Sep 8, 2021, 12:21:03 AMSep 8
TR: Camden Park
September 4, 2021
“Old School Charm, and unusual ride features”
The Backstory: As anybody that has followed my ramblings for the past 25 years or so may know a few things about me. One, due to certain vision issues, I cannot drive. Secondly, for the past 20- years or so, I have maintained a network of friends, one of which I met maybe 25 years ago, Dave Althoff, Jr. Beyond coasters we stay in touch year round, and in a random conversation, Dave mentioned wanting to get back to Waldameer again this season. Knowing Dave likes to do his park visits on Sundays (“Nobody goes to parks on Saturdays, it’s too darned crowded”) , I slid in a self-invitation that if he chose the Sunday of Labor Day weekend I’d see wht I could do about getting to and from Columbus. Well, as things worked out, he did decide on Waldameer for Sunday, and I had sourced a way to Columbus. Then the wheels started turning, what if he went to Kings Island on Friday, then he could get me Friday night and we could do Camden Park on Saturday. Having not been to either park, I, of course, was salivating at the thought. Camden Park is equidistant from either my house or Dave’s is just that we are also a fair distance from each other. Well, then we had Hurricane Ida to look after, and all told, Dave said he would go to Cedar Point on Friday, and he would get me Saturday, and if timing looked good, we’d go to Camden.
So its Saturday, and Dave comes to get me at 1:45, its two and half to three hours to Camden Park, but they are slated to be open until 9, and as Dave said, you don’t exactly need a long time to see the park,. So we head out to the east, and as it turns out , our timing was just about perfect. We only made a couple rest stops along the way, one of those at a gas station just down the road from the park where Dave strongly advised taking care of any restroom needs there, rather than at the park. It should be noted that gas station restrooms have generally improved over the years as the stations focus on being the travelers go to for anything they may require during their trip.
Accordingly we are pulling into Camden Park by their iconic vintage clown sign right around 4:40. A quick stop to pay a $5 parking fee and we park the car in a nice close up space and head to the ticket booth. I do mean ticket booth singular. There was a crowd at the booth, but as we deduced from their matching shirts this they would all be one transaction, and they were. We get to the booth and are very happy we did not take the park up on its offer to send $17 to their Pay Pal account, then bring the Pay Pal confirmation to the park in what must be a convoluted online ordering process, as we learned that since we arrived after 4:30 we get Starlight admission, all this for $9.99 + taxes. That’s right an amusement park admission that includes the rides for under $10. We pay our admissions and get a green ticket which , we continue a few feet further to the main gate and hand back in.
Immediately to the left upon entering the gate it Kiddieland, but we keep heading straight past the rental center and come to what passes as the midway in these here parts. Straight ahead of us is the gift shop. We make a left hand turn, and on my left is a row of food stands, then the Haunted House, then the pizza stand, ending with the carousel. To the right is a bunch of trees with a ramp on either side them, some benches and ACE landmark sign which I suppose serves as the sign for the Big Dipper. If you peek up above the trees you can see the Big Dipper just peeking out over the trees. Yes, this is the parks major roller coaster. IT’s right up front by the main gate. It’s not the world’s –est anything, standing at a modest 50 feet high and sporting a 35 foot biggest drop, its barely bigger than the mid-sized junior coasters. But, it is a rare example of a surviving NAD (Dayton, OH) Vaszin designed coaser. Like most of the parks rides, the gates or ramps are marked with simply large IN or OUT signs, we got the left hand ramp marked IN and start up to the station. It’s a very simple station completely hidden in the trees. Two ramps come down flanking the park benches and ACE sign. Both ramps go up towards the station, turn and then meet roughly in the center of the station. On the load end of the station the near side of the station is taken up by a queue area, the unload side has a wide unload platform in this space,. Between unload and load there is a wooden board with a bunch of holes in it apparently for the cotton candy I didn’t see anybody having. When you get to the head of the line, there is a gate and maybe a one and a half person wide walkway down the side of the train. No seat lanes, this is first come first served. Much like most of the day, the wait would usually be to wait for the next train, maybe 1 more, the longest we waited was a 3 train wait.
The train waiting for me, well it’s an authentic NAD Century Flyer. The front grill work looks to be mostly intact, it has headlights in the sockets but they don’t appear to function. It’s a 3 car, 3 bench train, and for my first ride, I hop into seat 8. I noted seat 9 has been gutted, no seat, and perhaps even no lapbar. Dave reports that seat 9 has been missing for years. With it being a NAD train, the single operator first has to count off people and let them onto the platform, then close the gate, cross over to the other side of the platform, go to each car and lock the lapbars in each car manually. No issues with the lap bar. There is only an opening on the one side, and the seat, the back, and the sides are nicely padded, there is even a knee pad in front of you. Imagine that, a coaster train that looks like it was built with rider comfort in mind.
Ok, so how is it. Well let’s take the ride element by element. You leave the station and make a turn to the right to the lift hill that cuts diagonally across the structure. During you climb up the lift you are treated to the train rocking from side to side leaving a lingering feeling of just how well is it connected to the track. When you ride in the front seat, you can actually see the lift chain twisting back and forth. Coming off the lift, the first drop is a tease, only a few shallow feet deep and back up, then a turnaround back to the left, for the first return run you go straight along the midway, down the second (and main) drop, here back car riders get a blast of ejector air, front car riders get a floater to moderate air, back up then another shallow dip, and turnaround to the left again continuing straight on the second pass, its down a nice drop and a couple hills that set up a totally weird part where your coaster cars are rocking violently back and forth. Premier Rides could never figure out the subway stair drop for their coasters in 2005, but Camden Park figured it out in the 1950s. The second outbound pass ends with an unhill climb into a long dark tunnel that covers the whole turnaround (to the left) and even part of the drop off the turnaround (those headlights could have showed off here). For the fourth pass it’s another diagonal crossover with the rides final dips and up into the brake run where the train comes in with a nice bit of speed behind it until slowed down, and then brought into the unload area where a track mounted mechanism releases the lap bars as you enter unload. (Don’t worry they thought about station blow-through with an automatic re-locker on the other end. ) Technically the operator need not ever leave the controls, so long as the lap bars are all the way down they will automatically lock as you leave the station, and release as you enter the station. I doubt any park would operate it that way in the modern. day.
The operators control area consists of three big floor levers to control the various brakes (Back, unload and load), with a rope loop that goes over one of them to prevent it from releasing itself, also a red box with a trolley handle that apparently controls the lift chain. As we head down the unload ramp, Dave asks me “When is the last time you were that scared on a rollercoaster?” “Williams Grove Cyclone!” It should also be noted the parks locker rental is also right t the Big Dipper exit. I also hear tale that the coater has been rehabbed, as in parts of the structure used to visibly shift as the train went by.
Leaving the coaster, we cross the midway to the other side. Here a wooden façade ominously greets us as we approach the Haunted Mansion. It looks fittingly for its location Appalachian in theme outsie, and after maybe a 10 person wait, we make our way through the small queue area. I note the usual large riders may not be able to ride, but also a large riders may have to ride alone. Fine by me. The front of the structure is dominated by a huge painting of the devil, under the devil you can see both a lift hill in the background, as well as a coaster like dip in front of it, sure other dark rides have a small dip in front, but this is much deeper. You load in the front left corner as viewed from the midway. I take a seat, and notice the car seems to be mounted on a single point and is free to tilt from side to side and again gives you pause about how well the car is connected to the track. There are no restraints, just a grab bar. You fist make a turnaround to the right and before you go inside, you first pass the ride safety warnings and then go up the lift hill. At the top you make a turn to the right and you may notice the track is on a constant but very slight slope down through this part. You peer out overlooking the midway before a turnaround to the right and then a tur to the left sends you down the drop and back p, you then turn right and actually enter the dark ride proper. From there it is a bunch of incoherent scenes, the kind that light up as you go by, and you do go by at a fast rate of speed. You see this is a Pretzel gravity dark ride, so after the lift hill, your car is being powered purely by gravity the rest of the ride. The track layout is known for its numerous hairpin turns, which are both thrilling as well as help bleed off some speed. Ah, maybe the cars are supposed to tilt to the sides to help with the lateral forces. After a minute or so, all good things must come to an end where you exit the building and the unload operator grabs a hold of cart to stop it while making a menacing growl. Exit to the left and down the ramp.
From there, let’s see the rest of what the park has to offer. Passing the carousel, we note the Paratrooper has enough riders so we skip it, stopping at the Slingshot. In this case the Slingshot is one of those compact figure 8 spinning coasters that are popping up everywhere. I grimace but proceed on to the ride despite the posted weight limit. Sit down on seat that’s clearly not meant of a person of my stature, as in that’s not even comfortable. While I did get the lap bar to lock, the seatbelt was just a bit too short. So it’s a no go for me, and I get Walk of Shamed, but unlike a lot of parks that offer a scripted “apology”, at least here the operator tried to make it sound sincere. I watch Dave a rather lackluster ride, and he comments that’s its not a great ride.
Now let’s review – the Haunted House – has lift hill, and you are in a cart that completes the course purely gravity fed, that sounds like a roller coaster, but technically isn’t, the Slingshot, it gets boosted by booster wheels every time through the station on its multiple circuit ride, but despite being powered at regular intervals throughout the ride is considered a roller coaster. I’m so confused, but then if I am counting the Blauer Enzians I have been on as coasters, I guess this counts as well.
We keeping walking back along the side of the Big Dipper, the last ride is Rampage, one of those compact inverting spinning pendulum rides that are also popping up all over, and that I also don’t fit on. At this point we have reached the end of this arm of the midway. We have to backtrack through the park, taking a ride on Big Dipper on the way. This time I am in seat 7 instead of 8. 7 features everything seat 8 does including a heavy dose of roughness, man that was brutal. Dave suggests maybe that is why Seat 9 is no longer there.
We pass the gift shop, then to the left is another branch off the midway, this one has the Flying Scooter, Scrambler, arcade, toy store and cafeteria. The buildings did not appear to be open, and we skipped this arm for now. Then there is a fenced off circle area, as in tall stockade fencing, which I am told hides the remains of the Spider ride, then in better news a big pavilion stricture which houses a Whip. An 8 car Mangels Whip, once a park staple all over, getting rare if the state you are in is not Pensylvania. Oh sure the kids versions are still doing strong the adult versions not so much. This one is sporting festive decals on the cars so this ride is clearly well loved. Today the queue area was blocked off, and it looks like they had us enter through the old exit, and a new exit is on the other side. I assume its new as the operator safety spiel went out of its way to point out the exit was now on the other side. I’m not at Lesourdsville Lake anymore am I. They also had this exact same model, but only ran it may half to three quarters as fast. So bad we used to mockingly call it The String instead of The Whip. This one at Camden however runs like it should. We thought it maybe even be better than the larger models like at Kennywood as you have less down time where you are just chugging along the sides waiting for the ends.
Leaving the Whip, Dave points out we are on the next area, headlined by the Whip on this end, the big stockade fence next to the Whip hides what is left of the Dodgems if anything, then the Mens restroom building. Front and center is the station for Sky Ride, so we take a ride on the Sky Ride. It’s the older model cars where it has two little bars that fold down from the sides instead of the overhead bar. Up out of the Sky Ride station, over the pony cart ride, then over the Women’s restroom building. The rest of the ride is over the parks miniature golf course. You may note it’s a long thin mini golf course, well that’s because it is filling in the space of the ride it replaced, the Thunderbolt Express – an Arrow shuttle loop coaster. (And formerly the Screamin Demon on Kings Island fame). Betweem the mini golf and the parking area is the parks special events pavilion.
We take a relaxing ride on the sky ride,, it looks like the chairs got refurbished this year, as Dave reports the ride did not run in 2020, and was in fact rumored to be slated for removal, maybe next off season they can work on the rust covered support towers. Exiting the Sky Ride, we head over the train tracks and down a hillside past a closed snack bar. We come to the Little Dipper, which is a second NAD wood coaster. AS the name suggests this is the smaller ride, probably not more than 20’ high, and on a steel pipe structure with wood track. It’s you basic kids coaster. Right out of the station, up the lift, down a drop, back up, around the turnaround, a series of tips, a second turnaround, more dips on the second pass out, last turnaround, and one more pass with a fee dips and the brake run. It’s a family coaster that rides remarkably smoothly. Its most notable feature is not so much the ride itself, but the train. If you thought the Century Flyer itself was getting rare, try the junior version of the Century Flyer. In this case they have painted the stainless steel body mostly black with yellow trim, one “headlight” remains, but the car bodies themselves have been wrapped with giant themed decals just for the ride. In short they look absolutely adorable. This one has one stop (though not flush) loading. One group exits to the front wile another enters on the same side from the rear. The train is 5 cars long, but each car only has 1 bench. However, the car itself is long enough to probably have 2 benches if they really wanted. The door are only on one side and are in the center of the car side, you sit down and realize that even us tall people have room to totally stretch our legs out. It has all the padding of the bigger train, so it feel like you are riding the coaster while sitting up in bed. Yes, the car has a lapbar. It goes no where near your lap, inted when loweed it closes over your upper legs, I’d m=imagine on a child they would do next to nothing. But then all the ride signs state quite clearly all riders must be 48” tall. Yes, 4 feet to ride a kiddie coaster, so can I really call it a kiddie coaster? In practice it looks like they really mean 48” or with an adult. At any rate, what gives the small coaster offers much roomier cars than the big coaster.
Exiting the Little Dipper, I see a pop machine, and I think hey, maybe small park means small price, nope $4 a bottle. I’ll pass. AS the path winds to the right alongside the Little Dipper, you pass the log flume on the other side. We didn’t ride it, but it looks like a fairly competent flume with two drops and what looked to easily be the longest line in the park. Passing that up we came to the extra charge Swan Boats ($6 for 20 minutes, we didn’t see any takers the whole time we were there) . We did ride the Rocking Tug, and further back the path were a Tilt A Whirl and a Kite Flyer, both appeared to be closed.
WE wind our way back to the hub of the park, and we see the train coming back. There isn’s a train station, instead there is a fuel pump and a secion of portable fencing along one side of the midway that form a loading area of sorts. We take a ride on the NAD train. You first cross the midway to the back forty, go in back of the snack bar then wrap around the back of the log flume, then around the lake, coming back with the lake and the Little Dipper on one side, and the mini golf on the other side.
It was at this point, I had to make the stop Dave warned me about, the Men’s restroom. Honestly, I just needed the urinal, and the restroom was well lit, no offensive odors, the place looked clean and there was a long row of waterless urinals along one wall, and a row of pay toilets along the other. Yes, pay toilets, A number 2 is going to cost you 2 bits. However, closer observation may notice that most of the pay boxes are in various states of disrepair, and although I didn’t have need to try one, the remainder may have been keyed to free use, I still got a Facebook chuckle out of it, at least from those that know what those boxes are, hey a person under 40 years of age may have never seen one! The sinks are in the next room.
Leaving that attraction, we took a spin on the Flying Scooters, then found the Arcade to be locked *Hey, sometimes you can find some old school games in these old parks*. We looked in the gift shop, where the selection of shirts got smaller if you needed anything over an L, and the patterns for the X or XX shirts were not to my liking, along the other wall, it looks like the shops most popular item is a stuffed clown, the same clown from the big sign out front.
We left the shop empty handed, and then we headed for the main gate, and I asked Dave nervously if he wanted to leave already, luckily that was not the case as we instead looked at Kiddieland, a row of kids rides placed in back of the dark ride building. I did manage a much better pictue of the park sign from this viewpoint. Dave pointed out a door well up in the side of the back of the dark ride building, that’s the rides one fire exit. I guess if your choices are burn or break a leg, break a leg wins. He also reminded me it is a gravity powered dark ride, if you are inside the building, unless something is blocking the track you are going to finish the ride, and they have ample room out front to stop and stack all the cars. The kiddieland ends at the carousel and so wraps back around to the main midway on that side as well. To take the edge off the appetite I get a Pronto Pup, ($3.65) I learn at the main food building that each window has its own menu, so to get a particular item you have to go its window. To be honest the Pronto was not that great, and instead of taking the edge off the appetite only seemed to encourage it like “Okay, nice appetizer, where is the main course”
We take a ride on the Paratrooper, a couple more on the Big Dipper. I try the front seat, despite the lack of gut room in the front of a NAD train, on one ride I start to get back into seat 7 before Dave strongly reminds me its first come first serve , to step back and take 8 and let some other poor victim have 7. From there we go back to get a few more on Little Dipper, so I can get a front seat on it as well. Oh, and did I mention just like the Big Dipper the back seat of the Little Dipper was also closed.
From Little Dipper, its back to the Whip, then we look at our time piece – 8:30, I know there is less than a half hour left, but he we have another 2-3 hours drive ahead of us, and big plans for the next day. As it turn out, the departure time was perfect as it got us to a Frisch’s Big Boy (one that still serves Pepsi – GROAN) but at least offers afuller menu that the local Cincinnati stores seem to offering. Anyway we got to the dining room just minutes before the store closed, so had he stayed at the park till 9pm, we would have been playing the COVID inspired game of “Where can we actually eat that does not involve drive through eating in the car”.
We then return to Columbus, after a refueling stop, and the first couple failed stops in a quest I call “The Quest for the Frozen Coke” We get to Dave’s place around 12:30. We get settled in, and I am informed the planned departure time is 9AM, plan accordingly.
Catch you for Part 2 of this saga – Waldameer!
Again, my sincere thanks to Dave Althoff for going out of his way to add this Camden Park stop to my weekend.