Camden Park

7th August 2005

Regular readers here will no doubt have spotted already that this is the third time this year that a trip report from parks in the United States is appearing on this site. Hard as it may be to believe, this was not a trip I particularly wanted to make, thanks to an awful lot going on at home. However, I had a paper accepted at the 48th IEEE International Midwest Symposium on Circuits and Systems, an essential really for the completion of my Masters Degree, and since the whole trip was paid for there was little choice but for me to go. One should always make the best of a situation such as this, and with that in mind, I made plans to visit a few parks.

The first of these can only be described as a test of how enthusiastic I am about my hobby. There can be little doubt that driving for three and a half hours in each direction just to visit a small park is stretching the limits of sanity. It seemed highly improbable that I would need more than ninety minutes to experience all that Camden Park had to offer, but the sheer act of visiting it would mean taking eight hours out of my day, and more on the not inconsiderable chance that I got lost on the way.

One of the greatest inventions in recent years is satellite navigation technology for cars. It is now basically impossible to get lost, assuming of course that one enters the target destination correctly. Camden Park was a small enough affair that the navigation unit did not know where it was. However, it could bring me to Huntington, WV easily enough, and I assumed that the park would be signposted from there. This turned out to be an invalid assumption. However, after twenty minutes of driving around in circles I finally spotted my target.

Camden Park

Before riding anything I did a quick walk around. Camden Park has maintained a traditional feel, and in all honesty I would be quite surprised if more than three or four of the attractions were less than twenty years old. The two coasters in the park were both operating with original National Amusement Device trains, the first time I have ever seen these outside of other peoples photographs. These were fitted with headlights, though they were not in use during my visit, which took place during daylight hours. Many of the spin rides looked like leftovers from another era. An amusement park historian could spend hours here.

As I entered the queue for the Lil' Dipper (#513) the friendly ride operator struck up a conversation with me, talking animatedly about not very much at all but in the nicest possible way. He complained himself that the weather was too hot, something that surprised me as the temperature wasn't bothering me at all and I am not from a warm climate. I can only extrapolate that I am spending so much time in foreign countries these days that I am becoming more accustomed to warmer weather.

There was ample leg room in the cars, something I am not accustomed to seeing on smaller coasters. Though small, the ride shook like no other wooden coaster of its size I have ridden in the past. That is not to say that it was rough; not in the slightest. Rather, the shuddering served to amplify the sense of speed, and the comfortable padding absorbed the more severe bumps with ease. Riding it was rather like having soft cushions thrown at you from all sides!

It was if anything shakier than its larger brother, Big Dipper (#514), which had been fitted with several sets of trim brakes, presumably to save the structure from tearing itself apart. This did not prevent an instance of strong airtime on the ascent from the second drop, but it did make me wonder what the ride might be like with the brakes off.

With the coasters out of the way, I decided to try the Haunted House. Much to my surprise, this turned out to be powered exclusively by a chain lift, relying on gravity and momentum to bring the cars back to the station. The sullen ride operator confirmed my enquiry by a gruff nod of his head. The coaster style drop at the start means that some people (not me, but some) might consider this to be a coaster.

The ride operator on the Ferris Wheel was locked away in a day dream as I approached but after a minute or two he noticed me waiting. He commented that the ride was the most boring in the park to operate, and watching his procedure it is hard not to agree with him. His control is just a lever that controls the speed of rotation. He did, however, offer to stop the wheel at the top for me so I could take some pictures, which was much appreciated.

I took one more ride on the Big Dipper before lunch. After my meal, I went on another walk around the park, photographing everything of interest for later publication. There was nothing else I felt a compelling urge to ride. The log flume looked to be a generic model and those disembarking were coming off quite wet. Rather than get soaked before a long drive I decided to give it a miss. Instead, I took one more ride on each of the coasters before making my exit.


Kentucky Kingdom

7th August 2005

This park was known as Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom at the time of this visit.

My friendly satellite navigation computer knew precisely where Six Flags was located, and navigated me there with ease. It was, as it turned out, a stupidly easy drive from Camden Park, with only a handful of road changes in the two hundred mile journey. One of these was a rather odd instruction; leave the freeway, make a U-turn, and reenter the freeway (in the same direction as I had been going) but I saw what the computer wanted before making the exit and ignored it!

One of my colleagues has a hacked navigation system with an angry personality when a wrong road is taken. This is frightfully funny and something I wish the manufacturers would provide as standard. Hearing the machine say "recalculating" isn't half as entertaining as hearing "you moron! you've taken the wrong road again! now I have to figure out where we go next!". On a peripheral note, it is also a somewhat odd experience to hear a woman's voice give accurate directions. (This is a joke, before anyone has a go at me for it!).

I finally arrived at the park in the early part of the evening. This might seem like a waste of a visit, but with a season pass for Six Flags the only costs were the fuel (not inconsiderable in an American excuse for a car running at 19.3 MPG) and the parking, at five dollars. Having visited the park two years ago I knew ahead of time that I would not need a huge amount of time here. In reality, it is improbable that I would have returned at all had all the coasters been open on my prior visit.

Kentucky Kingdom

Kentucky Kingdom is the only theme park I've ever visited that has a public road going right through the middle of it. The main reason is the location, right in the middle of the Kentucky State Fairgrounds. Guests cross between both sides of the park via a pedestrian bridge. The side with the entrance largely consists of smaller rides, the largest being the Hellevator giant drop which unfortunately was not operating.

The far side has the major coasters in it, and can best be described as a rabbit warren; it may be small, but its design means that it can be a brisk fifteen minute walk from one extremity back to the bridge. Possibly the most disconcerting aspect is watching aircraft come in to land at the nearby cargo airport from the lift hills of coasters; the threshold of the runway is very near, with the planes coming past at heights of less than five hundred feet. One can safely assume that this park will not be getting its own version of Kingda Ka.

I was sitting in the front seat for Greezed Lightnin' when the ride broke down. Rather than wait, I decided to go ride Road Runner Express. This proved to be a mistake, as I was placed beside a very large teenager, probably at least 250lbs in weight, who seemed to be completely incapable of bracing as we went round corners. The ride had also been fitted with seat belts. It was a tall order to fasten the same around both of us, but we managed only for it to dig into my side throughout. The net result was me being crushed under a smelly overweight blob, totally spoiling any potential enjoyment.

Fortunately, Greezed Lightnin' (#515) was operational again by the time I disembarked, allowing me to get in my missing credit. It has stood the test of time well, running just as well as Schwarzkopf originally intended. Much to my astonishment, it was also running with original lap bars and no seat belts. It is wonderful to see that Six Flags hasn't managed to murder this attraction.

Ride operators on the Giant Wheel made a point of announcing that the use of camera devices on board was not permitted. This is a new one, and from the perspective of a coaster enthusiast renders the affair spectacularly pointless. I was already in my seat, however, so I decided to sit it out. The rule had not been in place on my previous visit to the park, so I had all the aerial shots I needed anyway.

This brings me to Chang. This ride had a three quarter hour wait for no good reason; during this period, I saw a total of five trains being dispatched round the circuit. From most of the queue line it was not possible to see the seats clearly, but on the train before mine there were a total of six empty seats. It goes without saying that the ride was running one train. The speed of the operators was such that operating three trains as the designers intended would be pointless, but a second one would have certainly helped given that the ride length is two and a half minutes.

At any rate, the ride has gotten very rough in the last two years. The second row of the train featured jarring and headbanging worthy of a twenty year old Vekoma. The whole experience was extremely uncomfortable, to the point that I would have to carefully consider whether I wanted to ride again on a future visit. What on earth have Six Flags Maintenance done to this ride?

On my last visit to the park, my favourite ride had been Thunder Run. It had been good enough to be one of my favourite wooden coasters overall. I was sorry to discover that it had degenerated somewhat, to the point that retracking is necessary in some places to bring it back to its former glory. It is still fun, and more than one ride in a day is still possible, but in its present state I decided against braving the back seat.

The rabbit warren design of the park caught me out, and instead of getting back to the bridge I wound up as far from it as possible, beside Roller Skater. I rode once for two reasons; first, there was no line, and second, I wanted to see how well it had been maintained. The answer is less clear cut than I would like; the train feels faster than any of the other junior 207m models I have ridden, which suggests good maintenance due to low friction, but there were several bumps in the track that I don't remember from before, though that might be poor recollection on my part.

Only the blue side of Twisted Twins was operational. The seat beside me was taken by a young child from Tennessee who had, apparently, been riding this coaster all afternoon. She informed me that the operators had been handing her all the loose change found in the train, with more than two dollars accumulated so far. I was more interested in the fact that she had been on board all afternoon; the young are surprisingly resilient, but even still she would hardly have remained on board if the coaster wasn't running well.

My suspicions were confirmed. The ride was running far better than I remember on my previous visit. The lack of the duelling aspect was disappointing but not altogether surprising given the number of people in the park. Having said that, I do not recall seeing any way of entering the far side of the station; might it be that the pink track has been closed for a while now? Does anyone know?

The only coaster in the park that I hadn't ridden at this stage was the prototype SLC, T2. It was on one train operation and had a substantial wait, and given the two hour drive ahead of me I decided to give it a miss and instead began heading towards the exit. This route took me past Greezed Lightnin', and as there was no wait I took a quick spin in the back seat. It seems amazing to me that people will wait long periods for an awful SLC while letting a twenty year old classic ride lie practically idle. To paraphrase a famous quotation, nobody ever lost money underestimating the stupidity of the American public.