Review of Williams Grove Park (1995?)

by Ken Denton,

Third time must be the charm. I've tried unsuccessfully twice in the past to visit this park and ride their coaster (long tale of woe left out). This weekend the gods must have been smiling, for on my way back to NJ from Kennywood I stopped in and the Cyclone was running.

The park itself is located near Mechanicsburg, PA (most maps show Williams Grove as a town), about 20 miles SW of Harrisburg. General admission is either $1 or $2, and rides are $1, except the Cyclone which is $2. There is also a POP available for around $9.

The closest other park this compares to is Whalom, which is to say it is very traditional, and very old. The setting is very woodsy, and the park has a stream running through it. The atmosphere is laid-back in the extreme, with no TPM to be seen at all. Williams Grove does seem a bit run-down, and could use a good freshening-up. Paint is fading everywhere, and every ride looks a bit rickety, but some would say that adds to the charm.

Among the rides they have, there's a ride-thru fun house which is pretty bad, a circle swing that's incredibly grungy, a Music Express(?) that's wickedly fast and runs in both directions, bumper cars that are pretty slow but they keep you going for a long time, a monster/octopus/spider ride (I never can remember which one is which), a breakdance-type ride, a small train-ride ride, a kiddie steel coaster, a paratrooper, and maybe one or two others. Unfortunately, nothing really classic like a Tumble Bug or Fly-o-Plane. Someone else posted that there is a walk-through fun house, but I didn't get a chance to sample it. Guess I'll have to go back there :-).

The Cyclone

This out-and-backer was built in 1929 by Oscar Bitler (his only remaining coaster, possibly his only coaster). It currently is running a 2-car PTC train that formerly ran on the Palisades Park Cyclone. The trains sport seat belts, 'regular' lap bars, and no headrests or seat dividers. They're well padded and comfortable.

The station looks like it was completely redone recently, and is still in progress, sporting a lot of new unpainted wood. The operators let people onto the platform only after the train is parked, so throughput it not real high. Not that it has to be, as there's hardly ever any people waiting in line.

What first struck me about the coaster is the overall 'ricketyness' of it. I know some of the past troubles the ride has had (hit by a falling tree, trucks crashing into it), and it looks worse for the wear. Since the park does not seem to have much money for maintenance or repair, the ride gets fixed as much as it has to be to run it, and no more. There's a lot of sections of new wood this year, though you wouldn't notice it by riding.

The ride begins with a trek up a crooked lift hill that tilts this way and that, then a slow 180 turnaround to the left. A very nice first drop that gives good air is followed by some good hills on the way to the second turnaround. There's air to be had on most of the hills, but even better is all the jumping around the train does. I don't know if it's a train/track mismatch, but even on a straight level section the train is bouncing around like a Mexican jumping bean. Terrific fun. After the second turnaround, there a good hill with a jog to the left giving plenty of sideways air. Just before the station there's a nasty skid brake that almost stops the train, then one more hill before the jump up to the station. And I do mean jump - when you're approaching the hill to the station, you see the profile and think "this is gonna hurt", only to then be thrown *VIOLENTLY* into your lap bar. I can't imagine what this was like before the brake slowed things down so much. Still, it's a riot.

For my last ride of the day, I was in the 3rd seat (last seat of 1st car), riding solo. When I got to the top of the lift, I went to hold up the lap bar a bit to give myself some more room, and the lap bar opened right up! So there I am, at the top of the bumpy, airtime-laden Cyclone, with my lap bar up in the air. Cool. I had a great ride that time, my first time without a lap bar (except for those coasters designed without them). When the train returned to the station, I pointed my open lap bar out to the operator, who then said "It happens" before moving on. I love this park!