Finally: After a seven-year wait, riders free wheel on the Flying Turns
ELYSBURG - Finally.
Let's be honest: you know which ride we've all been waiting for at Knoebels Amusement Park. It's the one attraction we in the news biz routinely asked park officials about at the beginning of each season since they started the project more than seven years ago. And, to be even more straightforward, I have a feeling all of us at one point or another had our doubts if it would ever be finished.
So, really, is there a word more apt to describe the first public ride of the Flying Turns Saturday than "finally?"
Yes, finally will do, but I want to assure you, O naysayers, the wait was worth it. Knoebels definitely has another gem in their repertoire, and they should be proud.
It's a unique experience and unlike any other amusement park ride I've ever stepped on, which is literally true.
The last wooden bobsled coaster, which became popular in the 1930s, was closed in 1974 at Coney Island in New York. That's almost a decade before I was born.
When the car leaves the station at Knoebels and ascends a small lift hill, take a moment to realize you are on something that nobody has been able to enjoy for almost 40 years, that this structure is the only one of its kind in existence today. It's humbling, wouldn't you say?
Once you descend that first hill into a double helix, you hit the wooden track for a smooth ride that builds speed while you approach the second lift hill, a 48-foot-high endeavour. That lift's drop is where the real moneymaker is.
They call it "free wheeling" through two 270-degree turns, traveling up and down the sides of a narrow trough much like a bobsled would on its downhill run, centrifugal force acting as its only guide.
Like I said, it's smooth, and it's swift, and you can't help but smile while you quickly change directions with each turn on the 1,300 feet of track. It's no speeding bullet, but it has its moments of pure freedom, like a water slide without the water.
By the way, each vehicle includes three two-person cars. They were running two vehicles - one green and one yellow - Saturday. The seating, which is based upon weight distribution, will always be assigned.
After the experience, which lasts a little less than two minutes, I talked to some of the people who also finished the ride.
Chloe Kline, of Pottsville, told me it was "better than expected" and she would not only ride it again, but she would recommend it to others.
Her father, Barry Kline, said the climb up the sides with no track was his favorite part.
"It's not like a normal wooden coaster," he said.
Friends Kevin Hartman and Mark Colonna, both of Palmyra, described it as "whippy" and "turny."
"It lived up to the expectations," Hartman said.
The descent after the second lift hill wowed him the most.
News-Item photographer Larry Deklinski also talked to Sarah Windisch, of Wexford., who was more than excited to be the first person in line for the official opening of the ride. She stood in line for 3 hours to secure her spot.
"I loved it. It was awesome. It was so smooth," she told Larry moments after exiting the ride. "I am excited for Knoebels and for coaster enthusiasts."
Windisch, a member of American Coaster Enthusiasts (ACE), said ACE members have been following the project since it was first announced.
Jerry Bonczyk, a member of National Amusement Park Historical Association, told Larry the Flying Turns is a "historic" ride because there are no others of its type operating in the world.
He said the last time he rode a Flying Turns was in 1967 in Riverview Park, Chicago.
"I rode that ride 100 times," he said. "The Flying Turns at Knoebels runs quite a bit like the one that was at Riverview Park. The ride is excellent."
We've been waiting
Throughout all these interviews, many individuals had similar thoughts: 'We've been waiting a long time to see this ride open.'
I really don't envy Knoebels on this one. They were constructing this thing in front of everyone for seven years. They didn't have the luxury to fix problems behind closed doors. No, it's all out there in the open, smack dab in the spotlight, wounds exposed right along with their triumphs.
Joe Muscato, director of public relations, told me the park officials felt a great burden lifted when they were granted final approval Oct. 1 from the state Department of Agriculture Ride Inspection Division.
"It's been such a long road to get here, but it was what it had to be. Everyone is confident in the safety of it. Now we're waiting on the reaction," he said.
Muscato said riding the Flying Turns is like no other ride he's ever experienced.
"There's never been anything that feels like this," he said. "It's a really fun, one of a kind ride. It's the only one in the world. And it's here."
He complimented the persistence of the Knoebel family, too.
"Where others might have thrown up their hands and quit, they kept at it. The ends have justified the means," he said.
Muscato explained it wasn't given fanfare of a grand opening like the StratosFear or other attractions were given over the years because they knew they'd have plenty of people in the park over the weekend for the 32nd annual Covered Bridge Festival. Simply put, Muscato said a big announcement might have filled the park past parking capacity.
The announcement that the ride would be open to the public at noon Saturday came only at 10 a.m. By 7 p.m., that post on the Knoebels Facebook page generated 2,886 likes, 1,060 shares and more than 300 comments.
However, word spread Friday night after 100 individuals from various groups like American Coaster Enthusiasts, All American Thrills, Theme Park Review and Great Ohio Coaster Club started posting pictures and blog posts about a private event and Flying Turns ride held for them.
Muscato said there may be a bigger grand opening event in the spring, but it will be open the rest of the weekend and each weekend in October during Knoebels Hallo-Fun Nights event.
The Flying Turns, located near the Twister bridge next to the StratosFear with an entrance near the Looper, is $3 in tickets, and will not be included in the Hallo-Fun handstamp.