We all get our start somewhere when it comes to coasters and parks. Some of us start out small and ride the carousel while some of us are brave and have our first ride on a kiddie coaster. No matter how you started, the ride and the park that you had your first experience at will always be with you. Whether you are a coaster enthusiast or a family oriented rider, this blog will serve all ages and levels. I am going to talk about where I got my start and discuss a park that many do not even know exists but has been going for many years.
I got my amusement park start at Camden Park in Huntington, West Virginia. This small, hometown local park had all of the thrills for a family who was on a tight budget who may not have had what it takes to get to Cedar Point or Kings Island. Camden Park has everything you need for every member of the family. The park is located very close to the Kentucky – West Virginia border and is frequented by many people in the Tri-State area. Let’s take a look at what the park has to offer beginning with the thrill rides.
When you enter Camden Park, one cannot miss the old rickety wooden coaster that sits right on the inside of the entrance. This is a CLASSIC coaster and do not let it fool you with its looks. Big Dipper is an ACE classic and has been operating since 1958. The greatest thing about this classic wood coaster is the trains. The trains are the original Century Flyer trains. One thing you do not see anymore is a train with no lap bar. These have none. The ride is definitely NOT for someone who just wants a smooth ride, but surprisingly enough the ride is great for as old as the coaster is. The coaster is definitely the icon of the park as Thunderbolt Express was closed and removed in 2004.
Two of my favorite flat rides at the park would have to be the Camden Princess and the Flying Scooter. Camden Princess is a skateboard type ride that is perfect for all age groups. This is just the right amount of thrill for a small park. The train is a steam boat that signifies the location right on the river. The Flying Scooter is that ride where you get to control the flight with a wing in front of you. If you are good at this ride, then you can really get an extreme thrill out of this swinging type ride.
Camden Park is also a lot of fun to walk through as trees, lakes, and beautiful flowers are everywhere between the rides. You can ride the train around the park to relax and take in the scenes of the lake and forest. If you are ready for more rides, you can take a ride on the tilt-a-whirl or the kite flyer which is great for all ages. If the children are ready for their first ride on a coaster but do not want to try the Big Dipper, they can go and try the Lil Dipper. The Lil Dipper is a kiddie coaster that has the same idea as its father but smaller. The trains are Century Flyer and are a true delight for kids and their parents alike.
The most popular attraction is the haunted house. The house has been open since the park existed and is the old fashioned house with trains that take you in and out of the house. Kids and parents both can be seen laughing and crying throughout the entire ride. The haunted house is something you cannot miss.
I am in hopes that if you are in the area of Huntington that you will stop in and try out this small park. You may be pleasantly surprised. In part 2 of my blog, I will talk about some of the history of the park and what I used to enjoy doing when I frequented the park. MAY THE QUEUE LINES BE EVER IN YOUR FAVOR.
by Danny Miller
With the debut of Raptor at Italy’s Gardaland in 2011, the geniuses at Bolliger & Mabillard showed what they could do with a new design, the wing coaster. Although not completely new to the industry, it was B&M’s first crack at the winged concept. Raptor was fairly small relative to other B&M coasters, and was not noted for its intensity, but rather its ability to be re-ridden and tight maneuvers.
A year later in 2012, the wing coaster made its way to England’s Thorpe Park in the form of Swarm, and also to the States, with Six Flags Great America’s X-Flight, and Dollywood’s Wild Eagle. Again, these rides were noted for their grace and maneuvers more than their intensity factor. It had long been rumored that Cedar Point would take a crack at their own wing coaster, and in August 2012, we got confirmation that Cedar Point would indeed be building Gatekeeper, a wing coaster to put every previous incarnation to shame.
Fast forward to Wednesday, May 8, 2013, and I was on my way to Sandusky. After flight delays, my aunt finally landed in Cleveland just before 10PM, giving us less than three hours to sleep at our hotel in Sandusky before waking up to get to the park for a 4AM start time at Gatekeeper Media Day. Upon our arrival about an hour before the event, we came to a park lit up in all its glory, a sight I had not seen for six years, but this time, a wonderful addition was present at the front of the park. Pictures cannot do it justice folks.
Gatekeeper immediately leaves a striking visual impression that is incredible by day, but seeing it at night for the first time is a treat unlike any other. The ride is beautifully lit, with its twin keyhole towers illuminated in an awe-inspiring blue that brilliantly matches the two-toned azure track that threads them. Each of Gatekeeper’s three trains feature scarlet red eyes on the golden bird that fiercely decorates the lead car. The sides of each row feature bright white lights that allow the train to be tracked through the course when the sun is down.
Check-in began directly beneath the keyhole towers at the brand new front gate as the ride made its final test runs, giving all in attendance early photo opportunities. The coaster enthusiasts in attendance were given black lanyards, while media personnel were given bright blue ones that allowed them to board via the exit for seating in front of a camera mounted on the front row of two of the three trains.
Our concerns have long been expressed on the Screamin’ Horseshoe Queue Podcast about how many folks would be at the event, and how awful the event could potentially be in terms of quantity of people, crowd control, and limited rides. Let me say that not only were we all wrong about the craziness, but we were also completely wrong about how intense the ride would be. The event was superbly run, with easy access to the ride, free breakfast and lunch at various locations around the front of the park, and even a nice surprise of Raptor and Millennium Force being opened in the afternoon as a special thank you to everyone who came out for the event. The food was good, and the treatment of each attendee was wonderful.
So now we get to the big question: Just how good is Gatekeeper? I alluded to it before by saying we were completely wrong about this ride. Every previous wing coaster has been criticized for its lack of intensity and speed. Gatekeeper is nothing short of a brilliant mix of intense moments, graceful, floating moments, and surprising elements that will scare even the most experienced riders.
The lift hill gives riders a chance to survey the lake to the left, which around 6AM was beautifully joined by the sun peeking over the horizon. At the top of the hill, the first drop marks the first location where the left and right wings vary greatly. The left side lifts you up, pressing you into your seat until you invert, while the right side drops you down, seemingly let you free fall right out of the seat. In either case, the drop is an amazing one that pummels you with positive g-forces at the bottom.
The second inversion flips riders upside-down again, with the left side again being thrown upwards, while the right side gently rolls out into a near miss with two support columns that cross just out of reach of your right arm. The train speeds to the on-ride photo section, again featuring strong positive forces. Next is the major airtime hill, an element that does exactly what you might think, and that is float you out of your seat. The front seat seemed to give a bit more airtime here than the back.
Next comes an oversized corkscrew that again, surprisingly greets riders with some intense positive g-forces, something the other wing coasters fail to accomplish. Now it is time for the signature move of Gatekeeper, the keyholes. Both sides (especially in the front seat) offer extremely scary views. On the left, you are thrown upwards, narrowly (and I mean VERY narrowly) escaping collision with the top of the first tower. The right side swings downward, just missing the right side of the tower.
As disorienting as it is, you are just as surprised when you narrowly miss striking the second tower, only this time on the other side. On the inclined dive loop, it is instead the right side that gets thrown upwards, with the left side getting the air. On the way back towards the towers, the train reluctantly starts to spin, with the right wing barely missing the tower. From the left, you are inverted as the second tower quickly approaches. With a collision seemingly imminent, the roll quickly tightens and provides both sides with wonderful ejector airtime while upside-down, almost like a bird snatching you with its talons just before smacking the ground. it is a feeling I have never experienced on a coaster before.
A brief moment on the brake run allows you to catch your breath before diving into a tight helix and another airtime hill that pops you from your seat. The final brakes arrive, and you have conquered Gatekeeper. It was here that I realized just how much my expectations were exceeded. With Wild Eagle in my mind leading up to the ride, there was no question that this ride was going to be a hit…and it was.
Everywhere I turned the rest of the day I saw folks smiling, ranging from small children playing hooky, to the most seasoned of enthusiasts. Some of them rode well over twenty times alone that day. I myself rode seven times before focusing on interviews for the SHQ Podcast and grabbing a few rides on Raptor and Millennium Force, and I enjoyed each and every one of them. In every seat you are in for a different experience, but the common factor is that Gatekeeper is fantastic regardless of seat selection.
Aside from a few brief stops early on for television station shots, the ride was run smoothly all day, with almost unanimous acclaim for the ride. If there is one drawback to the ride at all, it is one that is shared by all B&M wing coasters, and that is the vest like restraints that tighten ever so slightly during the ride, but this is nowhere near enough to deter one from grabbing multiple rides.
The opening ceremony at 9AM gave several people from Cedar Point, Cedar Fair, and B&M to thank multiple people, including the media and each group of enthusiasts in attendance at the event. This is where it was announced that Raptor and Millennium Force would be opened as a special thanks to those who woke up early, and in many cases, didn’t sleep at all in order to be a part of such a special day.
It was said that Walter Bolliger got the idea for the wing coasters by looking out the airplane window and wondering what it would be like the ride on the wing of an airplane. It may never be possible to do that, and if it isn’t, that is more that perfectly fine, because Gatekeeper is everything that the previous wing coasters tried to be and couldn’t quite do. It is fast, intense, scary in some spots, and most importantly, smooth. Re-rides are a must, and each seat, left, right, front, and back, all provide a vastly different experience, yet they all provide a tremendous one that truly makes you feel like you are flying.
Later this week I will review Opening Day and the park as a whole, but for now I’d like to wish heart-felt congratulations to everyone involved with the event, as it was essentially a perfect day that made every person in attendance feel like royalty. Also congratulations to everyone who had a part in bringing a spectacular coaster to Cedar Point that will forever be an icon not only at Cedar Point’s front gate, but also an icon of the amusement industry that has risen the bar to a whole new level in a way that only Cedar Point could do. Ride On Guardians.
by Andrew Rybarczyk
When we all first heard that Gatekeeper media day would be inviting the coaster enthusiast clubs, we all looked at the decision with skepticism. On the SHQ, we openly joked how it would be a zoo, a circus, or otherwise a complete embarrassment to all involved especially in front of the viewing eyes of the professional media. Despite these thoughts, I still decided to go as both a media representative of COASTER-net but also as a card carrying club member. After driving five hours from Chicago to Sandusky, I entered a conference call with Dwain and Daniel where I found out that some worst case scenarios could already be developing. Tweets and reports were coming out that at 11 P.M., a line was already forming in the CP parking lot that was allegedly 1000 strong. I began to think that this trip may have been a bad idea. Nonetheless, I decided to continue with my previously devised plan to arrive at the park at 4 A.M.
In the pitch black parking lot of Cedar Point at 4 A.M., I got my first glimpses of the beauty of Gatekeeper. I snapped a few pictures and continued to the line. The line itself was not long and moved very quickly. The line for the first rides on Gatekeeper was the longest it was on media day but still was not long in the overall scheme of things. Those doomsday scenarios presented the night before seems to have been a bit exaggerated. I jumped on Gatekeeper and was able to get my first ride on my 165th coaster. Having previously ridden X-Flight at Six Flags Great America, I knew what to generally expect. Gatekeeper was definitely better than X-Flight and also a very nice ride. I would not say that this ride blew my mind or would even crack my top 25 coasters. The forces on Gatekeeper are much stronger than on X-Flight but it suffers from the same restrictive restraint as all B&M Wingriders. The main issue is the vest-like restraint that pushes you down throughout the ride. The problems come during the airtime elements of the ride that are clearly hindered by this vest. Without this restraint, this ride would probably generate some pretty great airtime. Despite this though, Gatekeeper has some great elements. The first inversion, drop and loop are just awesome. People like to talk about different seats generating different experiences, but I can say with certainty that there is no bad seat on this ride. It was on my final ride that I found my favorite spot (back row, outside, right) but every seat I sat in delivered a fun ride. The keyholes were fun and the turnaround dive loop was a unique way to execute a turnaround. Overall I place it 5th at the park with Raptor, Maverick, Millennium, and Magnum being superior rides. The true value of this ride is the way it has transformed the front of the park both outside and inside.
After my first ride, I was able to meet up with Devin Olsen, Brian Bass, and Danny Miller. The first two were just beginning their quest to shoot their new From Dreams to Screams documentary. After meeting up with Danny, we decided to roll together for the rest of media day. At this point, I would be remiss if I did not state how wrong we were about this media day. This event was the best event I have ever attended at Cedar Point. First, everyone treated the event with the respect that it deserved. I saw only a few instances of coaster club people getting a bit rowdy and most of that was contained to the very early morning. Secondly, Cedar Point went above and beyond with their hospitality. What impressed me most was the fact that everything that the professional media had access to, so did the coaster clubs. This includes such this as free drinks throughout the day and free breakfast and lunch. I was worried that there would be two tiers of people at media day, but that was not the case at all. Another high point was Cedar Point offering ERT on Raptor and Millennium. This was both gracious and ingenious. Gatekeeper needed to be shut down for a bit to allow for special media requests and other reasons. By allowing for two more rides to be open, it gave the coaster clubs reason to stay and have fun without interfering in media operations. I overheard many enthusiasts talk about how they were not planning to stay so long, but eventually ended up staying to ride not only Millennium and Raptor but also Gatekeeper after the downtime was over.
Media day was a great day that I and many others will not soon forget. Even though I was skeptical at first, Cedar Point proved me wrong and put on a truly classy event. Hopefully, Cedar Point and Cedar Fair will consider using this format again in the future because I think it really showed both the park and coaster fans in the best light possible.
by Danny Miller
By special request, I have come back to my Employee Insider blog series to explain a little bit about evacuations and what causes them. I will also talk about how evacuations are handled and what the process is at the rides that I worked at while at Dorney Park. To refresh, I have worked on Talon, Possessed, Monster, and Zephyr (our oldest train) regularly.
Generally speaking, evacuations are pretty rare, and I always thought that the general public’s perception is that they are a fairly regular occurrence. They are not. In fact, in my two years working at Dorney, I could probably count on one hand how many times one of my rides needed to be evacuated. I was asked specifically to talk about fires in the park, and I personally have never experienced a fire at a park, as an employee or as a guest. There are however, procedures that need to be followed.
As you could guess, the first priority is the safety of the guests and employees in the immediate area of a fire. All employees are trained in fire safety during their orientation, and periodically, various higher-ups give employees written, verbal, and even undercover observation audits. This ensures that employees not only are trained properly, but also that they retain the knowledge they are given during training.
All rides, buildings, and eating areas are equipped with all-purpose fire extinguishers in case of a fire. As mentioned, all employees are trained on the proper operation of fire extinguishers. This ensures that all employees are in a position to put out any type of fire at any given time. In the event of a fire, guests are evacuated from the immediate area, and all employees at the work location(s) affected aid in calling all emergency personal, including the Cetronia Fire Department (less than a mile away), and first-aid in case any guests or employees require medical attention.
Ride evacuations are a different story. The goal of any and all ride stoppages is that guests exit the ride as they normally would under regular operations, but sometimes this is not practical or possible. On Talon, riders may be evacuated from several places. Inside the station is not technically considered an evacuation if the entire train is in the station, however there are cases where the train may be stopped by a ride error (see previous parts of blog series) with part of the train outside the station. Other spots include the lift hill and the two brake runs.
The long, storage brake run is a common stopping place. A long, narrow walkway connects this brake run to the station via the short brake run just before the station. If the train is stopped in either of these spots, step stools are used to allow guests to safely step from their seat to the catwalk. The guests are then taken to the station and basic information is recorded in order to ensure no medical attention is needed, and that they may be compensated for the inconvenience.
If the train is stopped on the lift, it is much less likely that they will be evacuated due to the difficulty involved with evacuating guests from the incline. The same stools are used, and guests can eventually reach the station and be interviewed as before. On rides like Steel Force and Thunderhawk, this process is considerably easier due to the floor of a train being present. I have never seen an evacuation on Hydra, but I do believe a special setup is present to allow guests to move from the train to the stairs in the event of a lift evacuation. In all of these cases, special tools are required to manually unlock the harnesses. Once a single harness is unlocked, all guests must exit the train safely prior to the ride moving again.
Possessed has a very simple set of procedures. Possessed will only stop in the station or the launch area between the station and the front spike. If the train is stopped in the launch area, maintenance is usually very quick to bring the train back to the station so that guests may exit normally. If guests need to be evacuated from the launch area, stools are used to give guests a safe height from their seat to the ground. It is then just a short walk to the station where their information is taken.
Zephyr, the park’s train from the 1930’s, perhaps has the most unusual evacuation process. In the extremely rare event that the train stops on the course, the operator is required to alert guests of the reason for stoppage, and instruct them to remain in the train. Depending on the location, Possesed, Stinger or Revolution is the closest ride. The phone at the closest ride is used to call in the ride stoppage and to request assistance. The operator then returns to the train and waits with the guests until operations and maintenance reach the train.
In an extremely rare case, the train may not be able to be restarted in a reasonable amount of time, and guests may be asked to walk from the train back to the station to have their information taken. The reason this is not done immediately is to attempt to allow riders to disembark from the ride as standard operating procedures describes. The other main reason is that there are several banks and bridges near or over the creek that the train parallels, which poses a safety hazard to the guests needing evacuation.
Some rides of course, cannot be evacuated from. For example, several flat rides that do not allow all cars to be loaded at one time (Monster, Ferris Wheel), tower rides like Dominator, and even Stinger, which does not have evacuation stairs, need to be operated to some degree in order to allow evacuations. Again, the most important thing is that the goal of an evacuation is not to evacuate at all, and to allow guests to exit the ride in a normal fashion. This explains why ride evacuations are so rare.
I hope this gives you a bit of insight as to why rides may or may not be evacuated, and the process that needs to be considered at each ride when deciding whether or not to evacuate riders. If you have more questions, please post comments or message me directly and I will be glad to answer them.