Who doesn’t enjoy a trip to the carnival when it rolls into town? The rides, the games, the food . . . it’s a smorgasbord of delights. Prices are reasonable, and you’ll never suffer long lines.
A local carnival offers simple fun that reminds us of childhood, when the Tilt-a-Whirl, Ferris wheel, and roller coaster used to thrill the bejesus out of us. Now, parents bring a new generation of kids to watch their eyes light up. It’s an American tradition, like taking your son to his first baseball game or force-feeding him his first beer.
Yet there’s something even better. Scattered across the US landscape (and indeed, throughout the western world), old amusement parks—the kind with permanent attractions like the Haunted House, House of Mirrors, and Dodge ‘Em cars—patiently bide their time, catering to small crowds in out-of-the-way towns with nondescript names. If you’ve never been to one of these quaint parks, you are missing quite an experience.
Today’s gargantuan amusement parks boast all the thrills the latest technology can provide, but in their haste to wow customers, they’ve left something at the door: a touch of humanity. The new parks herd customers from ride to ride, to wait in lines long enough to qualify them for a federal assistance program. These parks aren’t interested in people; they’re interested in profits.
The new rides, too, are high-tech marvels without a pulse. The new roller coasters, for example, try to atone for the long wait times by taking riders higher and faster than ever before. But the rush arrives at the pit of your stomach, not in your vivid imagination. You’re squeezed into a molded, cushioned chair with a padded shoulder harness that Hercules himself couldn’t break out of. You can get more thrills doing ninety miles-per-hour in a Cooper Mini in the midst of rush-hour traffic.
The old roller coasters, on the other hand, were invariably made of wood. Wood: the same material they make toothpicks out of. Waiting in line beneath the mammoth wooden structure, hearing the screams overhead while seeing the wooden beams sway and bend every time the cars whiz past, you feel like you’re looking up at Mount Saint Helens seconds before she blew her top.
Talk about thrills—when you step into an old rollercoaster car, all you get to more or less keep you in the slippery plastic seat are an old-fashioned seat belt and a metal bar four inches from your lap. You and your riding partner squirm together as momentum whips you first to one side, then the other. Talk about terror. You are never really sure if you’ll be front-page news or merely a shaking, quaking, satisfied customer. Film at eleven.
Riding a wooden rollercoaster is a thrill unmatched by modern amusement parks, and it’s yours only if you take the time to find those old relics before accident or government regulations shut them all down for good. To get you started, below is a short list of wooden roller coasters we’ve discovered:
- Beast, Paramount’s King Island, Mason, Ohio
- Boulder Dash, Lake Compounce, Bristol, Connecticut
- Dragon Coaster, Playland, Rye, New York
- Ghostrider, Knott’s Berry Farm, Buena Park, California
- Giant Dipper, Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, Santa Cruz, California
- Leap-The-Dips, Lakemont Park, Altoona, Pennsylvania
- Raven, Holiday World, Santa Claus, Indiana
- Shivering Timbers, Michigan’s Adventure, Muskegon, Michigan
- The Cyclone, Astroland at Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York
- Tonnerre de Zeus, Park Astérix, Oise, France
How We Saw It
Communication Breakdown: 2
Customer Dis-service: 1
Discomfort Level: 3
Grunge Factor: 1
Inactivity Guide: 1
Spontaneous Consumption: 2
Fun Fraction: 5/5
If You Won’t Listen to Us
Nearest Airport: Leave the airports behind. Drive.
Native Population: Mostly in small towns
Normal Attractions: Wooden roller coasters, other old-timey rides, cotton candy, hot dogs, and the smell of the old park.
Final Point of Interest: After you survive the ride (assuming you do), you’ll want to get right back in line to do it all over again!