Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Hidden Rides and Themed Attractions of...Kentucky

The first state constituted as a commonwealth in the list, Kentucky appears as a somewhat unknown quantity to much of the country. While Lexington and Louisville may have some name recognition, by and large the state is a mystery to the coastal elites and even many of the urban dwellers in the upper midwest. The mighty Mississippi and Ohio Rivers form some of the key boundaries, while mountains, forests, and swamps complicate the development of the state beyond its history as a center of mineral extraction and tobacco farming. Pro-corporate laws made it an attractive location for car manufacturing in the 1980s and 1990s, but that comes with the price of low wages. Kentucky's per capita income is 43rd in the nation while unemployment sits at an official rate of 5%: jobs, yes, good pay, not so much. Don't expect corporations to rush changing that either.

When pay is low, you then can't expect recreational opportunities to come rushing in. Kentucky also has a serious debt problem precluding them from spending much more on creating new ones at the state operated level; what you got is, one might suggest, what you got. No classic parks from the trolley days survived the Civil Rights Movement: desegregation was not easy for recreation, and Louisville's Fontaine Ferry and Lexington's Joyland both wound up closed down when riots proved to disincentive visitors enough to stop coming. Paducah had a small public amusement facility in Nobel Park which closed down in 1988. That park turned out to be a showcase of sorts for its owner, Grover Watkins. Watkins was a ride manufacturer who wound up producing 400 attractions during a period of 4 decades, including the exceedingly popular Hustler/Tempest attractions that are still found on many a midway today.

There are two permanent parks of substance in the state: Kentucky Kingdom is the biggest and most well known. Opened on the Kentucky State Fairgrounds, Kentucky Kingdom has undergone multiple iterations and a long term closure that spelled near doom. Today it is back under the guidance of Ed Hart and is resuscitated into a park pulling something like 3/4 of a million people a year. Food here is slightly above the mean for theme parks in the US, and the coasters are on average way better than you'd expect from a place of this scale. The Rocky Mountain Coasters creation Storm Chaser replaced the dueling CCI wood coaster Twisted Twins/Sisters in the back of the park, while up closer to the front, the station from Greezed Lightning (a Schwarzcopf shuttle loop) was repurposed for Lightning Run, a super intense and overall excellent ride from the good folks at Chance/Morgan. There's a Vekoma Roller Skater, a Vekoma SLC (with new thighcrushing trains), and a reasonably good wood coaster as well among the big rides, and a smart selection of flats like a big ARM drop tower and Huss Enterprise. The water park here is also well themed and features a solid selection of attractions with a big HydroMagnetic Rocket anchoring.

Beech Bend in Bowling Green is a strange duck: It is an amusement park/speedway hybrid, the last of its kind. Unlike Holland Speedway (track first, amusement park second) in New York or the late Riverside Park Speedway (park first, speedway second), they kinda have equal billing. Oh, and it isn't an oval track like those, but rather a drag strip. The park itself features a wood coaster from GCI (Kentucky Rumbler) that's really good, two spinning coasters (Wild Mouse and kiddie coaster), a dark ride, antique cars, and the Pirate Ship that belonged to Michael Jackson's Neverland park. And it plays Thriller all the time. The water park here also has some really cool newer slides. It ain't bad!


There's a whole underground world in Kentucky worth exploring. You likely already have heard of Mammoth Cave National Park, but consider for a moment the existence of Mega Caverns in Louisville. Once the site of a limestone mine under the city, the caves created by this are so huge that there is now underground zip-lines and BMX/mountain bike trails. More along the theme attraction lines is Portal 31 Exhibition Mine in Lynch, where visitors can ride an old mining train down past animatronic figures. This is located deep in the hinterlands, several hours from any significant cities.


Louisville Zoo has a nice collection of animals and, like many zoos, a miniature train and carousel to ride. It too is reasonably priced with themed sections and the like. None of this is abnormal to see being subsidized by tax payers. But how about a collection of mostly animatronic animals inside a giant wooden boat from the Bible? Ark Encounter, the big theme park-esque offshoot of the Creation Museum, is precisely that thing. It is a real life Ark built to the specifications of the Bible and featuring an array of robot Biblical figures and creatures along with a movie about the Flood and some nonsense that takes the entirety of plate tectonics and throws it out the window. I mean, its is a big thing and its a big thing that is open often quite late, but its also morally questionable to support for a lot of folks out there. Even if you're Catholic, you don't buy into this literalist interpretation. Some $40 million dollars of tax payer dollars have been thrown behind this in an effort to attract tourists. Good luck? Not all that far away is Big Bone Lick State Park, home to a ridiculously absurd and huge diorama featuring megafauna statues being swallowed by a tar pit. Are you not yet entertained?

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Parkscope Unprofessional Podcast Hour #119- Rivers of Light Reviewed

This week's episode Joe is joined by Dani from Touring Plans and Ben from Disney Photography Blog! We open the show with discussions on Universal's new advertising push on TV and their twitter account and news of Fallon TM previews. Then we dive into the meat of the episode and discuss expansions at Caribbean Beach Resort and Coronado Resort, the death of the tiered resort structure, the much rumored WDW gondola transportation system, and close out with a big review of Rivers of Light.

Email us at parkscopeblog at gmail dot com or follow us at ParkscopeParkscopeJoeParkscopeNick, and/or ParkscopeLane.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Immersive Irony Experience Theme Park Podcast- #2 Ride Entertainment

This week Alan is joined by Mark Rosenzweig of Ride Entertainment. Ride Entertainment is a world leader in providing attractions, installations, park development services, and park operations along with the OEM of the SkyCoaster. Alan and Mark talk park operations, their philosophy and methods for selling rides, CRAZY STAN CHECKETTS STORIES like the S&S Sonic Boom, and more. Make sure to follow Ride Entertainment and Alan on Twitter.

Friday, February 10, 2017

The Hidden Rides and Themed Attractions of...Kansas

After a middling 2006 season, Joyland in Wichita closed for the final time. Outside of the purist segment of the theme/amusement park fandom, there was little note of its demise. It did have a wood coaster with the last set of fixed lap bar PTC trains in operation and a Bill Tracy "Whacky Shack" dark ride, but it was so far away from everything else that few except the most exceedingly hardcore had ever made it there during the 60ish years it was in business. Almost as significant was that this marked the first time since Joyland opened that the state of Kansas was without an amusement or theme park. This was rectified for a period of merely two months when Wild West World opened in the Wichita suburb of Valley Center during the summer of 2007. It closed because it was the product of gross malfeasance by a con man who later found himself heading to prison for skimming money off the project.

Kansas then seems like a poor place to discuss amusement rides. The two largest amusement parks noted on RCDB are a place called Kiddieland in Pittsburg, and whatever the hell All Star Adventures is in Wichita. There is a really big water park here: Schlitterbahn set up shop on the side of the Missouri border with less regulation, a fact that came in handy when they built the worlds biggest water slide and it proceeded to decapitate a state representative's kid in front of half the government. How long can this entry be? What is there to talk about in Kochistan?

I'm here to tell you that there's much, much more than meets the eye. In fact, you're about to learn about a phenomenon which, to my knowledge, has never been written about before or observed by anyone in theme park fandom or the industry.


If you have ever heard of brands like Ocean Spray, Sunkist, or Land O'Lakes, then you have heard (knowingly or not) of agricultural cooperatives. Cooperatives are locally and nationally the way family farmers have been able to afford supplies and sell goods for generation after generation not only in the US, but worldwide. Dating back to the 19th century, co-ops are effectively the rural version of socialism, often working on a much smaller scale, but with similar aims. It is worth suggesting that co-ops allow small rural communities a sense of not only self-sustainability in an ever changing world, but collective self-reliance.

Kansas is an exceedingly rural place with little urban density and lots of agricultural lands mixed in with good ol' fashioned mineral extraction (oil/natural gas). In this environment, these small, often socially homogeneous tribes split up into counties have built strong, self-sufficent systems. The desire to retain these systems unchecked and unchanged undoubtedly reflects in Kansas' strong red streak for presidential election. It should be noted that it entered the union as a free state, unlike Missouri, its neighbor and often initiator of awful violence prior to and into the civil war, so this is not to say that it is uniquely racist in ways that, say, post-Confederate states are. It simply wasn't an appealing place for people to move in the days of industrial revolution, and the communities have generally retained their makeup (recent influxes of Hispanics notwithstanding).

Kiddieland in Pittsburg, KS? City park filled with kiddie rides of 60s (or older) vintage. There's the state fairgrounds, which is home to Ye Old Mill, another 100+ year old dark ride similar in many ways to Iowa's noted in a previous edition. It was learning about Ye Old Mill at the Kansas State Fair that actually inspired me to start searching about the potential of permanent amusement rides at fairgrounds. No one had really done it before I had. Anything that had been found was the result of individuals stumbling across coasters and sending the data to RCDB for entry. All of that back story leads to this somewhat surprising fact: Kansas operates more community amusements than any other state in the union. And it does that by a significant margin.

16 municipalities and counties in Kansas are home to independently operated carnivals all their own for fair season. To this point, there's really only 4 which have been made known to the amusement park fandom via my submissions of their existence to RCDB a few years back:

-Greeley County Fair (Tribune): Looks to be 9-10 rides including what may be a swinging cage attraction, a Allan Herschell kiddie coaster, and Eli Wheel

-Kingman County and 4-H Fair (Kingman): Only 5-6 rides including a kiddie coaster, Tilt A Whirl, and Eyerly Octopus

-Sheridan County Fair (Hoxie): 7-10 rides? Kiddie coaster, train, Tilt, scrambler, other stuff?

-Wallace County Fair (Sharon Springs): 7-10 rides, including a kiddie coaster, Round Up, Tilt, and Ferris Wheel

...the rest never made it to RCDB because they didn't have roller coasters. Unfortunately, I never had a really good place to share that list until now.

-Cheyenne County Fair (St. Francis): Eli Wheel, Scrambler, Octopus, circle swing attraction, maybe a carousel? 9-10 rides in all.

-Decatur County Fair (Oberlin): 7-9 rides including a ferris wheel, Tilt, Octopus, and an incredibly rare Herschell Looper.

-Lane County Fair (Dighton): 7-8 rides. The outlier here is a Gravitron to go with the usual array of Paratroopers and kiddie rides. Slide is also present.

-Logan County Fair (Oakley) 9? rides, with a classic Flying Bobs being the biggest draw.

-Ness County Fair (Ness City): 6-8 rides. Highlights include a Octopus, Tilt, and Paratrooper.

-Northwest Kansas Free Fair (Goodland): 16 rides and attractions including another rare Herschell looper, Eyerly Roll-O-Plane, and a swing attraction that's been created from a Bisch-Rocco Flying Scooter.

-Norton County Fair (Norton): Not much is known about the Norton County Fair, and the only documentation of it comes from a Google car that drove past its setup in 2008. So to get the straight scoop, I got in touch with Craig Eveleigh, the man in charge of the Norton Sports Center and the carnival rides. There are 5 larger rides, including a small roller coaster, and 5 kiddie rides, all intended to entertain the roughly 4-5,000 attendees and their kids during the 5 day celebration.

-Ottawa County Fair(Minneapolis): A very limited midway anchored by a Scrambler and a Tilt-A-Whirl.

-Rawlins County Fair (Atwood): Melinda Bassett, the treasurer for the volunteer organization running the fair, informed me that presently the carnival is inflatable based with the desire to buy rides assuming a deal can be struck to lease the county fairgronds.

-Rush County Fair (La Crosse): At least 9 rides, including a Hustler, scrambler, and Tilt. There's a great piece about the back story for the carnival here from the Hays Daily News. There's some fantastic detail in there about the costs of operation and the difficulties many of these small carnivals run into.

-Thomas County Fair (Colby): Anywhere between 6-10 rides, most of the common favorites you've seen on this list before for family and kiddie rides alike.

-Wichita County Old Settler's Picnic and Fair (Leoti): 7-10 rides with a mix of old favorites and a couple slightly different pieces (the Go-Gator actually belongs on RCDB). The standouts? A train that runs on real track around the perimeter of the midway and an operating Flying Scooters ride. The folks at managed to run across this awhile ago, but it hasn't made it to the wiki page for the ride.

In inquiring about these carnivals and researching the article, I learned a bit about communities and logistics of running these operations. It really is a community effort from start to finish; prices are intrinsically low, space for rides is generally provided virtually free, and labor comes from community figures who take time out to do something for each other. Insurance is a major issue: one fair planned to operate a Roll-O-Plane until being told it would cost $5,000 for liability insurance for the weekend. From that point forward, they opted for rides that were lower to the ground.


Kansas actually has a fair amount of relevance to the overall history of the American amusement park and carnival. Leavenworth, not far from Kansas City, is home to the C.W. Parker Carousel Museum. C.W. Parker was an early ride manufacturer in the United States, and his factory was located only a couple of blocks from the present day location of the museum in Leavenworth. Parker began constructing rides back in 1892, and the company that carried his name operated under he and later his son all the way into 1955 constructing carousels, ferris wheels, and circular rides. Parker's carousel animals typically lacked some of the fine realistic details of the Looffs or Dentzels that were his contemporaries, but he made up with this in volume of sales and manufacturing. The museum features a pair of operational carousels, with the 1913 C.W. Parker being available for public rides. There's also a number of display pieces, including an antique mid 19th century primitive hand cranked carousel which, while still capable of motion, is too fragile to allow anyone to ride. This may be the oldest such ride in North America.

Six separate carnival companies called Kinsley, Kansas home during the 20th century. Today, that town commemorates that showman history is the Carnival Heritage Center. A kiddie carousel and many artifacts are present, including an unassembled double decker carousel. The museum is open by appointment only.

Yet another CW Parker carousel, as well as other attractions, is available at the Dickinson County Heritage Center in Abilene. Abilene was the original home of the CW Parker manufacturing until the 1910s when it was moved to Leavenworth. The museum features historic buildings and all sorts of interpretive exhibits detailing the town's history in the disparate worlds of beef production, carousel assembly, and telecommunications.


FORPAZ is the group that takes care of and develops Independence, Kansas' recreational opportunities. For a rural town of less than 10,000, they have quite the history of those. Riverside Park and the Ralph Mitchell Zoo has the history of providing the town's sole astronaut to NASA - Miss Able, a squirrel money. A carousel and train operate for visitors there, in addition to a really gorgeous and huge fountain and a mini golf course.

Topeka is home to two urban parks: Gage Park is home to the Topeka Zoo, Aquatic Center, and Children's Museum, in addition to a carousel and miniature train rides. There's also the living history park Old Praire Town, which offers period realness for guest (even period meals!).

Pools and aquatics facilities were extremely popular additions during the days of the New Deal, and these have often been expanded on throughout the state. Places like the Gardner Aquatic Center, Saline's Kenwood Cove Aquatic Park, Garden City's The Big Pool, Dodge City's Long Branch Lagoon, and Wetlands in Great Bend have all expanded on being traditional pools into being full water parks.


Kansas City, Kansas is home to the Legends Outlets, a massive Kansas-themed shopping complex with a Yellow Brick Road, statues, and facades detailing the history of the state. There's also a T-Rex Cafe here from the good folks at Landry's. This is the second location, with the other being the Disney Springs one in Orlando.

Salina, Kansas is where you can find The Museum at Rolling Hills Wildlife Adventure and all 64,000 square feet of its glory. There are animatronic displays of animal/human interaction and a 360 degree 3D movie to check out in addition to the real animals that are part of the Rolling Hills Zoo (included with admission).


In Liberal, one may visit Land of Oz/Dorothy's House, a small museum and themed attraction dedicated to, what else? - the motion picture "Wizard of Oz." Don't expect anything too grandiose in this, but it is here and it certainly does exist, so why not include it?


As a good Christian led sort of state devoid of lots of people, predictably there are few haunted attractions. Field of Screams in Wichita appears to to be the state's biggest/best, with a 30 minute haunted house and a haunted escape room attraction on site.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Parkscope Unprofessional Podcast Hour #118- Actual Polynesia

Joe, Lane, and Sean return and are joined by our guest Felipe! This week's show covers Volcano Bay, Jimmy Fallon testing, a review of the Celebration of Harry Potter, the Forbidden Forrest rumors, Star Wars and Avatar land opening dates (or years), Rivers of Light, and a quick Marathon Weekends review from Lane.

Email us at parkscopeblog at gmail dot com or follow us at ParkscopeParkscopeJoeParkscopeNick, and/or ParkscopeLane.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Immersive Irony Experience Theme Park Podcast- Epcot Memorial Episode

Our new podcast series hosted by Alan searches his rolodex for friends and industry insiders to talk about the amusement industry. This week's podcast he's joined by Michael, @SuperWeenieHtJr, to discuss Las Vegas, bad coaster designs, the weirdness of Hersheypark, and to eulogize Epcot.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Hidden Rides and Themed Attractions of...Iowa

With borders defined by the Sioux and Mississippi Rivers, Iowa is a classically diverse mix of the urban (Des Moines), suburban, (Ames, Iowa City), and rural (so so much of it). Much of the state consists of prairies converted to agricultural use, which comes with the after effect of needing lots of fairs to display the agricultural goods at. There's also several lakes around which recreational opportunities have been developed. But Iowa is squarely in flyover land, and as such barely gets any time on the internet. What's known about it outside Iowa? Uhhhh.....not really anything specific?

There's one thing that approximates a big park here in Iowa, and that's Adventureland in the Des Moines suburb of Altoona. Constructed at the tail end of the 1970s, Adventureland openly admits that it copies Disneyland in a multitude of ways. The entry of the park is clearly an imitation of Disney's first park, and many aspects like the Skyway also share inspiration from Walt. Past Main Street, the park becomes more or less typical regional amusement park fare, but with a few twists. Custom Coasters International, famed for their wooden coasters, built two rides here that are totally atypical. Outlaw, the anchor at the back of the park, is the only CCI wood coaster designed by Mike Boodley before he left to start his own (still existing) firm, Great Coasters International (GCI). Towards the center of the park is a dark ride/coaster hybrid called The Underground, featuring a rough mining theme and that is actually really cool!

Steel coasters are equally off kilter. There's an OD Hopkins looper (Dragon) that has pulled primarily inverting duty since the 90s, and was joined in 2016 by the first Gerstlauer Infinity Coaster (Monster) in North America. There's an indoor Huss Breakdance style ride at the park. There's the skyride from the Spokane World's Fair of 1974. There's the only miniature version of the Mondial Windseeker rides; it stands only 200ft tall, has fewer seats, and works just about as well as the big ones (e.g. not at all). But  Adventureland's most notable features aren't the rides. Being far enough outside the city to have staffing concerns, the owners constructed an RV park and effectively trade space there for employment with senior citizens. On my only visit in 2014, I was served my tenderloin sandwich by an individual who had gone to Michigan State University (my employer) so long ago, he was the among the first to move into McDonnel Hall. McDonnel Hall opened in 1963. This unorthodox approach has been a huge winner, giving them motivated, friendly, capable staff for eons. In turn, the staff get somewhere to hang out in the summer and something to do. There have been presentations at IAAPA about their idea, but as of yet, they're still the only one taking this unorthodox approach even though it clearly works.

The second most significant amusement related event in the state (and Des Moines) is the Iowa State Fair. Held in August each year, Iowa State Fair ranked #16 on the MCW Top 50 in 2016, pulling over 1 million people in the two weeks it ran. 2017 marks a significant change for the fairgrounds as they transition to an independent midway. With their time frame overlapping with another regional indie midway (Wisconsin), there will be many questions as to what rides wind up coming to Iowa and what go there. What is certain to be there will be the two permanent attractions: a skyride and the venerable Old Mill, one of three century-plus old boat dark rides still operating at fairgrounds in the United States.

Away from Des Moines are a couple of other pieces of great amusement park history. Up north in Lake Okoboji is Arnold's Park, a historic amusement park operated presently by a non-profit community organization. There are a pair of classic indoor attractions (Tipsy House and Bug House) as well as a great old wooden roller coaster recently refurbished by the folks at Great Coasters International. Less known, but very much nearby, is the Boji Bay Fun House and Pavilion. Inside this unusual event center geared for conferences and weddings is a trio of classic fun house attractions; a rotating barrel of fun, a large wooden slide, and an incredibly rare human roulette wheel. The slide is actually open to the public Tuesdays through Fridays, but the rest requires a facility rental.

From here, things get much more obscure very quickly. Mount Pleasant is a town situated a couple of hours south of the Quad Cities. Odds are exceptionally good that you've never heard of it unless you happen to be the kind of person interested in antique farm equipment. Midwest Old Threshers is part county fair, part celebration of antique equipment, part amusement park. There are on-site museums about local industry and vaudeville, a narrow gauge railroad, full-size trolley line, and a carousel. Some of these items run outside just the event itself (there are Halloween and Christmas events!), but doesn't that take some of the fun out of it? If that wasn't enough hot steam train action, way over on the western edge of the state near the Nebraska border is Watson Steam Trains. Rides there on their small Ottaway miniature steam trains are a whopping $2. Nothing like some Good ol' Midwestern pricing.


Like other states in the region already detailed in the series, Iowa features a number of farms that have entered the world of agritourism. Most of these have similar offerings: Corn mazes,hay rides, children's play areas, slides made from large plastic tubing typically constructed for irrigation, and "jumping pillows" - open air trampoline like inflated surfaces for jumping. These include:

Geisler Farms (Bondurant):
Howell's Pumpkins (Cumming):
Iowa Orchard:
The Pumpkin Ranch (Winterset):
The Community Orchard (Fort Dodge):
Deal's Orchard (Jefferson)

The undisputed heavyweight champ of the farms offering family fun is Bloomsburg Farm ( in Atkins. There's a wild west section to their play area, a zipline, a Pumpkin Cannon show (a huge pneumatic cannon used to fire pumpkins), and the Scream Acres halloween haunts throughout the Fall.


-The town of Story City purchased a 1913 Herschell-Spillman carousel, restored it, and operate it during the summer months.

-Blank Park Zoo owns a more modern carousel and is probably the most holistically themed non-historic attraction in the state.

-There are several historic open air museums in Iowa to tickle one's fancy. The National Park Service operates Herbert Hoover National Historic Site and Library, which features a small village to walk around and better grasp the period in the 1800s when Hoover was young. The Pella Vermeer Mill & Historical Village is fairly impressive in scale detailing the migration of Dutch people's to Iowa in the mid-1800s. There's also the Amana Colonies National Historic Landmark...yes, if you've heard of either as being the names for companies making appliances and windows, you kinda know what the industries located in each is.

While we don't typically talk about roller skating here, Iowa does have something that is worth noting. The Skate Palace of Ida Grove looks like a gigantic castle and the inside (based on youtube videos) is the kind of 1950s throwback that is a museum piece just by continuing to exist.