Kennywood’s vocal fans call for return of Turnpike, Rotor, Old Mill
Couples snuck a kiss. Kids learned to drive. And the adventurous went upside down for the first time.
The Old Mill, Turnpike, the Laser Loop and other classic rides at Kennywood set the scene for generations of memories in Western Pennsylvania.
The rides are now gone but memories are powerful things, and in Pittsburgh, nostalgia reigns supreme. Recent news of changes to Noah’s Ark, a fixture at Kennywood since the mid-1930s, to make it more like it once was, brought a flood of comments about rides the park’s faithful would like to see return.
“You don’t mess with an attraction that has been there,” said Melissa Cooper about the loss of classic rides at the park.
“These attractions — they’re not rides, they’re attractions — they are what parents bring their kids to see and to experience with their kids over and over again,” said Cooper, who worked at Kennywood while she was a college student in the mid-1990s.
Cooper, 40, of White Oak, a mother of three children, has many suggestions for the park. She wants it to be more handicapped-accessible. She wants different admission prices to accommodate people who want to go to the park with their children or grandchildren, but not ride the rides.
She wants the Old Mill to return. Once a dark boat ride, it’s now called Garfield’s Nightmare, which is described as a nightmare itself by Cooper and others. And she wants the Turnpike back. The rides hold a special place in her childhood memories. They were among the only rides her father, a double amputee with no legs, could ride.
“He would force his clumsy prosthetic legs into those old cars and take me on that ride. At the end, it would take at least two or three attendants to help get him out of that car.” Cooper said of the Turnpike, where children could get behind the wheel of cars that were guided around a track. “That was like where you learned how to drive.”
Kennywood staffers hear about old rides often, said Nick Paradise, the park’s spokesman. The park decided to change Noah’s Ark in part because of comments from riders, Paradise said. A story published by the Tribune-Review last weekend about Noah’s Ark became one of the most-read stories of the year. It was shared hundreds of times on Facebook and generated more than 100 comments on the paper’s website, triblive.com.
“Terrific!” reader Veronica May commented on the story about Noah’s Ark. “I moved away in 1978 but can remember with joy school picnics & that squishy tongue! Loved the black-light room that made your clothes glow, the crooked floors & the air blasts!”
The most common calls, Paradise said, are to return the Old Mill, known as the Haunted Hideaway, to its good old days; to bring back the Laser Loop, the first roller coaster at the park to take riders upside down; the Rotor, a spinning ride where centrifugal force held people against the walls as the floor dropped out; and the Turnpike.
The park created a bit of stir a few years ago when it brought out an old Turnpike car from storage, shined it up and installed it at the entrance. The car had the number 15 on it, leading to speculation that the ride was returning for the 2015 season.
“It’s on our minds,” Paradise said about bringing back the Turnpike, which was removed in 2009 to make room for the Skyrocket coaster. “There aren’t any immediate plans to put it back in operation.”
Kennywood has the Turnpike cars in storage, but the track is gone. The Laser Loop is gone, too, and not likely to return. Kennywood sold the ride to an amusement park in Mexico City, where Paradise believes it is still in operation. Rotor likely won’t be making a comeback either, Paradise said. Kennywood moved the ride in the 1990s to its sister park in Connecticut.
Matt Dougherty, 33, who grew up around Pittsburgh, never got to ride the Rotor and feels like he missed out on a lot of fun. Vicki Knabenshue, 63, of Mt. Pleasant, said out of all Kennywood’s classic rides, she liked the Rotor the best.
“The thrill of the centrifugal force sticking you against the wall and the floor dropping out from under you made it seem like a personal scientific project you read about in books,” she said.
Changing Garfield’s Nightmare is on the park’s “short list” for improvements, Paradise said. There is not yet a timeline for the changes or what will happen to the ride, but the park is leaning toward restoring it to an Old Mill theme.
That should excite the people clamoring for the Old Mill’s return. There’s a Facebook group named “Bring Back the Kennywood Old Mill.” It has 76 likes. There’s a petition onactivism.com to bring back the mill. It has no signatures. And the Old Mill won a poll the Tribune-Review conducted on Twitter this week asking readers which ride they would most like back.
“On the outside, the Haunted Hideaway was just a ride, it’s still a ride. It was dark, a little spooky, very campy, but to many of us, it was the first place we got to sneak a kiss,” said Shawn Holland of Duquesne, who grew up right near Kennywood. “I’m not sure the Garfield ride has that same quality; personally I’ve never ridden it. I’d like to keep those memories intact.”
Aaron Aupperlee is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7986 or email@example.com.