Friday, September 30, 2016

109- Lane's European Vacation

Joe, Lane, Mike, and Nick are here to defeat pollution and also talk about SeaWorld 2017 plans, The Repository, Mardis Gras, and a huge trip report from Lane's massive three week European trip.

Email us at parkscopeblog at gmail dot com or follow us at ParkscopeParkscopeJoeCaptMichael87ParkscopeNick, and/or Lane.

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.

Friday, September 23, 2016

108- Have a Yuengling

Joe is joined by Kenny from In the Loop and we go off the rails for the first 10 minutes talking about beer and baseball stadiums. Sorry. Then we jump into Mean Streak, Food & Wine, Tower of Terror at DCA, seasonal Stitch, Toothsome, Halloween Horror Nights, and your questions!

Email us at parkscopeblog at gmail dot com or follow us at ParkscopeParkscopeJoeCaptMichael87ParkscopeNick, and/or Lane.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Hidden Rides and Themed Attractions of...Alabama

For the first entry in the series, we go alphabetical and start with the Heart of Dixie. Like much of the American South, Alabama doesn't have that great a history of theme and amusement parks. The trolley systems that birthed the American amusement park in the north simply didn't exist down in the South due to a wide array of reasons, many of which were sociological. There's little in the way of footage or archival pictures on the internet from the parks which we know existed. Mostly black and white images of Alabama State Fair's Kiddieland (a permanent carnival on the fairgrounds) are all that is available to us today. Within the state, there may indeed be as many amusement centers open now as any other time in history.


In the "Bizarre Park" category, DeSoto Caverns Family Fun Park probably ranks right up there. There's a number of self powered rides as well as more classic rides like the Tubs O Fun and Bumper Cars. Want to drive a scooter made from a bathtub? How about one from a toilet? You don't need to take my word for it. Not with the internet around.

Seriously; this is what happens when people don’t allow a lack of resources to keep them from trying to do something interesting. The world needs more, not less, of this.


Gulf Shores Parkway has some notoriety among coaster nerds thanks to the off-the-beaten-path Waterville USA wood coaster. An early product of Custom Coasters Inc., it’s an out and back ride with the old school single “buzz bar” restraints. There’s  some other fairly generic amusements in the area and a small zoo. Not far from Gulf Shores is the resort town of Orange Beach, home to a 112 ft tall Technical Park Ferris Wheel.


In 1970, Point Mallard Park in Decatur, Alabama opened an attraction that is now a staple of most large aquatics facilities and water parks. It was, in fact, the key inspiration behind Sea World founder George Millay's decision to birth the water park industry as we know it and construct Wet N'Wild. Of course, I'm talking about the wave pool.

Not to get ahead of ourselves here, but there is another claimant to this throne that we'll note in a future installment, but this is the one Millay saw. Today there's a small water park on site along with the wave pool. It is geared for residents, but still open for anyone to visit.


It would be impossible for me to do this sort of thing for Alabama and not note scare zones/mazes, as there are actually quite a few and some have ingenious titles. I mean, seriously: Haunted Chicken House.

Don’t even pretend that it doesn’t appeal to you on some level. Sloss Fright Furnace also sounds kinda rad, though it should be noted that I’m a sucker for repurposed industrial anything.

Terrortorium 2015 from King Power Cinema on Vimeo.

However, by far the most interesting to me is The Terrortorium of Oxford, Alabama. Why this one in particular? Well, for starters, there’s an actual ride - and what a ride! The Haunted Castle, a Bill Tracy dark ride of 60s vintage from Miracle Strip Amusement Park in Panama City, FL was in danger after the park closed and was sold to developers. This place purchased it and operates it during the busy Halloween season along with several scare mazes.


Organizations like the Lions and Shriners aren’t usually associated with amusement rides or parks, but on occasion, they play an integral role in providing amusements to the community. Take, for example, the Athens Shriners Kiddie Carnival. For one week a year, their small collection of mostly used rides gets fired up for the youngsters. Prices are cheap - sure, no Pirates of the Caribbean here, but it provides a sort of service to the community when start up costs for something more grandiose put it out of reach. The Sertomans also ran a similar park in Huntsville, but closed it down and sold the rides to the still operating Southern Adventures.


Tannehill Ironworks Historical State Park is home to a number of attractions like a grist mill and some historical blast furnaces, but there's also a miniature railway - looks like a Chance built CP Huntington to me.

Muscle Shoals is a great name for a city, and the metro area is home to Spring Park. There’s a few carnival rides, a Chance CP Huntington train providing rides, and a dancing fountain show at night.

Huntsville Historic Depot doesn't offer any mechanical rides, but does offer an animatronic show about its history.

Cullman County Fairgrounds is the only one with anything notable that is operational only for the fair, and it is mini golf.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Hidden Rides and Themed Attractions of America (Introduction)

Over a period of, well, I don’t even know how long, I’ve played with the idea of providing some sort of column to my friends over at Parkscope. There’s plenty of opinion pieces and photo blogging in the world today, and honestly, I find that stuff kinda lousy. I’ve reached a point long ago when I look to call a very specific and small group of people when they’ve done something that interests me to find out their opinion, and I’m not really interested in hearing anyone else’s. I’m old and insular and resistant to change. I’ve also come to accept that most people aren’t really that interested in my opinion unless I’m willing to yell louder than everyone around me. Why do that? Amusement parks are supposed to be fun. Theme parks (which are almost all amusement parks anyhow) are supposed to be fun. Why holler into the void?

Food stand at Junction Valley Railroad; Bridgeport, Michigan
Rather than take the bait and provide the kind of rage echo content so many desire, I thought that there had to be something I could do that would be constructive. I like rides - all of them, all kinds. Not just slow moving dark rides past corporate approved imagery, but ramshackle stuff people with dreams and no money managed to hammer together on their spare time at work. Classic flat rides of which few examples remain but no one realizes it. Unique or rare roller coasters, transportation attractions, strange haunted amusements; all that stuff is awesome, some of it basically a style of folk art which could be eliminated with a few adjustments in civil tort law.

Goldfield Ghost Town; Apache Junction, Arizona
But frankly, there’s nowhere to go to find information about much of these rides and attractions. It’s splayed out across the internet, sometimes “off the grid” of Google and Tripadvisor searches. Anyone who’s gone looking should already know about the basics, and if they don’t, well, this is them:

-Roller Coaster Database (RCDB): Duane Marden has been maintaining this, the most comprehensive census of any style of amusement ride in existence, for many moons. As of the time that I write this, 7856 roller coasters have been cataloged from historical records to whenever they’re discovered to be operating anywhere on Earth. In some cases, Duane holds the only keys to the knowledge we have of regional amusement park scenes in places you can scarcely imagine ever having had one.

-National Carousel Association Database: I’ll make this short - the National Carousel Society has effectively seemed to have won the schism among Carousel fanatics, and that’s good for you because they were the guys who wanted the carousels to run for the public, and the other side was more about preserving the horses as pieces of art by not having people ride them. Think ecology vs. conservation. Anyhow, the NCA keeps a very good and detailed database of permanent carousels in the United States with information about carving house, date of construction, type, number of rows, et al.

-Dark Ride and Funhouse Enthusiasts Attractions List: The club known as DAFE is almost comically unknown to the Disney dark ride fans in spite of being the one club in the US dedicated primarily to dark rides. In fairness, DAFE’s interest is less in the Disney style and more in the classic Pretzel/Tracy/etc styles that are increasingly rare. The attractions list is horribly out of date; perhaps Parkscope will soon be home to a more up-to-date one? (Stay tuned.)

Funicular, Hillbilly Golf; Gatlinburg, Tennessee
Because I don’t want to necessarily duplicate efforts, the majority of the posts I hope to make as part of this series will touch on attractions not necessarily brought up by those (sometimes) comprehensive lists or add some color and background to what may otherwise be a very two dimensional picture consisting of statistic regurgitation. Hopefully you, the reader, learn something, and maybe even find out about a ride or attraction near to you which you didn’t know about before, or maybe just didn’t appreciate qualities of. It might not get as much play as pictures of cupcakes over the long run, but I’d rather make something I’m proud of than make something just to get attention. Hopefully it’ll find an audience with you.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

107- Lets Talk About Six Flags?

Joe, Lane, and Nick talk about Six Flag's batch of announcements, Universal Orlando annual pass price increases, how Volcano Bay could fit into the new pricing structure, and Halloween Horror Nights. It's a quick one folks!

Email us at parkscopeblog at gmail dot com or follow us at ParkscopeParkscopeJoeCaptMichael87ParkscopeNick, and/or Lane.