14 Antique Roller Coasters You Can Still Ride

Topical Press Agency/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Topical Press Agency/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

What could be more terrifying than ascending the rails on a roller coaster? Try riding one that was in service before the Wright Brothers' first airplane flight.

As one of the nation’s greatest amusement park pastimes, the coaster—introduced to the U.S. in 1884 by LaMarcus Thompson—has evolved from rickety wooden terror trains to high-tech steel diversions. But that doesn’t mean you can’t catch a ride on a classic. Check out these 14 old-school coasters that that are still accepting new passengers.

1. The Cyclone

A popular destination among thrill-seeking tourists in New York City, Coney Island’s famous—or infamous—Cyclone debuted in June 1927 and has outlasted many of its peers in the park over the years. When the nearby aquarium tried to get it demolished, supporters stepped in to preserve it; it was later named to the National Register of Historic Places. The Cyclone’s 2640 feet of track and pre-Depression-era framework didn’t always hold up: The ride stalled out several times, requiring riders to make a dizzying descent from the track on foot. The ride’s track has recently been replaced.

2. Giant Dipper

At 95 years young, the Santa Cruz-based Giant Dipper isn’t ready to retire just yet. The Dipper cost just 15 cents a ride when it debuted in 1924, and builder Arthur Looff said he wanted riders to experience a combination “earthquake, balloon ascension, and aeroplane drop.” Passengers first enter a dark tunnel before being lifted seven stories above ground.

Repainting the 327,000 board feet of lumber used in its construction cost $300,000 in 2013. A “sister” coaster, also named the Giant Dipper, was erected in San Diego in 1925.

3. Lagoon Roller Coaster

Farmington, Utah’s Lagoon Amusement Park rates its antique coaster’s thrill level as “very high,” a biased but probably accurate summation. Built in 1921, the coaster can hit speeds of 45mph across more than 2500 feet of track, its wooden planks visibly rattling as the train speeds by. Inspectors do a walkthrough every day, frequently replacing any worn out parts.

4. Rutschebanen

Located in Tivoli Gardens in Denmark, Rutschebanen (Danish for “roller coaster”) is unique among classic amusement rides. Built in 1914, it has a driver—specifically, a “brake man”—who sits in the train and can control the speed manually, creating a unique experience for each set of passengers. Rutschebanen was originally designed to be a simulation trip through the mountains, with artificial peaks seen at the top of the ride (which have recently been restored).

5. The Wild One

Originally designed and built for Paragon Park near Boston in 1917, the 98-foot-tall Wild One moved to what is now Six Flags America in Maryland (although it’s considered unlikely that much survives of the original roller coaster). Fans of the coaster are said to be thrilled with “ejector air,” the feeling of being launched from your seat. It’s rumored that the Kennedys took regular rides before it was relocated.

6. Jack Rabbit

Designer John Miller made an important tweak to roller coaster blueprints with the Jack Rabbit in 1920. It was one of the first to use an under-friction wheel approach, which kept the train seated firmly on the tracks as a safety measure. Located in Seabreeze Amusement Park in Rochester, New York, the Jack Rabbit has a sister coaster at Kennywood in West Mifflin, Pennsylvania, with the same name.

7. The Racer

The 1927 Racer, which is also located in that same Kennywood Park, takes a (nearly) singular approach to coasters: There are twin passenger trains that launch at the same time, “racing” one another to get to the end of the ride. Curiously, it’s still a single track—just one that’s looped for two-lane excitement. If you leave on the right, you’ll return on the left side.

8. Great Scenic Railway

While many antique coasters have had to close temporarily for one reason or another, the Great Scenic Railway in Melbourne, Australia’s Luna Park claims to be the oldest continually operating ride in the world. Opening in 1912, the Railway was joined by an eclectic group of attractions at Luna Park, including the “world’s fattest boy” (who weighed 350 pounds at age 12) and a woman who would set herself on fire before diving into a pool that was also burning. The 107-year-old ride is accessible via the Aussie Luna Park’s “Mr. Moon” mouth entrance portal.

9. The Legend

Arnolds Park in Iowa has a towering tourist attraction: the 63-foot Legend, on park grounds since 1930. The appeal, according to purists, is a bumpy ride akin to the spin cycle of a dryer. By 2013, the coaster was tossing passengers around so freely that it underwent renovations to make for a smoother ride. In August 2015, Des Moines-area retiree Les Menke took it for a spin; 85 years previously, the 96-year-old and a friend had been the first on board following a bunch of test sandbags.

10. Thunderbolt

Roller coaster design legend John Miller crafted this Kennywood Park attraction, which debuted in 1924. The ride got a redesign in 1968 and a naming contest was held; Thunderbolt was the winning entry. The revamp was seemingly successful—in 1974 it was described as the “ultimate coaster” by The New York Times.

11. Wildcat

Bristol, Connecticut’s most famous human agitator is located at Lake Compounce and opened in 1927. It made major local headlines in 1975, when Noel Aube hopped on and rode it 2001 consecutive times, logging more than 79 hours and around 1022.5 miles on the coaster. Aube would eat and sleep on the track; business of a personal nature could be handled during the five-minute breaks he’d take every hour.

12. Thunderhawk

Originally referred to as simply “The Coaster,” Dorney Park’s Thunderhawk debuted in 1923. For a while, passengers would sit in the train and go underneath a separate station housing bumper cars before being spit out on the main track. While that was all removed in later renovations, Thunderhawk continues to appeal to classic coaster fans.

13. Kiddie Coaster

While you usually need to be of a certain height to hop on amusement rides, the 1928 Kiddie Coaster is one of the few to penalize visitors for being too tall. Running for just 300 feet, the Playland Park attraction in Rye, New York, is intended for children only.

14. Leap the Dips

Opening in 1902, Altoona, Pennsylvania’s Leap the Dips is the world’s oldest surviving roller coaster. It might also be the most tame: Topping out at 10 to 18mph, the drops are a fairly serene nine feet. But being on board is another story—passengers experience an undulating series of dips that feels like being in a car without shocks (or seat belts, or lap bars, or head rests, according to Lehigh Valley Live). If you need a relaxed introduction to roller coasters, this is probably the ride you've been looking for.

10 Out-of-This-World Facts About Space Camp

U.S. Department of Education, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
U.S. Department of Education, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Each year, millions of kids fill their summer vacation days with songs, crafts, and outdoor activities at camp. Summer camps across the U.S. share many similarities, but Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama is unique. Instead of canoeing and archery, young attendees get to ride spacecraft simulators, build robots, and program computers. It’s the closest young civilians can come to working for NASA.

Space Camp welcomed its first aspiring astronauts in 1982, and since then, more than 900,000 campers have attended the program. From its famous alumni to its depiction in film, here are some more facts about Space Camp.

1. The movie SpaceCamp boosted its popularity.

SpaceCamp, the movie inspired by the real camp in Huntsville, Alabama, wasn’t a huge hit when it debuted in theaters in 1986. It grossed just $9,697,739—a little more than half its reported budget. But it didn’t fade into obscurity completely. The film saw success in the home video market and became popular enough to leave a lasting mark on pop culture. Dr. Deborah Barnhart, the real camp’s director for part of the 1980s, told AL.com that attendance doubled following the movie’s release. SpaceCamp shot many of its scenes on location at the Huntsville center. The life-sized space-shuttle flight-deck and mid-deck built for the film were donated to the camp and used as a simulator there from 1986 to 2012.

2. Space Camp was the brainchild of a missile designer.

Some people may be surprised to learn that Space Camp is located in Alabama and not Florida, home to Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center (the movie SpaceCamp is set in Florida despite being filmed in Alabama). But Huntsville, Alabama, has been a major aeronautics center since the 1950s when Wernher von Braun and his team of rocketeers moved there. The German scientist had designed ballistic missiles for the United States military after World War II, and shortly after relocating to Huntsville, he redirected his attention to space flight. He launched the U.S. Space and Rocket Center as a way to demonstrate the area’s rocket technology to tourists. Von Braun also came up with the idea for a science-focused alternative to traditional summer camps after seeing children touring the rocket center and taking notes. Space Camp opened at the center in 1982, a few years after his death.

3. Space Camp activities go beyond space.

The kids at Space Camp do more than ride giant rocket simulators. After enrolling, young campers choose a track to focus on. They can study aviation and learn air navigation and combat techniques, choose robotics and build their own robots, or stick to space-centric subjects and activities. The newest Space Camp experience, cyber camp, teaches kids programming and online security skills.

4. The Space Camp simulators don’t make campers sick.

Space Camp is home to three simulators based on real-life training rigs astronauts use to prepare for space missions. The most intense rig is the multi-axis trainer, and just watching a video of it in action may be enough to make you feel queasy. But according to the camp’s website, campers “should not become sick or dizzy on any of our simulators.” On the multi-axis trainer, this is due to the fact that the rider's stomach remains at the center of the chair throughout the simulation, even as the chair itself is spinning in all directions. Motion sickness is caused when your inner ear fluid and your eyes send your brain conflicting information. Because the rig tumbles so wildly, the rider's inner fluid never has a chance to shift and make them want to vomit.

5. Space Camp boasts some famous alumni.

Space Camp attracts bright young minds from around the world, including a few celebrities. Chelsea Clinton attended the week-long program when her father was in the White House in 1993. Amy Carter, Jimmy Carter’s daughter, and Karenna Gore, daughter of Al Gore, also enrolled in the camp. But not every famous Space Camp graduate came from the world of politics: South African actress Charlize Theron is another notable alumna.

6. Several Space Camp graduates went on to be astronauts.

Many kids who go to Space Camp dream of growing up to be astronauts, and for some of them, that dream becomes a reality. The camp’s alumni includes the “Tremendous 12”—a handful of Space Camp graduates who’ve made it to space. Most members of this elite group were trained by NASA, but a few of them went on to work for other space agencies like the ESA.

7. Most Space Campers end up in STEM professions.

Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama.
GPA Photo Archive, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Even if they don’t go on to be astronauts, most Space Camp attendees have bright futures ahead of them. According to the camp, 61 percent of graduates are studying aerospace, defense, energy, education, biotech, or technology, or they’re working in one of those fields already. Of the alumni pursuing careers in STEM, half of them said that Space Camp inspired that decision.

8. There’s a Space Camp for visually impaired kids.

The U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama hosts a second Space Camp that shares a lot in common with its original program. There are space simulators, astronaut-training missions, and even scuba diving—the main difference is that the kids there are blind or visually impaired. Space Camp for Interested Visually Impaired Students, or SCIVIS, offers children in grades 4 to 12 a crash course in various STEM subjects. They use accessible tools, like computers adapted for speech and reading materials printed in braille or large print. Activities for the week-long camp are organized by teachers familiar with the needs of visually impaired students.

9. Double Dare sent winners to Space Camp.

After conquering the obstacle course of the Nickelodeon game show Double Dare, kid contestants were sent home with various prizes. Though no doubt exciting in the 1980s and '90s, many of the prizes—which included encyclopedias, cassette recorders, and AOL subscriptions—haven’t aged well. A trip to Space Camp was one of the biggest awards players could win, and it’s one of the few that would still have value today.

10. Adults can go to Space Camp too.

If you never went to Space Camp as a kid, you haven’t missed your chance. While the regular Space Camp is only open to kids ages 9 to 18, the U.S. Space & Rocket Center also offers camp programs for older space enthusiasts. Family Space Camp is designed for groups that include at least one child and one adult, and if you don’t plan on tagging along with a kid, you can enroll in the three-day Adult Space Camp experience that’s strictly for campers 18 and older.

The Hallmark Channel’s First-Ever ‘Christmas Con’ Is Comin’ to Town

macniak/iStock via Getty Images
macniak/iStock via Getty Images

Bookworms have Book Con, comic lovers have Comic Con, and now, courtesy of the Hallmark Channel, Christmas fanatics will finally get the gift they’ve surely written to Santa about more than a few times: Christmas Con.

News 12 New Jersey reports that the festive convention will take place at the New Jersey Convention and Exposition Center in Edison from November 8 through November 10.

If you binge-watch Hallmark Channel’s schmaltzy feel-good flicks faster than St. Nick scarfs down a giant gingerbread cookie, this is your chance to catch its biggest stars in one decked-out hall. Mean Girls (2004) alum Jonathan Bennett will emcee the convention, The Walking Dead’s Alicia Witt will perform a concert, and panels will include guests like Chad Michael Murray, Melissa Joan Hart, and Bennett’s former Mean Girls co-star Lacey Chabert (who will hopefully be showered with enough candy canes to make up for the time that her character, Gretchen Weiners, got none).

In addition to its celebrity events, Christmas Con will also include a Christmas market with gifts, handmade decorations, and holiday treats. You can also don your most lurid holiday sweater for a chance to win a $500 grand prize in the Ugly Christmas Sweater contest, or bake a gingerbread house fit for a prince in the Gingerbread Wars, which could win you $1000.

If you're hoping to attend, you might have to hunt for resale tickets on social media or third-party sites—the passes are already almost sold out on the official website. If you’re willing to shell out a little extra for a snapshot with romance royalty, most of the stars are offering photo opportunities for around $50.

Looking for a less intense way to welcome the holly, jolly holiday season? Watch the 20 best Christmas movies, Die Hard (1988) and all.

[h/t News 12 New Jersey]

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