The Mountain Flyer Blueprint
by Jay Ducharme

I don't recall where I heard it, but someone once told me a story about the construction of the Mountain Flyer. In 1928, Louis Pellissier, the park's owner, commissioned the Philadelphia Toboggan Company to replace the park's old roller coaster (which burned down in a fire) with a new state-of-the-art thriller. The park would also get one of PTC's carousels to go along with it. The new coaster would be designed by PTC's resident genius, Herb Schmeck. He was assisted by a young John Allen, who would later be responsible for the wood coaster revival of the 1980s.

The story went that Schmeck's design met with Pellissier's approval except for one detail: the coaster's turnaround interfered with an access road at the south end of the park. Pellissier told PTC to cut the turnaround back to get it away from the road, and that resulted in the brutal swoop-drop for which the ride became famous.

In 1997, Karen and I went to Philadelphia on our honeymoon. We had set up an appointment with the Philadelphia Toboggan Company. While we were graciously being given a tour, I asked the archivist there if I could examine the original prints of the Mountain Flyer. What I saw surprised me. There on the original plans was the swoop-drop and slamming right-hand turn, similar to what Schmeck later created for the last leg of the Crystal Beach (later Great Escape) Comet. So it appeared that the Pellissier story was just that, a fanciful tale. The plan for the coaster appeared to have been unaltered. But that wasn't the end of the story.

While in the Holyoke Public Library's History Room in June of 2005, I discovered that the archivist there had a copy of the Mountain Flyer blueprint. Like many blueprint copies, though, it was an inverse image. So most of the four-foot-long sheet was black, with faint white lines that indicated the coaster's outline. Notations had been made where the rollback mechanisms were to be placed. There were also notations where the distance between the bents was to be 5 feet on center. (Normally bents were 8 feet on center.) I studied it in more detail for a while. And then something caught my eye.

At the bottom center of the print, faint and nearly illegible, was some writing. It read in part, "reduce bent #0 to #84 70 feet." Could this have been the "smoking gun" I was looking for? Perhaps that was why the distance between some of the bents had been reduced by three feet. It appeared that Schmeck (or Allen) was trying to shrink the length of the coaster, end-to-end, by 70 feet. This may seem like a lot, but the total track length on the Mountain Flyer ended up over 2600 feet, which meant end-to-end the ride stretched about 1300 feet, the length of the entire midway. Removing 70 feet wasn't that extreme, although it might have affected the overall steepness of the hills (which in turn might explain why the train always just barely crested the tops of those camelbacks). And by reducing the coaster's reach by 70 feet, according to the plan, the turnaround of the coaster would have shifted away from Pellisier's access road.

So perhaps the story was partially correct. The coaster may indeed have been modified at Pellisier's request, but the turnaround wasn't the victim. The entire coaster may have shrunk in the process. And perhaps that's why PTC kept John Allen at Mountain Park after the ride opened, to make sure it ran smoothly with the modifications. (PTC actually concessioned the ride at the park for a number of years, and Allen ran it.)

As a side note, Roger Fortin (who was supervisor at the park for forty years) hated that turnaround. The forces from the train were so severe there that the track had to be rebuilt almost every year. Roger tried modifying it in different ways to see if he could reduce the maintenance required. It ended up as sort of a partial turn, a straight run and then another partial turn. But that turnaround was what every rider remembered most about the Mountain Flyer.