There is no doubt about. Summer is here and if your are like me, I’ll be spending more time out of doors in the next few months. As one of the creatures of comfort that we have all become with our dependency on air conditioning, I for one will be retreating into my house for relief on those hot, hot days. Somehow, as a youth, regardless of the temperature, Kennywood always provided a perfectly comfortable environment whenever I went. Of course, whipping around on most of the rides with the wind blowing in your face DID help. No matter how you slice it, Kennywood was always my Garden of Eden along with every other kid in the area.
I have to admit however, that I harbored a secret dread about Kennywood. As a young hunky from Duquesne, whenever friends and I went to Kennywood, we were all fearless. There wasn’t a ride that we wouldn’t tackle. Little did my friends know, but on some of the attractions, even to this day, every part of my body is puckered! There were some rides that secretly made me fear for my life, and yet others left me all but heaving in some nearby trash can! Spinning in circle and I never have gotten along very well!
Some of the most memorable forms of self-torture that we all endured at Kennywood were:
THE BUBBLE BOUNCE – This ride was perhaps the worst ride for someone with my… ”condition.” I believe it was located close to the pavilions when the present day Log Jammer is located. The Bubble Bounce was a mechanical vomit machine. I am convinced that if used for interrogation purposes, we would easily be able to convince any human to spill their guts. Perhaps that can be taken more literally than intended!
If I remember correctly, you would sit in these cup shaped cars. I believe you could fit 4 or perhaps 6 people in the car. The ride, when in motion, would spin at increasing speed while occasionally, after a burst of air, tilt to one side or another while still turning. So you had a rapidly rotating platform being jarred from one side or another, filled with screaming kids. As if that wasn’t enough, each car had a metal wheel in the center to hold on to. However, the real purpose was to inflict as much terror and vomit inducing mayhem onto the rides. When you grabbed the wheel and turned it, it caused the individual cars to spin on their axis. The faster you turned, the faster they would spin. If you times the effort to make the car spin by the number of occupants, you were able to produce enough centrifugal force to be used in testing at NASA! I did some research, and the ride had the capacity to exert up to 5.2 g’s of force. That is equal to the force felt traveling in a Formula One race car and/or coursing down the track at at an Olympic Luge event. Seriously, what were they thinking!!
THE ROTOR – The Rotor has made two separate appearances at Kennywood. It first arrived in 1955, but only stayed until 1958. Since I would have only been 4 or 5 years old, I missed experiencing the thrill of not only being able spin in circles as fast as you can, BUT also being able to be stuck to a wall and turn upside down! What a thrill, feeling like you’re about to vomit AND experiencing 3 g’s of centrifugal force at the same time. Ahh… good times. For your information, the crew of the Space Shuttle also experiences the equivalent of 3 g’s at launch!
The Rotor re-appeared in all its torturous glory in 1965. I was 13. Nothing is more dangerous than a thrill ride and a bunch of teens right at the onset of puberty. That would be me and my friends! I recall riding The Rotor “ad nauseam,” if you’ll pardon the pun. For some reason, I didn’t experience that familiar “about to blow” feeling after riding. Perhaps it was the raging hormones?
The ride was basically a huge hollow drum whose interior walls were padded. There were no belts, handles or anything to hold onto. One merely entered into the cylinder, decided where you wanted to stand along the padded walls, and then just stood and waited for the ride to commence. I remember my heart pounding each time the door closed and the thump of the locking mechanism was heard. The operator would climb up to his perch which looked down into the torture tub and throw the appropriate switches to begin the ride. At that point, there was no turning back, and you would close your eyes and wait until the room reached its optimum speed of 33 rpm… just like a long play record. At that point, the floor would drop from beneath your feet and you were left glued to the wall by centrifugal force about 4 or 5 feet above the floor. If you were a seasoned rider, you knew that you should prop the bottoms of your Keds against the wall just before dropping to prevent your body from slipping inside your clothes. I have to admit that when I didn’t go through that particular maneuver, some serious wedgies occurred!
As the room was spinning, once you got your “sea legs” we would turn upside down or horizontal to the floor and just go through all types of contortions until either the ride slowed down or until we were yelled at by the operator on the perch! Normally, once the ride stopped and the door opened, we would make a mad dash down the ramp and get right back in line and hopefully onto the very next ride! We certainly were gluttons for punishment!
THE ROLL-O-PLANES – The Roll-O-Planes were first introduced into Kennywood in 1950. Much to my dismay, they hung around until 1969 when they were remove. This ride was not my friend. I think its sole purpose was to scare the %^# out of me, and it managed to do so each time I rode. All I remember is that they were high, they had open windows and they had very loose belts. Not a good combination in my book. There was a young lady I was desperately trying to impress one year, and of course, The Roll-o-Planes were her favorite ride. Just my luck. By the middle of the summer I decided that the ride was as wacko as she was and neither were worth the effort. We broke-up. Heartache at 13 years of age.
Just as a side note, after I was married and had children of my own, Kennywood was a seasonal event for us when we visited the area in the Summer. I always looked forward to the park and all of its wonderful memories. I had put my fear of the Roll-o-Planes behind me years before and had moved on. To add insult to injury however, THEY reappeared in the Lost Kennywood section of the park in 1995! I avoided them like the plague. Fortunately, they were removed for the second time in 2005. Hopefully forever!
ROUND-UP (AKA – THE SATELLITE) – Strangely enough, The Round-Up or Satellite fit the exact profile for the type of ride that would end-up making me nauseous. Yet for some reason, I was unaffected by it. I honestly LOVED the ride. Of all of the rides I’ve mentioned so far, The Satellite was perhaps the riskiest of all. Kennywood’s original Round-Up was installed in 1957 but was replaced by a newer model in 1964. That Round-Up lasted until 1975 until it was damaged by a fire that occurred that year. They replaced it with a bigger/better model call Super Round-up which was moved one year later to Idlewild Park in Ligonier, which was also owned by Kennywood.
The ride was very similar in premise to The Rotor in its use of centrifugal force, but was much larger in scale. Instead of a floor dropping out from under you, the entire ride would move from a horizontal position to a completely vertical stance. It was awesome. I loved that ride and hated to see it go.
Just think how fortunate we were to be growing up in Duquesne with Kennywood as our playground. I wonder how many Duquesne boys and girls had their first kiss in The Old Mill or while rowing on the lagoon. The glamour and glitz of theme parks like Disney’s Magic Kingdom and Universal Studios Theme Park offer much more in technology, size and pizzazz versus Kennywood. However, in this hunky’s opinion, they cannot hold a candle to the comfort, the quiet charm and the memories and emotions that Kennywood evokes for all of us. It’s like our own private wonderland. The splashing of the oars in the lagoon, the click and clack of the Jack Rabbit as it climbs that tallest hill, and the lonesome sound of Noah’s Ark’s whistle as it rocks from side to side, are so familiar to us all. In my mind, they are some of the sweetest sounds on earth.