley cars helped shuttle passengers back and forth from the bustling park, with trips running every five minutes. 

Others visitors could elect to walk the "Donkey Bridge" instead. 

But heavy ice flows along the river frequently damaged the trolley-trestle. That damage, in addition to severe flooding sustained in 1919, made repairs too costly, and the park was closed." 

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From Treasurenet
This post card shows the old boat launch on the island for the old park. The wooded aspect is still there and the fact that the park has been abandoned for nearly a century clearly shows. One day my father and I back about 8 years ago took our boat out on the Lehigh to fish and investigate the remains of this unique looking old park. The vegetation is thick on the island, making it very difficult to get into and see if there are any remains on the island itself. This is the Western end of the island upstream. You can see it from the Route 33 bridge if you look to the right as soon as Route 33 starts coming off of I-78. This is a wonderful boat launch with decent fishing if you are a fisherman. The island itself has a roughly 30-40 foot channel along the shoreline and old canal side that gets to depths of about 20 feet. I am not sure if this was a natural island or a result of when they created the canal or the dam that is about 200 feet off the other end of the island. From the aerial view, I believe this channel actually is the remains of the canal, but I am not fully sure. 

Here is the Google Maps aerial view of the island. This island was purchased by Hugh Moore to add to his park downstream as a natural sanctuary. The National Canal Museum is located in Hugh Moore Park and downriver just a bit. This is a cool attraction where you get to ride a real canal boat that is being pulled by a mule like in the old days. I am sure most of you would enjoy it. 

To quote the Morning Call "Summers at Island Park" from 1994

"The Easton Transit Co. opened Island Park on July 18, 1894. On that inaugural day, about 3,000 people climbed aboard the company's trolleys which picked them up along S. 4th Street in downtown Easton. The trolleys went along the river and over to the north side of the island, sandwiched on the Lehigh between Palmer Township on one side and Glendon and Williams Township on the other.
"It was the place to go because there was no other place to go," says Kenneth L. Klabunde of Easton, who has spent several years researching Island Park.
The island, made up of 100 acres, is about a mile long and a thousand feet across at the widest point. Klabunde says the amusements -- not including the playground, ball fields or picnic groves -- took up about 15 to 20 acres.
The park was quite a social center, especially with crowd-attracting acts like bandmaster and marching king John Philip Sousa, who performed at the Casino Theatre, an outdoor playhouse. When bands weren't on stage, vaudeville acts and silent movie matinees were offered.
Patrons rode a miniature Black Diamond train, a Ferris wheel, a merry-go-round, the Toboggan roller coaster and the Olde Mill. Others shuffled their soles at the dance pavilion or attended the post card gallery.
But, Mother Nature -- coupled with the mass production of the car -- got the best of Island Park.
Ice on the Lehigh took out the trolley trestle around World War I. Easton Transit rebuilt the bridge, but another ice jam ruined that one, too. The company, not willing to spend the several thousand dollars to fix it again, gave up.
Thus, the park's 1919 season was its last, says Klabunde, who has rare photographs and memorabilia of the grounds.
The structures and rides were dismantled, with much of the materials recycled. Builders took some of the wood for other projects, while the rides found other homes.
The last carousel, which was on the island from 1910 until the park's demise, belonged to Thomas Long who moved it to Oakland Park in Bethlehem Township, where the Black Diamond train was also sent, Klabunde says.
Long later moved the carousel to Bushkill Park, a trolley park he owned in Forks Township. The park still operates, but the ride was sold several years ago.
Years before Island Park was developed, the land -- then known as Smith's Island -- was used for agriculture. In 1857 Lehigh Coal and Navigation Co. made the island part of its towpath, linking Island Park to the north shore and the Change Bridge to the south."
 The fact that this park attracted Sousa for performances is incredible. Many of his works are often played on carousel band organs today.
I am trying to find the manufacturer of their carousel. If anyone knows about that, please let me know. The carousel was moved to another park that was in Bethlehem Township, Oakland Park, which I cannot seem to find any information about and then it was moved to Bushkill Park. The carousel was moved to Bushkill but eventually sold. It says it was a "Long" Carousel, the same name as the owner. It was dismantled and sold from Bushkill in 1989 and the last reference I can see from 2001 is that it was owned by an Ohio businessman that planned to build an amusement park there. Hmmmmmm.
Here is a video of the last ride on this majestic machine

The island once had an E. Joy Morris clone of Leap the Dips at Lakemont. This photo credit goes to Joel Styer.
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Treasurenet Photo
They also had the most popular attraction of the day, a Dance Pavilion
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Treasurenet Photo from August 1907
As mentioned before, this was a trolley park. This is the station that was on the island side. This leads us to the only remnant of the park that I am aware of and that we found on our adventure, a bridge.
It is amazing that this bridge pier and cables have withstood flood after flood and more. It is really a pretty cool remnant that you would have no idea of what it was associated with unless you did a little research. This was the second time we went through here. The first time we went through I saw this bridge and wanted to know what it went to. This bridge was a walking bridge in which the canal operators could go and walk their mules across the river. Through some research I found out about this lost amusement park. Building on the Lehigh is a bad idea for the reasons that we just saw. The area is really pretty and would be a perfect location for an amusement park if it were not so prone to weather related damage. 
This is the channel that makes the island. According to our fish finder, it is roughly 20 feet deep in most places. It is very quiet back in this spot. This island is grown in thick with trees and vegetation, making exploring the island nearly impossible without having a chainsaw with you. 

I would love to explore the island and see if there are any remnants. Chances are you would find some cool things that washed away upriver from floods. 

Rumor is that most of the attractions that were left from the park were moved to nearby Bushkill Park, which 90 years later would receive the same fate from flooding unfortunately. After writing this I am left with more questions than answers. The carousel fate is really bugging me, plus I would like to know where Oakland Park was in Bethlehem Township. Another article I read says the park was located in Allentown. I will report back if I find anything. I love researching. 

Be sure to check out our book on all of the great remaining historical parks throughout the state, "Great Pennsylvania Amusement Parks Road Trip." It is available through using the drop down menu at the top of the page. 

Friday, January 17, 2014

Group results for our personal favorite top 3 wood coasters poll

This is an unscientific poll, just a poll where folks were asked what their three favorite wooden roller coasters are. Some folks only voted for one or two. We received votes for over forty different coasters which shows the wide variance of favorites. This is not an end all poll, more of a "just for fun" kind of thing. It also leaves out quite a few coasters because it is simply the top three favorites of people.

 I am not sure if you are like me, I enjoy almost every wood coaster because they all have something very different to offer. Here are the results of what we found. Don't forget to vote for your favorite Schmeck vote for the Little Dipper if Yankee Cannonball is your favorite. Also, if you would like to learn more about many of the manufacturers of these top wooden roller coasters through information from interviews with Chris Gray and Tom Boodley of Great Coasters International, Tom Rebbie of PTC and Chad Miller of Gravity Group, be sure to get a copy of our new book, "Great Pennsylvania Amusement Parks. You can get a copy by using the drop down menu at the top of the page.

There were 85 voters in all in this top three favorite wooden coaster poll.

Number of times each coaster was rated in someone's top three: (Mine are Ravine Flyer, Phoenix and the Beast)

Voyage with 26 (Photo Credit to our friend Park Connoisseur)

El Toro with 25

Phoenix and Beast with 19 each

Ravine Flyer II with 18

Boulder Dash with 17

Thunderbolt with 7

Outlaw Run with 6

Thunderhead, Lightning Racer, Hades and the Kennywood Jack Rabbit with 5 votes each

Mean Streak 4

Conneaut Blue Streak, Prowler and Kennywood Racer with 3 votes each

Knoebels Twister, Raven, Shivering Timbers, Ghost Rider, Coaster Vancouver, Balder, Son of Beast and the Coney Island Cyclone with 2 votes each

Six Flags St. Louis American Thunder, Kings Dominion Grizzly, Wild One, KI Racer, Santa Cruz Giant Dipper, Villain, Riverside Cyclone, Cedar Point Blue Streak, Thunderbird, Aska, Troy, Cornball Express, Renegade, American Eagle, Legend, Great Escape Comet, Playland Dragon, Zippin Pippin, SFA Roar, HP Wildcat and Thunderhawk each with 1 vote each

Thank you for your participation in this poll!

If you want a good road trip plan and some background information on Pennsylvania Amusement Parks, be sure to get a copy of our "Great Pennsylvania Amusement Parks" book using the drop down menu at the top of the page.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Allentown Central Park In Retrospect Part 2

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Earlier I showed you some before and after shots of what was once Allentown's Central Park. These before and afters are not fully exact as I took some photos a few weeks ago of the site and I went through the plethora of postcard scans and more that are around the net to match up the photos to the spots. The road structure has changed a little bit, but you can pretty easily see where things were once before. As I have mentioned before, Central Park was a trolley park, built on the Eastern outskirts of Allentown and the Western outskirts of Bethlehem. Had it held on another year or two, chances are that the park would have been alright. It sadly closed in 1951, before this giant but sadly gone factory for Western Electric (later AT&T, Lucent then Agere) was built. This plant would prove to be the livelihood for several generations in the Lehigh Valley, including my grandfather and father until it would close when the economy tanked after 9/11 and the plant was outsourced. The front office part of the building still remains, although it is vacant and ironically now a career placement office. It is a pretty building to see though and it would be nice to see it humming again. It has an art-deco entrance way with quite a few pretty sycamore trees out front. Across the street are the remnants of another cool amusement relic, a drive in theater. As of last year the screen still remained.
Photo from "Western Electric Alumni"
Central Park was plagued by fires. If it had held on for a bit, there is a good chance that it would have thrived and be around today because it had Western Electric and Mack Truck within a few miles to the West and the industrial giant, Bethlehem Steel, a few miles to the Southwest. The park had some of the best coasters of the time, including the Cyclone that had a triple dip and a layout built into the hilly terrain in the back of the park.
Left Photo from
This is the Cyclone coaster. I have shown you other photos of the Cyclone. This one is from slightly before the others, prior to it getting partially burnt and rebuilt. In the upper left hand side of the now photo, you can see the hillside circled in red where this coaster was built. The tan building was the collision center for the former car dealer that you can see is boarded up. Above the collision center is where the bulk of the coaster was located and that is a senior living facility.

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My photo is from the opposite direction and not looking straight at the perspective. In the before photo you can see the large power lines that were used for the trolleys along with the former horse racing track on the left. In the now photo, that horseracing track was where the apartment building on the right. The blue awning is approximately where that beautiful Victorian style hotel was located. It is a shame that "progress" brought what is now an abandoned car dealer to a once beautiful site. In the second current shot you can see where that beautiful treeline was located. Every business in the current shot is abandoned. Shootings happen here now. That building just in the photo on the left with a purple awning is now defunct, but it was last a sleezy strip bar where violence frequently occurred. If the park had continued, would this specific area have seen a better fate? I believe so.

I found the left image on Pinterest, I am not sure who to credit on this one
This is not a direct shot either, but it shows where the sign would be, but on a slight angle. Once again this teaches us the lesson to preserve something that is beautiful. How many amusement parks, drive in theaters and skating rinks were torn down to build car dealerships, K-Marts and other buildings? Granted the car dealership was a re-use of the land, but maybe we should figure out how we as a community can preserve the places that make the fabric of our communities. This is why I am so dedicated to preserving places like Conneaut Lake, because we can see how the communities sort of die in a way when the places that provide beauty to our communities go by the wayside. The loss of these places creates a hole in the community. It is ironic in a way that this trolley park closed in the early 50s and was replaced by a car dealership in the time that car ownership was booming.
Another Pinterest photo on the left, I am not sure who to credit
This is closer to the same direction for the now picture. I reused this picture because it represented this postcard the best of my shots. Once again you can seet he power lines for the trolleys. That line of trees on the left was located on the edge of the parking lot for the car dealership. This is the other side of the Victorian hotel , located right on the spot of that blue awning.
This photo credit for the left photo goes to 
This view especially hurts seeing the ugly boarded up car dealership contrasted by a beautiful night scene with a swing ride and various relaxing looking attractions and old cars that almost look like they could be a car ride in a park, but from a time when they were actually the cars on the road. This contrast is what we need to think of. Is what we are doing really progress and in the best interests of the community? These photos almost remind me of in Back to the Future when he goes and there was a farm where the mall was built and a nearly abandoned downtown area that was falling apart as opposed to bright and thriving. 

Monday, January 6, 2014

January Poll! What is your favorite Schmeck not named Phoenix? Also favorite North American B&M Hyper Poll results

This month's new poll: What is your favorite existing Schmeck not named Phoenix? The poll is located on the right hand side of the page.
Don't forget that we cover each of Pennsylvania's awesome Schmecks in depth in the book. If you are interested in getting a copy of the book, use the drop down menu at the top of the page! Thank you for your support!

We had an unbreakable tie between Diamondback and Nitro. It makes sense because they are my two favorites as well. You really can't go wrong in this poll though!

  18 (33%)
  18 (33%)
Apollo's Chariot
  9 (16%)
Intimidator (Carowinds)
  2 (3%)
SFOG Goliath
  4 (7%)
  2 (3%)
Walibi Goliath
  0 (0%)
Raging Bull
  1 (1%)

Votes so far: 54
Poll closed