My first visit to Attractiepark Slagharen was made back in 2005 before my quest for obscure coaster credits got completely out of hand. My trip report from the time described the park as a treasure trove of unique and historical rides, and over a decade later that remains the case, giving the place the feel of a living museum rather than a modern amusement park. As wonderful as classic attractions can be, however, there comes a time when they reach the end of their service life. Earlier this year it was announced that Thunder Loop would be closing at the end of the season, and we decided it was worth making a special pilgrimage to get in a few laps on the oldest surviving Schwarzkopf Looping Star before its journey to the great midway in the sky.
Today the ride looked every one of its thirty-seven years; the track hadn't been repainted in some time, and the single train was in need of both new upholstery and replacement grab bars. There were distinctive creaking sounds as it slowly moved out of the station and onto the lift, and the climb took an absolute eternity. Despite the inauspicious start, however, the ride was every bit as good as it would have been when the first passengers crested the apex in 1979; the course was negotiated smoothly from start to end, and the noise as the train went through the loop was wonderful. After round one we immediately went back for a second lap, followed in short order by a third in the front seat.
Our next stop was at Wild West Adventure, a dark ride using six person rapids boats. The theming covered every possible stereotype the name would suggest, including a mine scene, native Americans (apparently fluent in Dutch) dancing around a totem pole, a young maiden tied up with ropes, a herd of buffalo, and even a shoot out. The experience was for the most part a dry one; a waterfall part way around the course was turned off just before we passed under it, and the only other moisture came from a compressed air geyser that delivered a very light spray only.
We decided that it was worth waiting twenty minutes for the Chuck Wagon wheel despite its diminutive height, as it looked to have a worthwhile photograph angle for the coaster. The operator scarcely batted an eyelid at two adults queuing for a ride surrounded by lots of young families, and she'd apparently noticed we were eschewing the local patois as she wished us a pleasant day in barely accented English. The ride programme was divided into both clockwise and anticlockwise segments, and we paused for two minutes at the apex allowing me ample time to get the shot that I wanted.
We took the Cable Car across the park to what is now the only operational Schwarzkopf Apollo following the closure of Loudoun Castle some years ago. The ride is fundamentally a large chair swing without wave motion, and while the chairs swing further than they do on more modern equivalents the experience would scarcely be worthy of note were it not for the oversized moon at center of the structure which for a few short years held individual passenger capsules. (The full story of the Apollo is quite interesting and shows that despite his talents the legendary Herr Achterbahn occasionally made mistakes).
The second coaster in the park is often ignored by enthusiasts, and with good reason. The tracking on Mine Train was unusually poor even by Vekoma standards, despite the fact that the ride is nowhere near the oldest large Roller Skater in operation. That said, we really enjoyed the overall experience for an unexpected reason, namely the free-swinging bell fitted in the front car. Every single bump caused the bell to ring, to the point that it was pealing continuously from the top of the lift hill to the brake run. Megan spent much of the journey laughing herself silly, earning herself a curious look from those seated in front.
The new attraction for this year was El Torito, a newly renovated Schwarzkopf Polyp that was originally built in 1973. The ride uses a counter-rotating pillar at its center which makes the experience look a lot faster than it actually is. Though I don't normally do spin rides I decided to make an exception for this one, and I've got to say that I really enjoyed it both for the intensity of the forces and for the way that the mechanics of the lifting mechanism were fully exposed to the world. I spent more than a third of our ride indulging my inner nerd and admiring the simplicity of the design.
After a lunch break we decided to try the Giant Wheel, followed in short order by the somewhat undersized Observation Tower. We were looking out the window of the latter when we heard a rapidly increasing roar coming from the clear sky to the east. Seconds later, two fighter planes buzzed the park at what cannot have been more than one thousand feet, and just that quickly the sound faded into nothingness to be replaced by excited chattering from those around us. The jets made a second pass subsequently, though sadly they were gone too quickly for me to catch them on camera.
We also took the time to ride the Gallopers, a vintage Zierer carousel with rocking horses in place of the more common pole mounted design. The individual seats were held in a fixed position until the ride was up to speed, and I'd just concluded that they were not going to move when they were released in an abrupt and dramatic fashion, switching from a dead stop to full motion with nothing in between. The ride suffered from the lack of a barrel organ, a surprising omission given the vintage of the hardware, but was otherwise respectable enough and a definite improvement over more modern fiberglass equivalents.
Megan was insistent that we should ride Eagle, a standard Huss Condor, and we duly did that before heading to the final ride of our visit, which was only ever going to be a back seat on Thunder Loop. As hard as it might be for a non-enthusiast to understand this, it was sad to say goodbye to the old girl knowing that in a few short weeks the number of extant Looping Stars worldwide will be reduced from six to five. There will come a time, probably in my lifetime, when the genre becomes extinct and the splendid noise from the loop a fading memory; I'm glad we're not quite there yet.