Article by Michael Burkes, GOCC Member

Photos by Michael Burkes and Bob Kilner, GOCC Editor

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Los Angeles, California.  The name says it all. When someone mentions this city, thoughts of blue skies, pleasant temperatures, endless beaches, and Hollywood come to mind. Unfortunately, along with these visions are smog, traffic congestion, endless highways, high prices, and an ever-growing population.  But just west of the downtown area, there is a metropolis with a year-round population of less than 100,000 people. It’s a scenic break from the hustle and bustle of everyday inner-city life. The city is Santa Monica. Within Santa Monica lies an attraction called Santa Monica Pier.  Within Santa Monica Pier lies a two-acre amusement park that is a must-see for anyone who considers themselves an amusement park fan. It has been seen in countless television commercials, TV shows, and movies. It is a major asset to this city and surrounding communities. It’s simply called Pacific Park.

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Pacific Park on the Santa Monica Pier is the perfect destination to take in the scenery and people watch.  The current pier is actually made up of two adjoining piers. There is a long, narrow, municipal pier that carries sewer pipes beyond the breaker.  The short, wide, adjoining pleasure pier to the south, a.k.a. Newcomb Pier, was built in 1916 by Charles I. D. Looff and his son Arthur. The bridge and entry gate to Santa Monica Pier were built in 1938 by the Federal Works Project Administration as part of the New Deal.  This place has long been known for fishing, taking in the sights, and strolling on the beach below.

When it comes to Pacific Park, its slogan says it all: “The family amusement park on the Santa Monica Pier, LA’s only admission-free park.”  That’s right, admission is free and you can either pay one price or pay as you go. The two big attractions here are West Coaster roller coaster and the Pacific Wheel, a large enclosed Ferris Wheel that is located at the end of the pier.

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West Coaster is a full-size junior coaster with a single train consisting of five coaches, each seating a maximum of six passengers, for a top capacity of 30 passengers per ride.  It has a maximum height of 55 feet and reaches a top speed of 35 mph. This is the perfect ride for families because there are no excessive g-forces for passengers to endure. The ride experience is as follows:  Immediately after leaving the station, the coaster train engages the chain lift to ascend the lift hill. At the top of the lift, the coaster will traverse a downward one-and-a-half helix turn. At the bottom of the turn, the coaster goes over a speed hill.  The grand finale is another downward helix encircling the Pacific Wheel and back into the station. That’s it. Now I personally would not fly or drive to California just to ride this, but it is a worthwhile credit and a great coaster for younger enthusiasts looking to move up from kiddie coasters.

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Pacific Park has other rides like a Scrambler, Sea Dragon swing, drop tower, and bumper cars along with some midway games, food outlets and shopping.  A must-see attraction that should not be missed is the carousel. This particular ride is located within the Looff Hippodrome building, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.  Both attractions were memorable sets featured in the movie “The Sting,” although the story was set in Chicago.

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Besides the movie “The Sting,” some other motion pictures that were shot here were “Elmer Gantry” in 1960, “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” in 1969, “Farewell My Lovely” in 1975, “1941” in 1979, “A Night at the Roxbury” in 1998, and “Her” in 2013.  Pacific Park has also made its mark on television, appearing on “The Mod Squad,” “The Rockford Files,” “Charlie’s Angels,” “Three’s Company,” “Star Trek: Voyager,” and in animated form on “South Park.” Finally, the Pier also appears in the book series, “The Dark Artifices” by Cassandra Clare.

Late evening to nightfall is probably the best time to visit Pacific Park because the facility, as well as the pier, are brightly lit.  It’s the perfect time to embrace the ambiance of this long-standing institution. So, when visiting Southern California, check out what beachfront amusement parks were like in the past, as well as today.  Come to Pacific Park and imagine yourself 50+ years ago. It is definitely worth your time to visit an amusement park that has the charm and feel of what amusement parks were like.

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Article by Brandon Perkins, GOCC Member
Photos courtesy of Universal Orlando


Hagrids Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure 1

Universal Studios has a history of record-setting attendance and revenue with their Harry Potter themed lands and attractions. The design of these magical lands is quintessential, making visitors feel as if they are right in the movies themselves. The disparity and distinctiveness of these lands appeal to a vast range of people. From roller coaster enthusiasts to the general public to diehard Harry Potter fans; the large majority of visitors are impressed by the detail and attractions found in the recreations of Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. 

Nonetheless, when Universal Studios Orlando announced that a new roller coaster would be coming to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in July of 2017, suspicion and a lot of preliminary excitement were aroused. The resort waited nearly a YEAR AND A HALF before announcing any details, letting people try to predict and anticipate what the next great Harry Potter-themed attraction might be.

Construction could be seen in the park, where the former Dragon Challenge closed in September 2017. In late 2018, the park finally released details about the ride, which was met with huge enthusiasm and excitement. It was revealed that the ride, produced by Intamin of Switzerland, would have a 2-minute 55-second duration, a 70-degree vertical angle, a 17-feet drop, 5,053-feet of track and a maximum speed of 50 miles per hour. The ride cost $300 million to manufacture and install. Leading up to its opening, Universal described the ride as, “a highly-themed roller coaster that will take us into a different corner of the wizarding world, where guests will encounter some of their favorite characters and creatures.”

Early this year, the opening day was finally announced for June 13, 2019. The new roller coaster opened with a ceremony, featuring popular characters of the Harry Potter series in attendance to celebrate the attraction. Despite a lot of kinks that needed to be worked out, fans and other patrons waited upwards of 10-12 hours to ride over the first few days the ride operated.  For a while, Universal was opening the coaster later in the day to give the techs time to work out the glitches early in the morning. WIth a ride system so complex, it was clearly going to take a bit to get it up and going with minimal downtime, but they seem to have it running quite well roughly three months into its lifespan in the park.

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The ride experience starts with a pre-show in which Rubeus Hagrid (the groundskeeper and Keeper of the Keys at Hogwarts) takes Muggles (people without magical ability) through a Care of Magical Creatures class. He procures the help of Arthur Weasley to duplicate Hagrid’s magical flying motorbike to take it into the Forbidden Forest (an untamed forest on the grounds of Hogwarts school that is home to magical creatures). The motorbike is successfully copied. Then, Fang (Hagrid’s giant-yet-cowardly pet boarhound) releases cornish pixies and takes Arthur’s wand, burning the motorbike, causing it to explode. 

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The ride then takes Muggles on a magical journey through the Forbidden Forest on Rubeus Hagrid’s motorcycle. 

Each motorbike plays music composed by John Williams for the Harry Potter films. The vehicle is modeled to closely resemble Hagrid’s motorcycle, with 7 rows and 2 passengers in each row. There is a total of 14 passengers per motorbike.  Interestingly, each row has one seat that resembles a motorcycle, handles and all and a second, slightly lower seat that resembles the sidecar. From reviews, it would appear the two seats offer a fairly different experience in terms of the feeling of the ride elements themselves.

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During the ride, you come face-to-face with several creatures of the Harry Potter world. You will travel as fast as 50 miles per hour encountering Fluffy the three-headed dog, cornish pixies, Devil’s Snare, a centaur, and the Blast-Ended Skrewt, which was never featured in the Harry Potter films but did appear in the books.

The ride includes not one, not four, but SEVEN launches! This statistic is very impressive and markets the ride as the roller coaster with the most launches in the entire world, as of September 2019. It features a 17-foot free-fall vertical drop, making it the second coaster in the world to do so after Verbolten at Busch Gardens Williamsburg. In addition, it is the longest roller coaster in Florida at 5,053-feet. The ride features a catapult 65-feet in the air up a spike at a 70-degree angle followed by a reverse section of track.

When the ride was built, Universal knew they would probably not be able to get the main trio together to film again, as many of them have “moved on from Potter” in their own words.  Choosing to use the Hagrid motorbikes and the Forbidden Forest setting was a perfect match for what they were working with. 

In closing, Universal Studios did a wonderful job on this attraction! Even if you aren't a Harry Potter fan, the ride is thrilling for all ages.

Other than some general information, I didn’t want to give any spoilers for those who have yet to experience the attraction themselves.

Until the queue line is less than 4 hours,  here’s a POV video if you want to see the ride for yourself.

Video courtesy of The Potter Collector on YouTube.

Article by Michael Burkes, Photos by Michael Burkes and Bob Kilner

Traveling east on Interstate 64 or south on State Route 52, you come to Huntington, West Virginia.  The city of nearly 50,000 people has a hilly terrain, curvaceous roads and beautiful scenery. In other words, paradise for a photographer like me.

Within the realms of this region lies the state’s only amusement park.  Like Quassy Amusement Park in Middlebury, Connecticut, this park is/was a trolley park.  However, instead of being at the end of the line, this park was unusual in that it was built where riders traveling between Huntington and nearby cities would stop to change lines.  It has been around for over 115 years and you will know when you have arrived when you see a huge clown entrance sign point the way to the parking lot. With rides, picnics and fun for all, you have arrived at Camden Park.

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Camden Park was established as a picnic spot by the Camden Interstate Railway Company and is named after former West Virginia Senator Johnson N. Camden.  The park’s first mechanical ride was a carousel that was built around 1903. In 1912, the first roller coaster was added. After a couple of owners came and went, Camden came into the hands of J. P. Boylin, whose family continues to operate the park and its attractions to this day.  The facility boasts more than 30 rides and attractions and features a variety of events throughout its season, including “Hot Summer Nights” concert series, “Children’s Fest” and Coca Cola days, just to name a few.

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The main reason that many visit Camden Park are for the coasters.  There are only three and while not that large, two of them are of significant importance.  These three coasters are the Big Dipper, the Lil’ Dipper and Slingshot. Two wood and one steel.  

The Big Dipper, Camden’s prize possession came on the scene in 1958. It replaced the first coaster at the park after it was torn down a year prior.  It is one of only three National Amusement Devices coasters still in existence. Like Thunderbolt at Kennywood, it features Century Flyer cars with working headlights and the coaster follows a classic figure-eight design.  The single train is three coaches long which can hold a maximum of six riders each, for a maximum of eighteen riders per dispatch. The ride’s name refers to the large initial dip after the first turnaround that measures the full height of the coaster.  There is a second shallower dip that leads to a long, enclosed tunnel from which the train emerges shortly before returning to the loading station.

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The Lil’ Dipper was also manufactured by National Amusement Devices.  It has one train with five coaches that can each hold two riders, for a maximum of ten riders per dispatch.  The structure itself is made of steel but the track is wood. If any of the old heads in this club remember, the defunct Geauga Lake had a similar model in their Kiddieland many years ago.  

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The last coaster is Slingshot.  Manufactured by the SBF Visa Group, this model is a figure-eight spinning coaster.  Similar models can be found at parks like Beech Bend and Silverwood.

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A fun fact about Camden Park that might be of interests to many Ohio coaster enthusiasts – Kings Island’s famous shuttle loop coaster known as “Screamin’ Demon” and later just “Demon” was relocated to Camden Park after being taken out of Kings Island in 1987. It was one of the first shuttle loop coasters that went forward and backward through a 360-degree loop.  It opened for the 1988 season next to the Skyliner Sky Ride and lasted for 11 seasons before it had to close permanently due to a circuit board malfunction.

In addition to coasters, Camden Park offers a decent selection of flat rides and children’s rides, many of which are of a vintage nature. Those rides include a Whip, Tilt-a-Whirl, Paratrooper, Dodgems, Scrambler and Flying Scooters.  The ride lineup also includes a miniature train, log flume, carousel, and haunted house, which is one of two gravity-fed pretzel rides remaining in the United States.

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So, if you happen to be traveling to or passing through West Virginia on an amusement park excursion, stop on in to Camden Park.  Don’t worry, it won’t bite you. It will be nice to venture out of your comfort zone and realize not every amusement park has to be so huge and overwhelming in order to have a good time.  Remember big things do come in small packages.

Written by Michael Burkes, GOCC Member and Contributor to The Streak

Hersheypark, the grande dame of eastern Pennsylvania and what has become the “Sweetest Place on Earth”.  A bastion of good times and great memories for everyone who steps upon its grounds, the park will be forever enchanted with its charm and grace.  From 1906 to 1970, this facility was like many other amusement parks throughout the country. A traditional green space that evolved into a major entertainment center, with rides and picnic grounds for patrons from near and far to visit, relax, and have the time of their lives.

In the early 1970’s, Hersheypark decided to begin their transition into a full-fledged theme park and from that point until 2019, the five distinct areas that originally made up the park became two and then two became one.  Starting in 2020, something brand new will take over exactly what brought this park a unique quality that in my mind, will be missed dearly. This post will concentrate on the areas that will be greatly affected by this change, including the picturesque scenery that will be severely altered in the years to come to keep up with the so-called times.

The theme areas that are being affected by this change were once known as Tudor Square, Rhineland, Carrousel Circle, Der Deitsch Platz (The Pennsylvania Dutch Place)/Animal Garden and finally, Music Box Way.  As the years progressed, these themed areas were changed to Founders Way and Founder’s Circle, then finally changed again to just Founder’s Way, celebrating Milton S. Hershey.

Tudor Square was the first land guests would enter as they came to Hersheypark. It was technically located outside the main gate.  Marked by a drawbridge and a tall guard tower, this land showcased classic English Architecture with steep pitch roofs and half-timbered framing.  These buildings were not facades with decorative fronts and non-descript backs. The buildings themselves were decorated with little motifs to give that extra European English flavor. The narrow walkways that sloped downward were lined with full-sized trees.  There was also a full-size restaurant where kids could eat with the park mascots, as well as a candy store, a retail souvenir store, guest relations building and restrooms. All of these structures lead to the grand castle, or in layman’s terms, the front gate.  

After entering the park, you were in Rhineland, a recreation of an 18th century German Village.  Like outside of the front gate, these buildings were also full-sized with half-timbered designs and steep roofs.  However, each of these buildings housed only souvenir shops or refreshment stands. The most striking building in this area of the park was a steeple-style tower that had a painted façade of a knight about to slay a dragon with the year 1432 written on it.  This area was laid on an upslope with narrow winding walkways, strategically-placed trees and stairs and at times can be very steep to maneuver.

At the top of the hill was an area called Carrousel Circle.  When you entered this land, it was the first place in the park where you would encounter amusement rides.  It was also home to the park’s Grand Carrousel, which was surrounded by several other kiddie and family rides. It was also in this section that patrons would see two, three and possibly four major roller coasters: Comet and Skyrush would definitely be in view along with the small bits of the tops of Great Bear and SooperDooperLooper.

What was notable about Rhineland and Carrousel Circle were three rides and attractions that were located here but were removed long before the new renovation was even thought of.  In the Rhineland section at the top of the hill and a little off to the left was one end of a Von Roll SkyRide station (similar to Cedar Point’s model) that took passengers over to a theme land called Kissing Tower Hill.  In front of the Grand Carrousel stood an attraction called Star Light Plaza. A lighted decorative circular structure placed on a concrete slab where famous persons had their names, footprints and handprints encased within the concrete.  Within Carrousel Circle to the left of the carousel stood the Intamin Giant Wheel, a double-arm wheel where twelve gondolas holding four to eight passengers were carried skyward for views of the park and surrounding areas. The placement of both the Giant Wheel and Skyride made it seem as if the cars were going to crash into other nearby rides and trees but there was ample clearance.

The last two lands were Der Deitsch Platz/Animal Garden and Music Box Way.  Der Deitsch Platz was a barn where the Craftbarn restaurant, Get the Picture Souvenir Photo Stand, a Subway franchise and a small petting zoo were located.  As the years came and went, this barn was more aligned with Carrousel Circle than a lone entity. Music Box Way is/was home to a musical venue as well as a loading station for the monorail and a couple of flat rides.

All these lands were separate destinations at Hersheypark until 2014, when they all merged into Founder’s Way.  The quaintness was still there, but the individual names were gone. So, when 2020 arrives, a brand-new look will come across this wonderful land of chocolate.  The new section of the park will be called appropriately enough, Chocolatetown. This section of the park will feature the largest themed restaurant, bar and patio in Hershey, a 10,000-square-foot flagship boutique store, an ice cream parlor, a 2,200 square foot Starbucks store, a kettle corn location that will be the largest at Hersheypark and the grand finale, a Bollinger and Mabillard hypercoaster.

For coaster and amusement park fans, we will all have to wait for 2020.  How will all these changes take hold and how will the park look? Only time will tell.  We all look forward to the new Bollinger and Mabillard coaster coming and fortunately the sweet smell of chocolate will not be eliminated from our senses.  Let’s all hope with ever growing enticement that Hersheypark will keep its charm but also expand its grandiose nature! Good fortune to you Hersheypark.