Our Own Magical Kingdom

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.

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11 Responses to Our Own Magical Kingdom

  1. Pat Raymer Macchiarolo says:

    Kennywood has been part of my summer memories for probably close to 60 years! It’s the best!! Remember bringing money to school to get stamps in a book so that you could trade them in for books of tickets??

  2. Donna says:

    I can remember when there were large picnic groves . My parents packed a lunch and we stayed all day, from opening till closing. The adults stayed at the picnic table and played cards or visited and the kids were given enough tickets for a few rides and then we had to check in for more tickets, Back then ( age of the dinosaurs) Kennywood was free, you just paid for ride or food tickets. My favorite ride was the Turtle.

  3. Amy says:

    I remember loving the coasters once I got over my fear of them. Loved the Bubble Bounce-my friend had an obnoxious brother & we let him “talk us” into going onto it, & we already loved it-esp making the car spin at top speed! I never got nauseous on any ride, I was pretty lucky. Anyway, we got even with him by wresting control of the wheel from him & spinning it as fast as it would go (we watched it & got on the “spinning-est” car on the ride). He turned such a lovely shade of green & barfed in front of his (bully) friends while we got back on & did the same thing all over again! Revenge is a dish best served-spinning as close to 100 rpm as you can get! 😉
    I also loved the rollo-planes…and the Enterprise (which I think is the Volcano now?)…and the-well, except for dark rides (which bored me & also bored my son even when he was very young), I liked them all-slow & fast, old & new. Until I got too disabled to go places like that anymore, I took our son often. We both loved the water rides. He went on the Jack Rabbit at age 5! Tall early in life like me. I made him really LOOK at it first. My dad pushed me to go on them before I was ready & that’s what made me scared of them for about 5 years. I didn’t want to do that to our son. He said as long as I held on tight to him, he’d be OK, so we went on, & next thing we know, he’s in line again, running between it & the Racer. He was tall enough at 6 to go on the Thunderbolt & loved it! He was 7 I think before he could go on the original Phantom, since the height requirement was a lot more for it. We were both BUMMED at how they messed up the Steel Phantom. Phantom’s Revenge sucks. I see where they have a new coaster with a loop, where the Turnpike used to be…I sooooo wish I could go on it!
    Our son has been to 6 Flags, King’s Dominion, & Hersheypark & still likes Kennywood best. There’s just something about Kennywood. I hope the new owners don’t lose that. Hersheypark was his 2nd favorite but it’s so hard to get there since it seems like every road in PA is always under construction, esp in summer.
    There is only one ride I will NEVER go on again-the Pitt Fall. It tore up some of my insides (probably due to my condition) & nearly put me out of commission for 2 months. I said that if that’s what it feels like to parachute out of an airplane – & I already can’t see the point of jumping out of a perfectly good airplane – even if the plane’s going down in flames, I’ll ride it down. It would HAVE to feel better than dropping rapidly, being jerked up, & being bumped around going all the way down, & parachuting looks pretty much like that to me.
    I’ve never gone on that bungee jump thing over the lake-Sky Coaster. I think? I think it’d be too like the Pitt Fall.
    Thanks for the pictures.
    Remember the Penny Arcade? My son loved the old crank machines & such, said you could find video games anywhere but you could only find neat things like that in Kennywood.
    I also loved one type of food there & one type only: the Potato Patch. Nirvana in a little paper box! I prefer either just salt or cheese. They were never stingy with cheese when I was able to go. You could fill up 2 hungry kids & top off 1 adult with a single serving.

  4. Donna Chancey Kunf says:

    What a great story and article. I remember it took me 3 tries of standing in line for the Rotor 1 hour atta time, only to chicken out and jump out of line. Finally my girlfriend Valerie made me go on it and I’ll always be happy I was forced into that one. Thank you so much for the memories!

  5. sue wiesen says:

    I worked at Kennywood through several summers while in college. I ran the Merry go round, the kangaroo and the Rotor. The trick was to bring the floor back up and not get any shoes caught in the opening between the wall and the floor…I didn’t have tons of vomiting, but I did have a lady once who slid down the wall when I dropped the floor, but her wig stayed put!!! That was an extra long ride because everyone on the viewing platform was laughing so hard!!! And….I worked from 10 am til midnight 7 days a week for $18 per day!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  6. Becky says:

    The whole Kennywood experience is such a wonderful memory…from all the rides you mention to wearing matching madris shirts (too cool) and then the rain! We must be @ same age however mostly I was a Dravosburg hunky, but graduated from Duquesne High;-)

  7. Ed Kozarian jr says:

    Every ride you mention had the effect on me. EVERY time! Thanks for the memories.

  8. Linda Perhacs says:

    One Catholic school picnic, Carol Spade and I must have gone on the Rotor, at least 15 times in a row. That ride didn’t make me sick, but the Roloplanes did. Today, the train and carousel make me happy.

  9. Amanda says:

    I love reading your blog. I’m the younger generation that didn’t get to experience all of the same things but I remember stories that I’ve been told over the years. My grandparents lived in Duquesne and my dad grew up there as well.

  10. Laurine says:

    I threw up after my friends convinced me to ride it a second time in a row. Never went on it again. How about the dip on the Jack Rabbit that made everyone think they were going to fly out of the car?? And trying to choose the red cars or the blue cars on the Racer cause I always wanted to win the race.

  11. Tom Lane says:

    This is a little off the excitement track, but I used to enjoy watching all the old folks sitting around on those green benches that circled the lagoon and the merry-go-round. Especially on sunday when Iwas working there. Such simple community. And I liked the sounds and smells of the cafeteria. Ate many lunches there and that big airy feeling of the place stays with me. I think it was green and white on the outside.

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