Trip Report: RideFest at Lakemont Park

Altoona, PA

October , 2006

Last night we had gone to Knoebels for Phall Phunphest, so today on the way home we decided to stop past Lakemont for Ridefest.  We awoke in Danville, PA and after running a few erands we were on the road towards Lakemont.  It's about a 2 hour drive between the two parks so around 1:00 we are pulling into the parking lot.  Lakemont park is your typical small town amusement park, well that is if small town amusement parks still existed.  Nothing too fancy, just a bunch of rides located around a lake with a picnic grove.  That is until the 1980's when a big corporation bought the park and tried to turn it into something it wasn't, a big theme park.  They didn't get much done before they declared the idea a failure and darn near bankrupted the park in the process.  One of the few remnants of that era is a big massive front gate entry plaza.  Its a nice looking gate, it just doesn't go with the park its attached to.  Today every single gate was locked, and all the ticket windows were closed, but Rideman had attended a past Ridefest and knew we had to go to the parks administrative offices.  The area labeled Administrative Offices was clearly intended to be Guest Relations during the Boyertown USA period. We walked in through one door of the GR office, announced our presense and Rideman was handed an envelope which contained all our personalized nametags, and our door rpize raffle tickets. I noted they had Lakemont Park staff shirts on sale for $5, but I just didn't see one my size. Also in the office area we deposited our raffle tickets into the ticket box and were given programs for the day and informed about some extra add-ons.  We could purchase a go-karts wistband for $10, or we could sign up for a under stucture coaster photo tour for free.  We noted the Skyliner tours had already occured, but there was still room for the second Leap the Dips tour, so Rideman and I registered for the Leap the Dips photo tour at 1:30.  Also, in the arcade you could purchase an arcade wristband for $2.95 for all you can play arcade games,  We decided not to purchase eithr wristband and headed out the other door of the GR office into the park,

Looking over the timetable, we saw how things were going to operate.  It's important to note before you read about the park, that Lakemont Park had been closed since mid-September, and in fact they were already well under way at putting the rides into storage for the winter. It seems that the two wood coasters, go-karts, video arcade, and mini golf (free),  would be open all day (11:30-5), and limitd other rides would be open in shifts, before lunch the Round Up and the Toboggan would be open, and after lunch it would be the Tilt-A-Whirl and the Antique Cars. All the other rides were already in storage, so it was sort of eerie walking past a carousel with no horeses, ferris wheel with no cars, and other flat rides in various stages of disassembly.  I recalled the event fee for Ridefest was $17, which I thnk is quite high for what is offered, but then I am reminded that this event is a fundraiser for the ACE Preservation Fund.  Looking at the schedue I note the Toboggan closes at 2pm, so we headed there first,

The Toboggan is an early Chance Rides portable rollercoaster. The rides signature element is a tight helix wrapped around a rocket ship, the rocket ship also contains the vertical lift hill.  Looking a the ride from the midway, you see on the front side the unload and load area, then the rocket ship with its internal lift, and helix track around the outside, after you finsihe the helix, you have a dip then a turnaround to the left, a few speed hills, then a turnaround to the lft back to the unload station.  These were once commonplace at most major fairs.  Lakemont was running three cars, and they were running it more like a flat ride, meaning they loaded up all three cars, dispatched them one at a time, then when all thee cars had comleted the ourse, they unloaded all three.  The Toboggan runs single bench individual cars, but to call it a car just doesn't quite do it justice, you see they are actually cages.  When you ride you are totally enclosed in an expanded metal grillwork style cage.  You have the somewhat high seatback behidn you, the solid (unpadded) roof above you, then to the sides and in front of you is the metal grillwork, exceot for a plexiglass panel positioned right in front of you so you can see better.  As if the age weren't enough there is a monster lapbar that has a big bolster around it. I didn't recall any problems last time I rode this ride, so I walked up the steps (no line) and climbed into car 3.  I had to contort my legs to get them both to slide in under the lap bar, basically crossing my legs was a must, then the operator closed and locked the cage, which brings the lapbar even tighter than it was to begin with.  I will state that my girth was not the issue on this ride, instead the issue was my height. When the cage roof closed the top of my head was brushing the cage roof, the unpadded cage roof, on a ride that has airtime. This is not going to be good, Also I found I could nbot move my legs at all as they were pinned in under the lapbar and the nose of the car pretty good. I think I might have had just about every square inch of that car occupied.  I know we never seem to see ourselves grow, but I can remember when I could ride this at fairs with a ride patner.  While I waited for my ride, Coach Rideman came up beside the car and started giving me tips on how to survive without too much injury, instructions which were repeated by the ride operator who remakred I am just too tall for this.  Eventuallymy car is fed into the rocket, and starts its peppy but noisy ride straight up to the top of the rocket.  Once at the top, I spiral back down and as I reach the bottom of the spiral,  I roll myself into a fetal position wrapped around the lapbar, my legs tight on the underside so I don't bouce up, and my head bent down over it to keep it clear of the cage roof, and after felling the forces of the ride I'm glad I did that, even though I don't feel too good.  I announce that I am through with Chance Toboggans.  Rideman is on the next cycle, and we just could not convince April to give it a try.

After Tobbogan, we head to Skyliner. We pass the go-karts where I note you can't buy a single ride ticket, you must get the armband if you wish to ride go-karts.  I might have ridden if I could get a single ride ticket on them. We meet some more friends over by Skyliner, and then head up the ramp.  No crowd at Skyliner, and I am soon climbing into the front seat with Rideman.  Skyliner runs a classic train with older than traditional style lapbars, no seatbelts, and red seat cushions with no seat divders or headrests.  This is an ACE Coaster Classic, and I note the train has been repainted green since my last visit with red trim, on the sides of the train, there is some theming with a baseball motif and the words "Go Curves" Like the Phoenix, thr Skyliner is also a coaster transplant this time from Roseland Park.  According to Wiki I see we can credit the Boyertown USA people with purchasing the Skyliner and adding it to the park, so I guess they weren't all bad.  Skyliner is a classic double out abnd back design, that is folded into an L shape.  as you climb the lift, you can look to the right and see the locall minor league ballpark.  The skyliner was running a bit rough, but with modest amounts of air and a couple laterals.  

By the time our Skyliner ride is over its time to start heading towards Leap The Dips.  We pause to talk with some friends at Toboggan, and is that somebody asking for a reride?  We get to Leap the Dips at around 1:25.  When we arrived at Leap the Dips there was a car with two people sitting in it, and they were needing two more riders, so Rideman and I jumped in the car with them.  It seems Leap The Dips now operateds with a strict there must be 4 riders per car rule.  Leap The Dips is the world's oldest surviving wooden coaster, although it had a parter running over in England for a couple seasons.  This is a 1902 figure eight side friction wood coaster. We climb into the yellow car, and the operator pushes us out on the lift.  We note it has a slighly unusual lift chain but even more unusual is the anti rollback system, there are a series of green wood paddles along the sides of the lift hill, as the train goes up, the train pushed the paddle out of the way, as the train passes the paddl edrops back into place. At the top of the lift you go through a cupola then out on the course.  The ride is a multi layer figure 8, I would guess at least three layers high.  The idea is that each time you get arond to the center crossover of he 8, the car drops down a small dip, sometimes followed by a short rise.  Once the car picks up enough speed it starts to leap just an inch or two as it goes down the dip, thus the name Leap the Dips, which also means you get some small ammounts of airtime.  Don't misunderstand the whole  ride is only about 40' tall, the longest single drop is 9' and I don't think the ride get above 10 mph. Yet, its a nostaligc throwback to the past.  The station looks like a train station with benches, antique scale, and no real queue area, there is one big wide stairway with a railing down the center, one side to go up the other to go down.  No fence or gate or anything like that. The cars have 2 benches each seating 2 people, and are richly uphosltered and have flared sides, and no active safety restraints. At the end of the ride, the car is still stopped by use of Big Old Brake Levers.   We had a few moments to mingle after our ride before Gary Baker called us to take our tour.

Leap The Dips hasn't had the best history recently, the ride was closed down about the time of the Boyertown USA project, apparently to be replaced by the Skyliner.  The ride then fell into disrepair and it has been remarked that if the park could have afforded to take it down, they would have.  A grass roots fundraising effore, spearheaded by the ACE was able to restore this ride and reopen it in 1999.  It was then closed for much of the 2005 season.  It s an antique ride and on the National Register, but apparenly it also has very high maintenance bills.  Gary welcomed us, and we were invited to cross the track.  We headed up the exit stairs, then stepped down into the wooden troughway in the station, then back up on the employee side of the track.  Gary mentioned we were standing on the transfer table.  He indicated the 8 slot car barn behind us where cars are stored, when one is needed this section of track rolls out along a spur track until it lines up with the parking space of the car barn, the car is slid on or off the transfer track into its parking space, then the transfer track is slide back into position.  When it is ready to take a car on or off, another section of track slides under the boarding platform to allow the transfer track to allign with the main track. Gary noted they have 8 cars for Leap the Dips, however the Commonweath will only allow them to run 2 at a time, due to the lack of a blocking system.  Apparently they can run two cars if they don't dispatch the second car until the first car has returned.  Gary then noted that most days the ride only operates with one car like it is today, and with only one operator.  Still one can imagine what it must have been like with 8 cars on at a time, with no computer, no block system, just skillfull timing of the dispatches.  We looked around he station, then headed back to the car barn,  where we could see the other 7 cars, and it looks like the seat cushions are being removed for safe winter storage.  Gary mentioned they are trying different wheels and stuff to try to get the speed just right, some combinations of parts make the cars run faster than they would like, others will make it run too slow, they are still trying to find that winning combination.  Gary mentioned they only had one car restored to show quality, and that was done by PTC and can be seen in a display case in front of the ride.  The other cars were restored in house at much lower cost.  We then walked down a stairway into the ride infield.  Here is where the photo tour started and we were pretty much free to roam around the ride infield wherever we wanted, just us your common sense.  Most of the infield is grass with some rockwork under the trackwork.  The ride itself is white with green trim.  We were given severasl laps of the ride to take photos videos whatever else we wanted.  I noted what looks like a small house stands in the infield of the ride.  After some time we were ushered back out of the ride area, apparently just in time for lunch.

I noted that it looks like most of the midway games booths have been bricked over, and we headed down another stretch of errie deserted midway, this time with all its rides dismantled.  We then exited the park through a side gate.  Alongisde the park there is a fancy row of buildings that was originally supposed to be Lakemont Parks answer to Main Street USA with shops and stuff, its not really stuff the park needed so now the buildings have now been leased out as an office park.  One of these buildings is called the Casino.  No, you won;t find any games of chance in there, instead you will find a banquet hall.  We walked in and it was just like going to a fancy corporate dinner or weddig reception.   The round tables were set with real silverware, cloth napkins, and glassware, on top of a real linen tablecloth,  We headed over to some tables that had beverages on them as the bar was closed.  Coffee, water, and soft drinks were available.  We then took our places at table.  At one end of the room is a fancy bar and at the other end is a big stage.  There seems to be a balcony level as well overhead.  Without ceremony the buffet line was opened.  On the buffet there was tossed salad w/ Italian dressing, mixed vegetabkes, cheese lasagna, rolls, butter, and assorted deserts.  The banquet hall staff was dishing out the lasagna.  I skipped the mixed vegetabkes but did opt for the  chocolate cake with peanut butter icing,   We proceeded to eat lunch, then after lunch they gave away door prizes.  Rideman won a Lakemont Park gift bag filled will assorted Lakemont Park souvenirs, April won a Sheetz gift card, and I won nothing.  Everybody got a 2 for 1 coupon for Denny's.  Also during lunch the go kart wristbands were on sale as well as Kennywood Phantom Fright Nights tickets, bargain priced at only $16. ACE made a presentation, noted the attendnace was juste under 100, noted that it is a very busy week for the Western PA region of ACE with Ridefest today, ACE day at Kennywood on Friday, and an event at Conneaut Lake Park on Saturday.  Three events in a week,  add the Knoebels event the night before and its an action packed week for the area in terms of coaster events,  it was also mentioned that the money from todays event goes to the ACE Preservation Fund instead of to Lakemont Park. There was a show of hands as to how many people had ever been to Lakemont before, and of those how many had been to a Ridefest before.  Their goal is to build Ridefest up to about 300-400 people. We learned the park had been closed for about 3 weeks now, and we could see they were well underway putting rides into winter storage, and that probably as soon as we leave the rest of the rides will begin disassembly. The rides that were open today were basically left set up just for our use.

Then the park owner had a Q&A session.  We learned he was missing his wedding aniversary to be with us, and that he would like to close the park as quickly as possible at 5pm to get home to his wife. He thakes us for comng to the park, promoted the parks christmas time light event, and then took some questions.  He got asked the enthusiasts favorite question "Whats new next year?"  Allof his answers really point back to one thing so instead of a trnascript, here is the gist of what he said.

Lakemont Park caters to a unique market.  In its market area, the median household income is around $20,000, and the area is economically depressed.  Lakemont Parks normal ride pass price is only $7.95, with that kind of price the big modern new coasters and flat rides are clearly out of the parks budget at the current time. One of their most popular promotions is Dollar Day, and on that day, park admission is only $1, a ride pass is only $1.  So for $2/person you get to ride all day, and again in his local market, without dollar days some of their citizens could never afford a day at a park. He mentioned possbily rasing the normal ride pass to $9.95 and making dollar days $2 days,  He also mentioned they would like to add something new in the future. They are a free admission park, so they don't have a hard number on attendnace, but they do a lot of group picnics so they can rough an attendnace estimate becuse they know on average 1 in 3 people a a group picninc will purhcase a ride pass. He also mentioned that he used to only do one Dollar Day a month, but that led to park overcrowding that made the guests unhappy, it cuased the workers an un pleasant time, and has made the line for Skyliner reach the three hour mark. So now every Wedneday is Dollar Day which means that instead of getting 10,000 on those days, they get 4,000 each week. He made a big deal regarding a recent article in Amusement oday which was making a big deal about some parks annoucning they were lowering admission from $49 to $41, whereas Dollar Days desn't score even a mention, he defied anybody to fnd a better deal than $2 for a day of fun at an amusement park, and they have 28 rides, many of which are the same rides found at other more expensive parks, mini golf, a waterpark and more.  I think he really made a point when he mentioned he was looking at one of those charts they put out once a year which compares what each park chagres for admission, parking, hot dog, soft drink.  He said he found it interestng that there are 28 parks in the United States that charge more to park your car than Lakemont charges for a full price ride pass. My look at the time, its now 3:15, and lunch is ending.  We renter the park through a back gate and peruse the gift shop which had been opened for our benefit.  Not spotting anything in the gift shop we headed back inot the park.  Rideman and I toyed with the idea of having a round of Traintown Mini Golf, but we ultimately wound up engaged in Coasternut Behavior.  Yep, thats when a group of coaster enthusiasts is gathered up on the park midway, talking about coasters rather than riding coasters. We were engaged in convicing Rideman to stop by Kennywood on the way home, and truth be told it was quite an easy sale,  We decided to get some more rides in at Lakemont park first.

Rideman and I headed over to Leap The Dips.  We got into a car, the three of us, and then learned we needed a fourth to ride.  How is this we are coaster enthusasts, at a coaster event, at an open coaster, and there is no one around we can even press into service to fill the fourth seat.  Rideman calls April to help out, but by the time she arrived another group arrived.  We negotiated arrangements so that everybody in both groups would get to ride at least once and some twice.  So I wound up with two more Leap The Dips rides. In a nostalgic kind of way I really like this coaster.  

After Leap the Dips I make my way around to the Skyliner.  I see April in the first seat apparently going on a double ride as the train just flew through the station.  I head up to the loading area and I learn that it was not an intentional double ride, instead the train literally blew through the station with the brakes unable to stop it. They stop the train on the lift, and leave that group out on the lift while the coaster mechanics readjust the skid brakes, taking them to their highest possible setting.  Then the people in the back car are walked down the lift, and it is announced the back car would be closed for the remainder of the day.  the train akes it back to unload, and we are invited to board "Front 2 cars only!" but now the brakes are so tight that the seats are now no longer lined up with the seat rows, so the back three rows actually seat the middle car, and the middle rows actually seat the first car.  We had to do some reshuffling and not everyone who was supposed to be on the next train made it on.  The Skylner station is truly a classic, there are no queue gates, not even queue rails, just a series of wooden posts and yellow lines to mark the queue lanes. I wind up in seat 4 and take what is surprisgnly a decent midtrain Skyliner ride.  By the time we return to the station the crowd had appeared, and what with only filling 2 of the cars and all, we deicde to call it a day at Lakemont.  

We are fortunate to stop and talk to Bill Linkenheimer on the way out of the park, so he is able to arrange to have some of those Kennywood presale tickets held at the Lakemont Park office for us, after chiding us about not getting them at dinner like we were supposed to, So, you heard this rightm we next headed to the Lakemont Park Administrative Offices, where we proceeded to purchase Kennywood Park tickets.  We then head to the parking lot.  Many thanks to Lakemont Park for having us, and to Gary Baker for the Leap the Dips photo tour. But now, after an ATM run, its off to Kennywood.  We do stop at a local Weis store to pick up some White Birch Beer before we pass the western border of the Birch Beer availability zone.


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