by Terry Currier as told to Stacy Brockett
What’s that Terry Currier up to these days? Yeah — he’s still selling & making music … and still being all influential ‘n stuff … but he is also someone who has goals and dreams outside of the music business bubble. As a matter of fact, this story is not going to be about music at all. It involves a man who is very near and dear to many amongst the music community and his passion for wooden roller coasters. And of course something to consider – if you’re planning on heading east, take this along as your guide to pure fun. Really, roller coasters and music have nothing to do with each other … that is unless you count that time you rode the kiddie coaster at the state fair while the one-toothed carnie operator was kind enough to blast his own music of choice … from Judas Priest to Slaughter all the way to Tina Marie.
Five years ago, Currier set out on a trip with the intention of riding the biggest, baddest, and oldest roller coasters in the U.S. He learned quickly, after finding himself standing in front of locked gates with closed signs, that not every park would be open on his watch. As a matter of fact, he may as well have changed his name from Currier to Griswold as he was turned away several times at different amusement parks … of course after driving hundreds of miles in an unfamiliar terrain just to experience these sought after amusements. You would think after 3-4 disappointing attempts that one would simply give up and say “to hell” with amusement parks.
Not this guy.
A few months ago, Currier had intended to take a trip with his uncle and embark upon a family history research adventure. However, his uncle had to bow out because his vacation time was revoked by his employer… an unfortunate story for another time. And this was announced 17 days prior to the vacation start date. However, Terry did not have a hard time conjuring up plan B. He set out to accomplish what he hadn’t been able to fully accomplish five years ago. He also planned ahead this time … actually checking park hours – which would turn out to be quite useful.
On May 26th, Currier took a plane from Portland to Indianapolis. He happened to land in Indianapolis the same day some guy from New Zealand named Scott Dixon took home $14,406,580 – and this was for winning the Indianapolis 500 the day before. One can only imagine the sea of racing spectators and Budweiser fans flowing down the airport corridors from such an event in a place that is normally less populous. Or maybe another good reason to gather in a spot such as Indianapolis would be to … umm … gather up your favorite republicans and have a pizza party? Okay, really – I think Terry had the best idea.
First stop: Indiana Beach – Monticello, IN
Park slogan: “There’s more than corn in Indiana!”
Indiana Beach, about 90 miles north of Indianapolis, is planted on a man-made lake known as Shafer lake … right off the Tippecanoe River. Not only is there an amusement park with several thrill rides, six roller coasters, many games, and a water park – but there is a hotel, cottage rentals, a paradisal beach, and a sizable campground. The Spackman family originally developed the property after seeking a spot for a vacation home and named it Ideal Beach. It started out in a cornfield and held a recreational swimming area with a refreshment stand and a bathhouse.
In the late 1920’s, the first rides erected on the property included two 30 ft Toboggan water slides that would skip the slide-goer across the lake. And of course you can’t have water slides without a ballroom, right? The one that the Spackmans built on the lake was known as the popular Ideal Beach Ballroom. He wanted to provide a bigger and more fascinating venue than the only other ballroom in the area … which happened to be across the lake. This would finely suit the musicians and fans of the popular Big Band music that was spreading like wildfire during the time.
After adding a few mechanical rides like the standard ferris wheel and merry go-round, Tom Spackman, who started behind the original refreshment counter when he was 12, became the boss of the park and changed the name. He realized that more folks would probably come to his establishment with a name that was more representative of the location. In 1950, it was changed to Indiana Beach.
Currier remembers one particular story he was given by his pal Mike from The Kingsmen. Mike told him that in the 1960’s, when they would drive from gig to gig across the country, they would specifically tune their route just enough to be able to stop in at Indiana Beach. Park rules were so lax, if in existence at all, that Mike recalled on one occasion – Brenda Lee was lying across his lap and another Kingsman’s lap in a two-seater during the coaster ride!
Holiday World – Santa Claus, IN
Park slogan: “#1 for family fun!”
Currier headed back south 180 miles towards Evansville, to reach his next destination, Holiday World. To understand this park is to first understand a little park terminology. When referring to the type of park, one might call it a theme park, or it could be called an amusement park. An amusement park often features a wide variety of rides and games. Theme parks can feature rides and games as well, but walking into a theme park is like walking into someone or something else’s world … the same theme or a collection of themes found throughout the park. Holiday World, as you can imagine, definitely fits the official mold of a theme park.
The park actually started in 1946 as Santa Claus Land with rides, games, and other exciting attractions. Back then it was solely about Christmas. Over the years the park has incorporated three other holidays – Halloween, 4th of July, and the most recent addition – Thanksgiving. Another addition to the park’s combination of adventure attractions was made in the 1990’s – Splashin’ Safari.
Currier went seeking multiple rides, including both the front and back car, of the three most famous and biggest roller coasters in the world. Of course this was right after he wolfed down an entire Thanksgiving dinner from a food establishment within the … yep – you guessed it, the Thanksgiving side of the park! Terry rode The Raven which opened in 1993. It has been voted in at 1st, 2nd, and 3rd, places, as the world’s best wooden roller coaster, by several amusement magazines over the years. In 2000, the park opened another award-winning wooden roller coaster – The Legend.
One thing to keep in mind … Terry kept a log of his rides and the raw data of each experience – the day, time, location, the ride, and which car he rode in. There were also many occasions when he rode each coaster more than once … we are talking seven times! Terry also experienced his first downfall at this point. Now that he had conquered The Legend and The Raven, he was on his way to ride yet another top-rated brand new wooden roller coaster. However, the damn thing was broke down. He actually went to the extreme of locating the mechanics during their lunch, a sit-down over Thanksgiving dinner of course. Terry asked them what the problem with the coaster was. Apparently some roller coaster mechanic was a little too grease-happy and the roller coaster was deemed non-operational for several hours that day.
Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom – Louisville, KY
This is where I have to omit the park slogan because … well … guess what? They don’t have one! It could be because Kentucky Kingdom is part of the Six Flags network … a huge corporation with a great number of expensive, expansive parks across the country.
As for Currier, he drove to 65 miles east on I-64 to see a fellow record store buddy in Louisville, and he couldn’t pass up the opportunity. The park was right there. And to prove his amusement park extremism even further, he visited this park the same day that he conquered all he could at Holiday World.
This park is a rookie compared to the first two – it’s only been in operation since 1987 when it branched off from the Kentucky State Fair. It became corporate in 1998 when Six Flags made the purchase of the once-bankrupt park. A few years ago it was decided that the expansion side of the park’s theme be renamed “Gotham City”. This would mean that the existing rides would be renamed and made to attract more visitors. One of the rides had a proposed name of “Twisted Sisters”. However, the idea was flushed and had to become “Twisted Twins” because Twisted Sister, the band, threatened to sue the park.
Kings Island – Mason, OH
Park slogan: “King’s Island … Where else?”
Terry drove northwest … about 125 miles through Cincinnati up to Mason to reach the longest wooden roller coaster in the world – The Beast. This ride is a whopping 7,419 ft long. When The Beast debuted in 1979, just five years after the park opened, it was not only the world’s longest coaster, but also the tallest and fastest!
According to Terry, this park is HUGE. It is situated around it’s worldly centerpiece, a 1/3 scale replica of the Eiffel Tower. Of course just like every amusement park mentioned in this story, it also houses a water park. There are ten roller coasters in all at the current time. Kings Island proudly boasts the Son of Beast, which is now the tallest and fastest wooden roller coaster in the world. Terry had the pleasure of riding this jewel of an amusement ride. He is obviously a stickler for wooden roller coasters. Although he does enjoy a good steel roller coaster from time to time. They usually make smoother rides and the rider must be tightly strapped in as you never know what crazy twists & turns might throw one right out of the seat and on to … well, it could be pretty ugly! Steel bends and roller coasters can be prime examples of this feature of steel. Simply put, wooden coasters are original, rough, loud, and they have that classic appeal to them. As Terry describes it … “You hear the clunk, clunk, clunk of the chain” … and the rest is history!
Cedar Point – Sandusky, OH
Park slogan: “America’s RollerCoast”
Currier refers to Cedar Point as the roller coaster mecca. As a matter of fact, this park has the most roller coasters of any park in the world – seventeen! Just like Indiana Beach, the park is located right on the water. It happens to be located on a peninsula that jets out into Lake Erie. It is said that Cedar Point is the country’s second oldest park, opening in 1870. And not only does it have more roller coasters than anyone else, but it’s got all of the other parks beat in the most rides ever category – seventy-five of them to be exact! And of course with it being right on the water, it holds a water park and is surrounded by sandy beaches.
One favorite coaster that Terry mentions is the Top Thrill Dragster, the second tallest steel coaster in the world. This contraption is worth mentioning for many reasons. For one thing, it looks like a dangling shoe string thrown up & around a pole … if you can imagine what that would look like at 420 feet tall. It uses hydraulics to shoot its riders a blasting 120 mph straight up – and this is done in a measly four seconds. And for every up there is a stomach-shattering down. At 420 feet this probably borders upon heart attack-worthy, especially when it throws you around the 90 degree bend at the top while still traveling 120 mph … something about that zero g-force. Oh yeah – and then it does all of this while twisting towards the bottom at 270 degrees.
Martin’s Fantasy Island – Grand Island, NY
Park slogan: “Spend the day … not a fortune!”
Considering that it costs $60 for current admission to several Six Flags locations, Martin Dipietro had the right idea, charge an admission that people can actually afford. It costs $24 per adult and if you go after 5pm, it only costs $15. The admission price covers parking, canoes, park shows, petting zoo, and a water park. It is a smaller park, but includes a healthy variety of rides, attractions, and just good ol’ family fun. This park is the epitome of non-corporate parks and should be visited and appreciated before it’s either sold to Six Flags or is leveled for future development.
The day that Currier drove 120 miles to this amusement park destination in western NY, it was raining cats & dogs. With the park’s location being only four miles form Niagara Falls, this is no surprise. Even after trying to wait it out, it continued to rain all damn day. Terry was able to gain limited admission by acquiring a special needs pass and played some games. But his original intention of visiting three parks that day was blown right out of the water (excuse the pun) when the rain would not cease. He barely made it through the ever-so persistent rain & fog, which made several drivers that day have to either slow down quite a bit or just stop altogether on the side of the road.
Back to Erie, PA … the direction he had already come from … with no ride on any roller coaster.
Waldameer Park – Erie, PA
Park slogan: “We have something for everyone.”
This is the part where it gets even cheaper. Everything from admission to concessions … way, way cheaper. This also happens to be one of the many parks Currier attempted to gain admission to five years ago. He drove all of the way there from who knows where … and they were just simply closed.
He didn’t miss it this time.
So Waldameer certainly isn’t the oldest amusement park in the country, but it goes way back to 1896, making it the tenth oldest amusement park. The park was originally a picnic area taken over by the Erie Electric Motor Company. Their goal was to increase the number of passengers for the trolley car company they owned, especially on weekends. This was not unpopular for the time. As a matter of fact there were many trolley companies around the country who built amusement parks at the end of the line – just to boost rider-ship. It worked … it was fun for a while … but only so many parks survived. Waldameer Park is an antique American original.
Currier described one Waldameer coaster in particular, the Ravine Flyer II. This happens to be a brand new coaster in this old, classic park. It actually took the place of the original Ravine, which was disassembled a long, long while ago in 1938. Seventy years later, the new version of the wooden roller coaster is back in business. Speaking of business, considering that the park charges minimal admission, they are still profitable enough to have the ability to erect this six million dollar roller coaster. The roller coaster shoots out over the four-lane highway and through a couple of dark tunnels. It also climbs a hill and drops you down the other side back over the highway through another pitch black tunnel!
You can get into both the amusement park and its water park for $22. Another plus, however, is that you can buy individual ride tickets in lieu of an all-day pass. And oh yeah – parking is free.
Seabreeze Amusement Park – Irondequoit, NY
Park slogan: “More smiles per hour”
Currier took a much-needed rest in Rochester, NY and managed to have lunch with another record store friend. His first amusement park adventure of the day was to head to the suburbs and revisit a family-owned park he had actually been to before – Seabreeze, the fourth oldest park in the country.
The park started out as a trolley stop in 1879 and started adding rides in 1900. One of the earliest rides was the carousel. By 1920, there were four roller coasters. Terry was on a quest to ride the infamous Jack Rabbit – the third oldest operating wooden roller coaster in the world. This old masterpiece was built in 1920 with 3 other original coasters. Apparently it is quite a challenge to operate it due to the series of levers. It’s what is called an out & back roller coaster. It’s got a 75 ft drop, great dips, and a dark tunnel. Currier rode the Jack Rabbit seven times!
Knoebels Amusement Resort – Elysburg, PA
Park slogan: “America’s largest free admission park!”
Currier headed to the middle of Pennsylvania to revisit another park he had been to previously. And it’s obvious why he would want to go back again. Knoebels has always been family-owned and not only features an amusement park with over fifty rides, but they also feature a picnic grove and a campground for its guests. This park has been a recipient of many amusement park awards for its rides & originality given by different amusement organizations & magazines.
The park did not start out at the end of the trolley line like the last couple of parks on Terrier’s trip. Its origination is more similar to the original park mentioned on this adventure – Indiana Beach. Knoebels started out as a picnic spot in the middle of a valley outlined with trees and contained a large swimming hole. The farmer who owned the nearby land, Henry Knoebel, noticed the influx of picnicking visitors and started selling concessions to them. In the early 20th century this area would be known as Knoebels Grove. Knoebel took it one step further and added cottages on his land that the guests could rent. And of course it didn’t end there. He kept adding different attractions over the decades until there was a full blown amusement site in place.
Nowadays the park features some of the best wooden coasters in the country. One that Terry describes as “one great coaster … it’s fast and has lots of turns … and it’s very, very well designed …” is known as the Twister. This coaster was built in the park from scratch to replicate the original, now defunct Mr. Twister from Denver.
Another coaster mentioned by Currier is the landmark, Phoenix. This wooden roller coaster has an interesting history as it was completely dismantled from its original location in San Antonio, TX in 1980. The coaster originally operated as The Rocket in Playland Park from 1947 to 1980 when it was moved to Pennsylvania. The cool points of this coaster lie within its several negative gravity spots. This is when the coaster is hauling ass over little bunny hills giving the rider a sensation that is similar to that of floating air.
Watch out Disneyland! Disneyland only has one close contender in the dark ride department – and that would be the Haunted Mansion built in Knoebels park after a devastating flood in 1973. The park also boasts bumper cars to die for. Talk about employment retention – the old guy who operates these bumper cars has been doing the same thing since he was in his twenties. Now he’s in his 70’s. Currier thinks these are the best bumper cars ever. “You can just smell the graphite,” he says.
This park is one to highlight for sure. It’s about as genuine as you can get. One really awesome attraction this park offers is the price of admission — FREE. You can pay one flat fee of $37 and enjoy unlimited rides. Or you can pay per ride, which tickets range anywhere from 70 cents to $2.20 each. And Currier mentioned the food. The food is not only cheap, but it’s good. $2 for a burger, $1.25 for a soda, and not to mention the variety of food around the park is incredible.
Knoebels is currently constructing one of the most interesting wood contraptions to date – a ride called Flying Turns. The track is wood – but it’s more like a bobsled track. If you visit Knoebels website you can view several pictures of the construction phase. This may be a reason for Currier to head back in the near future!
Hersheypark – Hershey, PA
Park slogan: “The sweetest place on Earth”
Currier was at it again … crossing county lines in search of more thrill rides and amusement park air filled with the scent of cotton candy and the sound of screaming coaster-goers. The same day he experienced a fun-filled day at Knoebels, he decided to squeeze in a little bit o’ corporate … but with candy and a slogan! Where else can you walk amongst giant Hershey’s kisses and candybars? Not to mention the free chocolate candy that is distributed throughout the park …
Today the park has eleven roller coasters and multiple water rides. It was opened way back in 1907 as a park for Hershey employees to gather for picnics and other work events. In 1912 came the famous Dentzel carousel and years to follow came dozens of additional rides, a ballroom, a scenic railroad, a zoo, and an arcade for the public to enjoy.
One mentionable wooden roller coaster is called the Lightning Racer. This is somewhat unique as it holds two tracks where two 24-passenger trains take off at the same time and race the entire track until the end is reached back at the station. The two duelling sides are known as Thunder (Green) & Lightning (Red). Currier also mentioned the infamous Roller Soaker – a steel roller coaster ride involving water cannons on each car and the opportunity for riders to soak the passersby below.
Clementon Amusement Park – Clementon, NJ
However, you can buy tickets online for only $20!
In the early morning Currier decided to cross state lines and head out for yet another destination he wasn’t able to fulfill five years ago – the Clementon Amusement Park, another old-school trolley stop. He had a special reason for wanting to conquer the rides at this amusement park. You see, shortly after his failed attempt five years ago to enter the park and ride the world famous wooden coaster, the Jack Rabbit, the park tore it down! They not only shut it down, but they blew it to bits. Apparently in 1998 three cars of the Jack Rabbit derailed and pelted into a nearby office building. Six people were hurt. It was finally abandoned in 2002 and was demolished in 2007. In its place was built yet another thrilling wooden roller coaster, the Hell Cat.
But the funny thing is, even with all that planning and checking ahead, Currier discovered another closed Clementon.
He still plans to get in one day … to experience the new Hell Cat, which includes a plethora of twists & turns, zero-gravity bunny hops, a swirling helix, and a steep 110 ft drop. Whew!
Six Flags Great Adventure – Jackson, NJ
Since Clementon was a bust, Currier resorted to paying a high ticket price and entered one of the biggest, commercial parks in the country, Six Flags Great Adventure. No one really should pass up the opportunity to experience near death on such extreme rides. Where does it end with Six Flags and their quest to always build the biggest, tallest, and fastest rides on the planet?
Terry had to experience one of the biggest and baddest of today’s wooden roller coasters. Say hello to El Toro! It includes the world’s second most steepest drop – 76 degrees! It also boasts a whopping height at 188 ft and a lightning fast speed at 70 mph. And of course it hauls ass over the popular zero-gravity bunny hills, one of Currier’s favorite elements of riding any wooden roller coaster. He rates El Toro as one of his all-time top three.
Currier had one other coaster in mind – the world’s tallest and fastest wooden roller coaster, Kingda Ka. It has only been around for about three years and holds the park’s longest wait time – an average two hours. Prior to visiting the coaster, Terry took a moment and checked out the live tiger show. During this time, he learned that the world’s tallest and fastest wooden roller coaster had just run into a mechanical failure and had to close.
Currier had no choice but to keep his head high and drive into the night to another East Coast state, Connecticut. When he arrived to his sleepy destination he was able to find the only open eating establishment around – a pizza joint. So he got a little sustenance and found some much-needed rest at a motel in attempt to fuel up for the next day and its big adventure calling.
Lake Compounce – Bristol, CT
Park slogan: “New England’s Family Theme Park”
So this is the day … the day that Currier wakes up and goes to the continent’s oldest amusement park ever. Lake Compounce has been open since 1846!
Well actually, it didn’t quite turn out that way. You see, when Terry woke up, he woke up to rain … lots of it. It managed to rain throughout the morning while he was drinking coffee in town as an attempt to wait it out. He waited and waited. Finally, he gave up and resigned himself to the idea that the park would be closed due to the persistent New England rain. So he knew he would at least have to get a photograph of this American amusement landmark.
But when he arrived at the gates, to his amazement, the park was actually open!
The park has a rich history as you can imagine at its age. It all started when a scientist was testing new explosives on a given day and people from all over came to witness the spectacle. They made a party of it and set up picnic tables, opened a swimming area, built a gazebo, and built some rides. In the 1930’s it grew with the addition of the Starlight Ballroom. The park catered to live concerts from classic Big Band musicians such as Goodman, Dorsey, Basie, and even Sinatra!
In the 1980’s after Hershey’s failed to successfully run this park in addition to its own, it was sold to JEG (Joseph Enterntainment Group). They built a 20,000 seat ampitheatre and renamed the site as Lake Compounce Festival Park in effort to combine amusement park attractions with regular music festival acts (i.e. concert promotion). They were successful in doing this for only a few years. Mentionable acts included Bob Dylan, Neil Young, The Allman Brothers, Phil Collins, Stevie Nicks, Crosby-Stills-&-Nash, and even Milli Vanilli! Even more interesting is the fact that this happens to be the exact location of Milli Vanilli’s MTV lip-synching bust in 1990. The park soon went bankrupt. However, it managed to survive after changing hands … many times.
Even though it was still raining, Terry was able to board a fun little wooden roller coaster called the Boulder Dash. This coaster takes advantage of the natural mountainous landscape by traveling 65 mph through a jungle of trees and giant boulders … and then dropping off into the mountainside. Currier also mentioned one of his favorite attractions – the Lake Railroad, which is the only other railroad to challenge the Oregon Zoo’s railroad ride in his opinion. A few of the train’s operators are also long-time employees of this historic park and have been there longer than many of us have been alive.
Last stop: Astroland – Coney Island, NY
Park slogan: “Home of the world famous Cyclone”
What makes this visit interesting for Currier is that the fate of Astroland is uncertain. There is a good possibility that the land may be developed into a boardwalk shopping area. It was announced recently on August 30, 2008, that the park’s current owner will close her gates for good. All that is known at this point is that no one will be saving the park and Astroland had to notify all of their employees of the unfortunate lay-off. As a matter of fact, Terry did not originally plan to even visit Astroland. He had to rearrange his already planned trip to include a jaunt up to the seediest and grittiest amusement park known to the country. He knew he had to do it. So you see, visiting Astroland during this trip was a requirement even at the slightest hint that the park will be disappearing.
Terry may have been a little concerned upon his arrival. It was closed.
He walked around and was asking vendors if they knew whether or not the park would be opening up that day. He was told at one point it would not be until six that evening. No one seemed to know much concrete information. Currier was able to meet up with another friend at the nearby world famous hot dog venue – Nathan’s. Fortunately during this time, the park opened!
Terry was first in line for the world famous wooden roller coaster – the Cyclone, which opened in 1927. He of course rode it several times, front and back cars – just as he had been doing on the other roller coasters throughout the trip. According to Currier there is some logic that is necessary when determining if the front or back car is the way to go … never anything in between. And when your typical coaster train holds 24 passengers, that means there are only 4 seats to grab … which one must wait a little longer for. If you sit in the back car, the ride tends to be a little on the bumpy side, and also can be pretty jerky around bends. As for the front, this is always the smoothest seat on the train … and of course you get the best views and the best gravity sensations. When it comes to riding the Cyclone, Terry says the “back seat on the Cyclone is one of the most evil rides you can ever ride on.” But when talking about the Cyclone in general, he just describes it as “absolutely amazing!”
Terry was back in Portland on June 7th – just ten days after he started his roller coaster journey in Indianapolis.
Why so many amusement parks on the east side of the country and only a handful on the west coast? Especially here in the Northwest – all we can really think of would be Oaks Park and The Enchanted Forest. Is it because of the weather and non-stop Northwest rain? No, says Currier. Besides the fact that it rains constantly on the east coast, he explained that one of the reasons for there being so many parks on the east coast is because of the primary industry staple of the time – steel. Steel was in abundance and so were the working families that worked in said industry. Indie parks allowed these families to spend the day together, ride roller coasters, and participate in a bundle of activities. All people had to do back then was take the trolley to the end of the line … on the steel tracks they helped construct.
Currier brings to light the difference between indie parks and commercial parks. Of course the commercial parks are where you will always find the most extreme rides … just like all of the Six Flags and the Disney parks across the country. These parks boast the highest, fastest, and craziest rides. They can also afford to continuously add to their enormous parks by charging high ticket and concession prices. But, they lack originality due to the high level of commercialism within the parks. Even worse, families can barely afford the cost of a full day at a commercial amusement park these days. You might have enough for admission, but how are you going to afford the expensive food? And then sadly, for the smaller, family-owned parks, they are struggling. They are struggling because they still want to be able to offer low prices, yet cannot afford the ever-increasing insurance costs. The indie parks offer more of an original, old-time experience. These smaller, old-time parks were in existence when working families needed an affordable spot to have an abundance of fun and enjoy the summer weather. When you walk into one of these parks, often times it’s like going back in time. The goal has always been to retain that classic amusement park feel. Terry Currier has proven to the Northwest that these gems still exist.
Catch ‘em while you can, and be sure to plan!