Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Hidden Rides and Themed Attractions of...Alaska

By going alphabetical, that forces this series to go to some of the most difficult places in North America to chart out general weirdness and mystery right from the start. Alaska, America's 49th state, is the largest, the most sparsely populated, and home to the most inclimate weather of any of the Nation's wide reaching claims. Vast, often daunting wilderness is interspersed with few large population centers. And yet, even here, one might find some excitement.


The Alaska Central Railroad, also known as Alaska Live Steamers, is the classic example of dudes who love trains a whole lot and want to share that love with you. Since these guys often construct vast themed miniature zones around their trains and since no one hates a train ride, how could this not be included? This can be found in Wasilia, known to us in the lower 48 as the home base for Sarah Palin.


Out in the hinterlands, it is often cheaper to employ local younginz an put masks on them than buy rides, ship them north, and get a bunch of spare parts to replace as they break down. As such, throughout places that seemingly shouldn't have anything, one can almost always find haunted houses. Fairbanks Asylum is the furthest outbound of these, located in the state's northern most urban landscape. News reports suggest the fire marshall almost kept it from opening last year, but open it did to throngs of hundreds. It isn't a big metro area, OK? Closer to actual populations of people, Gateways to Darkness, located in Wasilia, is probably the largest and most professional haunt option the state has. Anchorage is also home to Fright Night in the Northway Mall.

If professional haunts sound lame, then look for the Alaska Pacific University Haunted House, held only on the last weekend of October on the campus in Gould ("Ghould") Hall. It is free for residents with a request for canned food donations and things of that nature. If you happen to be in Anchorage at that time, why not drop in? Worst case scenario is that you give to a good cause.


With no permanent amusement parks to speak of in Alaska, the only option for going on rides powered by a motor (outside of scenic trains and boats) is to go to one of the fairs bouncing around. All the fairs in Alaska are basically serviced by one of two companies: Golden Wheel Amusements and A-1 Midway. A-1 Midway is also your sole provider of mechanical rides in the Yukon and Northwestern Territories of Canada, making either of these companies' attractions among the most rarely seen rides by Anglospeakers in North America. Both have fairly similar lineups consisting of common single trailer attractions like the Chance Zipper and Eli Wheel.

There are some rarities, though. A-1's include a rare Chance Toboggan roller coaster and even more rare portable Chance Slingshot drop tower (possibly the only one!). The Toboggan coaster is the largest roller coaster that operates north of the 54° parallel in North America, and it is a pretty strange beast if you’ve never seen one prior. The ride vehicle is entirely enclosed and travels to the top of the ride via a vertical tubular lift before spiralling down around the outside. The original appeared at Dogpatch USA way back in 1968, and this particular model is one of two still traveling in the United States.

EDIT: @Canobiefan offers a correction on the prior locations of Chance Slingshots:
"The tower at Frontier City, was actually the chance product and so was the now removed one from Martin's Fantasy Island. Family Kingdom and Adventuredome have portable models of the Chance crap too and OCMD (Ocean City, Maryland; and yes, its gone -AC) had one in 07 when I was there but don't remember seeing it this summer."

Golden Wheel may not own an adult coaster, but they do have a pair of kiddie ones (Wacky Worm and Orient Express advertised on their site) along with a fairly rare Wisdom Rave. The Rave is a resuscitation of the Rotor rides popularized in Germany and imported to the US by Chance in the 50s. The Alaska State Fair, with rides provided by A-1, is the largest event, and is held at the end of August each year for two weeks. Even rarer than the rides from the carnival company though are rides aboard the Allan Herschell carousel located at Haines, AK’s fairgrounds. As fairgrounds owned rides often go, it operates only during the dates of the fair.


Pioneer Park in Fairbanks is indicative of a scenario that plays itself out many times when we get far away from big population bases: local government recognizes need for people to enjoy themselves, helps subsidize it to keep people with families from leaving. There’s a Spillman carousel along with train and boat rides, mini golf, and several museums located on the grounds.


H20asis is the state's lone indoor water park, and it isn't a big surprise that there are only a couple slides and small lazy river/pools. There is a 505 foot Master Blaster slide, making H20asis the home of Alaska's lone permanent "coaster". There are aquatics centers in Fairbanks and Juneau, but they're pretty far from being any kind of destination.


Finally, in the "Does it even operate?" File, America's one and only human powered ferris wheel can be found in Butte, AK. If you've never seen video of one before, go scout around Youtube and you'll find stuff like this:

Well, kinda. It doesn't look anything like that. There's no website, no address anywhere, but with the magic of Google Maps, I can tell you it’s at the intersection of Old Glenn Hwy and E Northbridge Rd heading north out of Butte and into Palmer. Check it out for yourself on street view.

1 comment:

  1. Uh, the WWF pile driver tower in Niagara Falls was not a chance slingshot but a Zamp Big Ben / Z Force. A much, much superior ride to the chance slingshot.
    The ride at Frontier City, was indeed the chance built ride. Martin's Fantasy Island also had the permanent park model (Adventuredome has a portable model inside)