My fifth visit to the Chicago area began with brief stops at two small Family Entertainment Centers. The first of these was Haunted Trails, a small amusement arcade with spooky music playing on loop over a PA system. A small ride area outside included the most pathetic credit in the entire state of Illinois, a tiny Wisdom-built Miner Mike (#2085). We were given at least ten laps by a good natured ride operator who seemed quite amused at us being there.
26th July 2014
The drive to our second stop involved a sixteen mile journey along Harlem Avenue through the Chicago suburbs. We decided to break the monotony by counting the various fast food restaurants that we spotted along the way. Dunkin' Donuts topped the leaderboard with eight branches, one every two miles, followed closely by Subway with seven and McDonald's with six – and we were only looking at one road. We also noted eight branches of Walgreens.
Go Bananas is located some distance back from the main road, and the sign is very easy to miss; we managed to overshoot and had to double back. In due course we walked through the entrance to a distinctive odour best described as old carpet; it wasn't horrible by any means, but it did raise a few questions about the overall hygiene in a facility that handles birthday parties on a regular schedule.
Python Pit (#2086) is the oldest ride of its type to still operate in its original location. Its appearance took me by surprise; I'd somehow missed the fact that it was set up in an elaborately painted room complete with fake jungle and rock work. It was even more surprising to find that it delivered passable airtime in a dark tunnel section at the end of the course; I enjoyed all three of the laps we were given.
Six Flags Great America
26th July 2014
We'd originally planned to visit Six Flags Great America on Friday, but the decision to add Conneaut Lake Park to our trip pushed everything out a day. Visiting a major park on a weekend in July is at the very least suboptimal, though in slight mitigation it didn't cost us anything, admission and parking both being covered by our season passes. We found a space in section fifty of the lot, a brisk five minute walk from the main entrance gate. It wasn't much of a surprise to find the park absolutely jammed with people. Despite the crowds, however, the efficient and friendly staff were doing an excellent job at keeping things moving. Our target coaster did still have a two and a half hour wait, but this was entirely due to the number of guests in line; operations were as efficient as I've seen in an American park. The contrast with yesterday was striking.
Goliath (#2087) is the second wood coaster* to be built by Rocky Mountain Construction following on from their critically acclaimed debut last year. It sets new records for the steepest drop, the longest drop, and the fastest speed on a wood coaster, though it is worth noting that the latter two statistics fall short of those set by Son of Beast, closed in 2009 and demolished at the end of 2012. A staff member at the ride entrance was able to confirm the presence of a small bag storage area on the station platform, a definite improvement from the mandatory paid locker policy of a few years ago. She handed us sequenced boarding passes, a simple but effective way to prevent any queue jumping, and directed us towards an unshaded overflow area. This had the potential to be fairly unpleasant, but the overcast skies worked in our favour and the temperature remained manageable. After about an hour we crossed into the regular queue, which had televisions to break the monotony. Nobody seemed to be paying them much attention, though; the people we saw were either chatting with friends or playing with their smartphones.
When we arrived at the station Megan asked if we could queue for a back seat, and the operator was happy to accommodate our request. In that location the first drop was positively demented, making me very glad that the lap bar restraint was securely in place. The over-banked turn that followed made me think for a moment that I was riding a wooden version of Millennium Force, but the similarities ended at that point as a gentle airtime hill led to the first inversion, a straight forward dive loop. A second inversion followed with stupendous hang time, followed by a second over-banked turn that led to the final brake run.
The ride was quite short, clocking in at around forty seconds from the top of the lift to the brakes, but despite that the overall experience was well beyond any other wood coaster I've ridden. Megan commented that she wanted ERT on this ride, and I'm with her on that; a few hours of marathoning with a small group would be very pleasant indeed.
* Goliath and Outlaw Run use a proprietary track system made up of a thick steel rail bolted directly on to several layers of wood. Whether they should be classified as wood or steel is something that the enthusiast community will probably still be debating in ten twenty years time.
Lake County Fair
26th July 2014
We took the difficult decision to forego a second ride on Goliath in favour of an earlier arrival into our overnight hotel, reasoning that we'd probably be back in the park at a future date and could enjoy some more rides then. The early night was a nice idea, but it fell by the wayside when we spotted a fairground midway on the horizon. A few minutes later we found ourselves exploring the midway from DRS Skinners' Amusements at the 86th Lake County Fair.
Orient Express (Skinner) (#2088) had red track in the station but black track everywhere else, making me wonder whether it had been assembled from two different rides. The layout consisted of a single hill on an oval track, and we were given five laps for our trouble.
Santa's Village AZoosment Park
26th July 2014
The park now known as the AZoosment Park owes its existence to Glenn Holland, an entrepreneur who envisioned a nationwide chain of Santa's Village parks. His first two locations in California were successful, but an overzealous expansion into Illinois led to financial difficulties, as the freezing winter weather prevented operation in the peak weeks prior to Christmas. The park was sold n 1965, and operated by a number of different investors over the next four decades with a reasonable degree of success. It was home to seven different roller coasters at various times, including a Galaxi, a Toboggan, and the only Top Fun Typhoon to operate in the United States. Sadly, assorted problems including a dispute over the fifty year land lease resulted in the park closing at the end of 2005.
Santa's Village AZoosment Park was the brainchild of Jason and Amy Sierpien, owners of a successful mobile petting zoo, who managed to acquire a six acre parcel of land from the former park that included most of the original buildings. They have expanded carefully over the last four years, and now have ten animal exhibits and nineteen rides, with more on the way. A Huss Troika is currently under construction and will likely open next season.
We arrived at the park just in time for a discounted evening admission rate, and immediately discovered a sign indicating that the Wildcat roller coaster had "called in sick". Though irritating, we took the decision to pay admission anyway, as there were other rides to do. Closer inspection of the unhealthy credit revealed lights flashing in a repeating pattern on the operator console, a definite indication that something wasn't quite behaving as it should. It is worth noting that the park team have done a lovely job of making their new attraction blend in, with colourful flowers both inside and outside the superstructure. Megan described it as the nicest looking Pinfari ever, and it is hard to argue with that assessment.
Dragon Coaster (#2089) thus became the sole credit of the evening, a single spiral model originally manufactured for Go Bonkers Now, an indoor family entertainment center in Arlington Heights that closed in 2010. We were given four laps of the course, and while these were fun in a tick the box kind of way we nevertheless elected not to join the multitudes running from the exit back to the entrance.
The only attraction at the park that was really disappointing was the Magic Carpet, a fun house that looked very much like it had begun life on a fairground somewhere. The vast majority of the effects inside it were not working, rendering the experience mostly pointless, and certainly well below the high standard of presentation set by everything else in the park. The only slight saving grace was that a balcony provided an excellent location for an overview photograph of the Wildcat.
I've come across many interesting amusement rides in my travels, but I've never seen anything quite like Fire Dept before. This attraction, which I believe to be home made, has guests boarding into a sideways facing car complete with fire hoses. Once everyone is seated, they are driven under lights and sirens at not inconsiderable speed down the side of the park towards a burning building. Once at the scene, a series of powerful water hoses on the front of the car are activated, allowing those on board to extinguish the flames. After about half a minute the gas supply is turned off, and all riders are cheered for saving the day.
The last ride of the night was on the Chance-built Carousel, a remarkably noisy model that sounded like it was being driven by a lawnmower engine.