With all the talk about Arnold's Park recently, I think it is time to temporarily suspend my freeze on writing Trip Reports to get some publicity out for a true classic.
Let's get in the Way-Back machine everybody, it's not that long ago, 1999, maybe 2000. At that time things were not looking for Arnold's Park. Revenues were down, and what's worse a developer made the parks oweners an offer they couldn't refuse. It looked like the worst of times, afterall we had seen numberous amusement parks fall to the wrecking ball in the name of 'progress', and a lot of those parks were more famous than Arnold's Park was
Then a Miracle happened. A group of commen citizens much like you and I said "Wait a Minute! I don't want new luxury condos. I just want to have MY hometown park there to entertain me" "I love this park was too much to let it just die" They faced impossible odds, the price to beat the developer's offer was staggering, around 5 million dollars, the fundraising time was short. Things did not look good for Arnold.
Then the money came rolling in, from all over, from people who had never visited Arnold's from people who will probably never visit Arnold's. Over 7 million dollars was raised by a collective spirirt that came togther and said "We will NOT let another traditional amusement park fall waste to the devlopment fad of the day"
I admit, I contributed to that fund rasier. At the time I had never been to Arnold's, I hadn't even heard much about Arnold's. All I knew was a classic park was in trouble, and maybe, just maybe I could help stop the destruction of another park. So I gave, and that was that. I never honestly expected I would ever see the park.
Fast forward to Labor Day Weekend of 2003.
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It was Saturday August 30, when fellow coaster nut Jerry Dorf and I made the long, long, long (did I mention the park is in the middle of nowhere), long, long drive from Minneapolis to Spirit Lake, Iowa. Iowa, you know Music Man and all that.
We arrived in the town of Arnold's Park around 11:00 or 11:30, and headed right down the main drag of town. We had one of those handy computer generated maps that said "Drive past the town, the park will be on the left. Well we got the drive through town part all well and good, and then while were were businlly scanning the left side of the street, we saw it, the classic entrance sign jump right out at us from the RIGHT side.
Arnold's Park has a very unique entryway. The parking lot entracne is marked by a faux wood coaster hill, complete with a faux coaster train cresting said hill. The sign reads simple "Welcome to Arnold's Park. An Iowa Classic" We dutfully made the right turn and drove underneath the fake coaster hill, and made the first right into the parking area.
Its basically a dirt and gravel field, but it is free, and it seems to provide plentiful parking. Accross the entracne driveway we could see a minigolf place and Go-KArting on the corner, then amusement rides, and one turn of The Legend. We watched long enough to see a white PTC train go round the bend closest to the parking lot, then proceeded to walk to the park.
The parking lot, and the admission gate are not next to each other. Arnold's Park the town provides a complete toursity village with other attractions, shops, and eateries. To get to the park you walk out of the parking lot to the entrance road, then walk through the 'town' until you see the park ticket office to your left.
The ticket office marks an nook to the left side of the street which contains the admission gate. A quick stop at the ticket booth and $15.95+tax each later, we are wearing wristbands good for "All Day Rides"
In an effort to attract more families, the park has eliminated their general admission fee. Which means that if you do not want to ride rides, it costs nothing to walk through the park. As such there are no ticket takers at the front gate.
But what a most unusual front gate it is! Looking directly above the gate, you see the station for The Legend, to the left of the gate you see the Tipsy House. We walked under the coaster station, made an sharp turn to the right, and walked up the steep ramp to the station.
While all park marketing seems to call the ride "The Legend", all signage for it in the park refers to is simply as "The Rollercoaster" The simple signage, the simple station, the classic station are all a throwback to a park stuck in the 1950s. We don't need a queue maze, just a simple ramp up to the platofrm will do. We don't need individual seat queues or flush loading. A train pulls in, the operator opens the exit gate, folks exit the ride, the exit gate is closed, the entracne gate is opened (on the same side of the track) the new riders enter. Its just that simple. In fact the entrance and exit ramps run right alongside each other.
According to the signs The Rollercoaster is 6 tickets or a Ride Pass. 6 tickets would run you $4.50, and the Ride Pass is only $15.95. I can't really see much traffic in ride tickets.
It so happens a partially loaded train is waitting in the station when we hit the top of the ramp, so we jump in some remaining seats in the middle car, and note the very front seat is roped off. (Well an "Out of order" sign was affixed to the lapbar for the first seat).
The single PTC train consists of three white cars, each car having 3 benches. Each row being equiped with seat dividers and a traditional drop-down lap bar. No headrests here. The trains upholserty is most unusual as one seat is red, the other is either blue or black, and the divier is white. Never seen anything like that. We sat down, fastened the seatbelts, dropped the lapbar, and were soon off on our way. (Sorry, no big brake levers)
YOu may recall the ride starts out above the main gate, then right out of the station it makes a drop underneath the top room of the Tipsy House. A blue tarp has been added to protect those riders who inisit on riding trough this tight space in a arms up configuration. After clearing under the Tipsy House it runs behind the park ticket office, then up over the Mirror Maze building. The Mirror Maze building doubles as the lift motorhouse for The Rollercoaster. You climb the lift hill, and at the top of the lift hill you see another famous Arnold's Park sign. At the top of the life, where most parks would have a safety sign, Arnold's Park has a sign which simply reads "The Point of No Return" One you pass this point, your just along for the ride.
The Rollercoaster continues being a most unusual coaster. It has no steep straight first drop, instead the first drop curves, traver-style to the left, you then make a dip by the parks Rock-O-Plane, come back up, make a turnaround (by the parking lot), then you dive down into a long flat section of flat track. You are now slicing right through the middle of the park, as you come back up and start the second half of the ride, which has all the sharp dips and drops that you are probably hoping for. The ride goes right through the center of the park, then wraps around Kiddieland, goes lakeside, past the Ferris Wheel, and eventurally winds up back above the main gate.
First reactions: Its certainly a unique ride, but we couldn't get what the big deal was. We did join in the crowds and owing to walk on conditions took several more rides, mostly in the back car.
Ah, but a park is more than just its rollercoaster. For example right across from the coaster station, is the station for the parks miniature train ride. And look the train is sitting there. Wait! Thats unlike any other train I have seen. It almost looks like the park made a miniature train ride out of NAD Century Flyer cars. Highly polished chrome cars with the distincitive NAD trim work along the top edges awaited.
We took our seats on the train. There is no line, no gates, no fences. The train just sort of pulls up into the station. This park, like few others is a park where guests must watch for the train as it makes it way around the park. The operator, while being as silent as a ghost started the train and soon we were off on our ride. The train ride covers a lot of the same area as the cosaster just as a much slower speed. It was a good orientation tour of the park. There isonly one train station so we rode full circle then continued our walking tour.
We walked past the Mirror Maze building, where unfortunately the Mirror Maze is a thing of the past, to be replaced by the Mirror Maze Gift Shop. ou can still see the grooves in the floor where the mirrors used to be.
We walked alongside a row of skill games on one side, and kiddie rides on the other, and after a bref stop, crossed under the coaster to come out in the major rides area of the park. Huddled in this cluster of rides was a Scrambler, Tilt-A-Whirl, RockO-Plane, Trabant, and Dodgems.
We quickly made our way to the Rock-O-Plane. It did not take long till we were shown, and locked into our seperate cages. Arnold's Parklikes to give nice LONG ride cycles, and the tub brakes on this Rock were in fairly good working order, hich meant a show of Rock-O-Plane acrobatics was in order. In fact we liked the ride so much, we rode it again.
As we walked through the park, I noticed the little blue plagues scattered througout the park thanking the people who made significant donations. We toured the park some more and came upoin a deadend at Boji Falls. Boji Falls is an Arrow Log Flume that was donated by the Morey's Family . It was a little bit cool, but that did not stop me from taking a ride on Boji Falls. It's a rahter simple log flume, you leave the station, you turnaround, you go up the lift, you turnaround, you meander to the back of the ride, you turnaround, you drop, you get a bit wet, then you turnaround, and then back into the station.
We left Boji Falls, and continued our walking tour, this time walking through Kiddieland in order to find the "Bug House" The "Bug House" is a small haunted swing ride. The premise of which is simple, you sit on a fairly stationary swing, the door to the room is closed, the room turns around you giving you the feeling the swing is starting to swing on its own volition, eventually turning completely upside down. Its a ride based around an optical illusion. The Bug House only seats a few people at a time, so it was actually one of the longer waits of the day. Eventually we are admitted to the house, seated, and the door is closed. The entire illusion is lost. Instead of having the ride chamber made up to look like a room, its just a day-glo psychadelic mess of color. It does not really give you any feeling of motion, and exacept for the door going around it fails as a Haunted Swing in my book.
We walked through kiddieland, skipped the kiddie coaster, and reutrned to the Rollercoaster. Great news, The Rollercoaster has now officially waken up, on the WRONG side of the bed, and its aiming to fling the riders at every opportunity. We took several rides in the back car. and the airtime in the second half of the ride is phenomenal. THIS is the Legend everybody talks about. No more Mr. Gentle Coaster, this is Coaster with an Attitude. This is airtime nirvana, and to add to the nirvana, the locals seem to think the back seat is way to rough.
We rode the Rollercoaster numerous times, before returning to the Rock-O-Plane. Can you spot a trend? If we are at Arnold's you can look for us at one of two places, on the Rollercoaster, or on the Rock-O-Plane. We took several more Rock-O-Plane rides, and owing to the short to non-existant line got to the point of the operator bringing the wheel around to our car, asking "You want to ride again?" then sent us off on another ride of Rock-O-Heaven.
For the uninitiated, the Rock-O-Plane (sometimes called just "The Rock") is an interactive ferris wheel. Left alone the Rock-O-Plane will act like any other ferris wheel. While that can be scenic, that's also BORING. On the Rock-O-Plane you ARE allowed to rock the car, and thats just for starters. Each car comes equipped with a huge ring, which is attached to a lever, that is attached to a braking device. When activated the braking device prevents the tub from freely rotating about its own axis, and thus trying to right itself. When engaged the tub will maintain its orientation in relationship to its spot on the wheel, You want to go upside down no problem.
It is with the most demented intentions that we put on a show of Rock-O-Plane Aerobatics. To the point where the local children were sitting on the park becnhes in awe watching us, with the parents standing behind the children mortified. Some of my favorite moves are going through the loading area upside down, coming in upside down at the end of the ride, or my all time favorite, getting the car to STALL out upside down, hanging there in perfect balance, not knowing which way gravity and momentum will cause the car to try to violently right itself. When some of the locals asked the operator "How are theydoing that?" the response was just "Careful use of the brake."
We rode until the line started forming, then took a walk over a bridge out to see the FEC like section of the park with the minigolf and go-karts. Very interesting looking track, but all in all after seeing the accident prone drivers, we decided against it. Instead we engaged in another diabolically demented activity.
We walked into Kiddieland, and got in line for the Spin the Apple ride. It's one of those Sellner spin rides. you know big almosttotally enclosed tubs, a nice large wheel large eough to eat dinner off of in the middle. Spin the tub to your hearts content. And we did. We had that tub spinning so fast the outside world was just a blur. In fact we had that tub spinning so fast, we did not realize our ride was over, did not realize the other three tubs were unloaded. It was only when we decided to try to reverse directions that we saw the operator standing, glaring into the tub with on of those "If looks could kill" stares. So we got that tub stopped pronto, shamelesly exited the tub, then as if to rub it in walked a beeline directly to the Tipsy House.
The Tipsy House is a fun house of sorts, that relies entirely on sharply banked floors. Staircases that are easier to walk up than down. Its a nostalgic bit of park attractions that you just don't see much of anymore.
We left the Tipsy House, which exit out right next to a Godfather's Pizza. Godfather's left the SW Ohio market decades ago. Lunch time! Two giant slabs of deep dish pizza and a jumbo soft drink, all for under $6, at a park!!! Arnold's concession prices are very reasonable, in fact the in park soft drink machines sell 20 oz. bottles for $1.50 which is not bad for an amusement park.
We went back to the Rollercoaster, took a lot more rides, went back to say goodbye to the Rock-O-Plane, took a few more rides. Took a ride on the Trabant as Jerry is used to seeing "No Single Riders" when he sees the Trabant ride at his local park, then we walked back through kiddieland.
We didn't even walk on the same side of the midway as the Spin the Apple Ride, we just looked at the ride as we walked past it. We could see the operator tensing up as if we may want to ride again, and we get started down the midway.
We end back up at the Rollercoaster. We take several more rides, and we even try a couple in the Schmeck seat. Sure, its a John Miller 1925(7) classic, but the Schmeck seat delivers the goods, I can't imagine what the front seat must be like.
I then went into the Mirror Maze (Gift Shop), where I purchase a nice t-shirt to support the park, and then we start the long, long, long drive back to Minneapolis.
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Since my visit, it has come to my attention that the park is again in dire straits. This time caused by the city itself. It seems the ciry wants the park to pave its parking lot at tremendous expense to the park. While the park is facing steadily rising atteendance and strong ticket sales, it is falling victim to a beauacracy which it would seem would rahter have a fine paved parking lot and no park to enjoy, than to have a nice park, and perhaps a primitive parking lot. But it can't all be blamed on outside forces, for example for a donated ride , it seems the Boji Falls project went seriously over budget. The park has secured a half a million dollar loan and will be able to open for 2004. Let's hope that 2004 isn't the begining of the end.
We almost lost this park once, to actually loose it would not only be a shame, it would be a blow to classic americana, and a slap in the fact to everybody who cared so much about a little classic park called Arnold's Park.
Speaking for just one donor, having seen the finished results, seeing how my money was spent, I can say I don't regret it one bit.
There may be almost two score Six Flags parks, but none of them have the soul and nostalgia that an old time small traditional park has, and no amount of money can buy that Old-Time feel.
My parting message to you is to SUPPORT Arnold's Park. Enjoy your second chance, and get out to ride the Arnold's Park Legend: An Iowa Classic.
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