Waldameer Park
May 29, 2016

copyright Jay Ducharme 2016

The final stop on our Coasterfestâ„¢ trip was Waldameer Park and Water World in Erie, Pennsylvania.  It was a favorite park of the event's organizer, the Western New York Coaster Club, and the staff at the park was always accomodating.  We ate a light breakfast at our hotel at 7:00 am and then left the Pittsburgh area for the long drive to Erie.  It had rained overnight, and the forecast was for more rain.  When we hit the road, the skies were cloudy but the air was considerably cooler than it had been the entire week.  One thing that was surprising was the number of dead deer on the highways all across Pennsylvania.  It seemed like we saw one every several miles.

We arrived at the park about 10:00 and parked in the back lot.  There was a curious sign on the fence warning guests not to disturb the family enviroment.  The gate where we parked was still locked, so we walked around toward the employee parking section and found an opening.  A sign there warned that the area was closed for the fireworks display (which I assumed wasn't going to happen in the morning).  We walked through the empty park with its typically attractive landscaping and headed over to the Lakeview Grove, where our check-in and banquet would be.  We signed in and got our wrist bands, then went to get some Wally Bucks, the park's currency.  Karen put $25 into the kiosk and out popped her card.  I put a $20 bill in, and the machine spit it back out.  So I tried again.  And again.  And again.  Finally the machine took it, but then jammed.  So I walked over to Guest Services and explained what happened.  They were very friendly and said they would send someone over.  After a few minutes, a staff member approached and asked what was wrong.  I explained to him what had happened.  He opened the machine and retrieved my now-crumpled bill, and told me to take it over to Guest Services for my Wally Bucks card.  So I went back to Guest Services and they took my $25 and gave me a card.

We walked back to the Grove, where the WNYCC members had begun to gather.  The park provided us with donuts and coffee to start off the morning.  At about 10:45, park manager Steve Gorman arrived with Randy Skalos, who was a long time operator of the Wacky Shack dark ride.  Randy was limping and was soon going in for hip replacement surgery.  Many of the club members knew him and offered their encouragement.  He wanted to meet up with the club today for our unusual treat: we were going on a lights-on tour of the Wacky Shack led by the man who helped build and maintain it, Perry Duncan, who shared some fascinating stories of the ride's construction and the legendary designer Bill Tracy.  Duncan said Tracy delivered a scale model to the park from which Duncan had to build the actual ride.  There were no technical drawings.  Tracy was an eccentric character in the amusement business who built fun houses and dark rides all over the U.S. (including Pirate's Cove, the park's walk-thru fun house).   Duncan said Tracy would visit the park in the winter to check up on his rides, but he wouldn't dress for the weather.  So the park would have to get him some warm clothes.  He also wasn't much of an engineer;  sometimes scenery and stunts that Tracy pre-built wouldn't fit correctly or work the way they were intended.  One case was the roller-coaster-like drop mid-way through the ride:  Tracy originally designed it too deep and riders were getting hurt.  So the park modified the dip to be more forgiving.   Duncan had us walk along the entire route and explained how each section was designed and built.  It was an informative and often humorous look into a side of the amusement industry that few get to see.  When we all emerged onto the exterior dip section, we paused for a group photo.  When the tour was over, we all were given some exclusive ride time before the park opened to the public.  The Wacky Shack has stood the test of time and always has brought a smile to my face no matter how many times I've ridden it.  Duncan said that with the new scanners that the park installed at each ride entrance, they discovered that the Wacky Shack thrilled about 160,000 riders each season, a pretty impressive figure.

After that, Karen and I climbed aboard the Sky Ride for a leisurely trip above the midway.  It turned out that most of the other club members had the same idea.  Afterwards, Karen noticed that there was no one in line for the Comet, the park's fun junior wooden coaster.  So we walked up the winding queue to the station.  Since it was a junior train and no one else was in line, Karen took the front seat by herself and I took the second seat, which afforded us a bit more comfort.  Then we were dispatched up the short lift for our delightful trip.

Then we went around the corner to the station of the park's miniature railroad, the L. Ruth Express.  The engineer was friendly (as was all the Waldameer staff) and gave us an extremely detailed narration about the park as we rode along the tracks.  Unfortunately the speakers in our car weren't working, so his extensive talk was inaudible.  We did cruise by the latest expansion of the water park, which was still under construction.

After 1:00, the park began to come to life.  More rides and concessions opened and the crowd grew.  Fortunately, the weather held up.  The skies remained cloudy and the temperatures mild, but the predicted rains didn't come.  Steve Gorman saw us on the midway and apologized for not having any food for us at the buffet.  He didn't realize we were vegetarians.  Karen told him it wasn't a problem; we always found a way to make do with the food at parks.  Gorman had actually tried to find veggie burgers for us at the last minute, a really nice gesture that was above and beyond what he needed to do.  She said she appreciated his effort, but not to worry about it.  Knowing that we wouldn't be having a big buffet, we stopped at the main food concession at the center of the park.  Karen used her Wally Bucks to get breadsticks (which were really more like square pizza slices) and I got a fresh French bread pizza.  Both were really good.

After that, I had to take a walk through the other Bill Tracy creation in the park, Pirate's Cove.  That fun house had remained largely unchanged since it was built in the 1970s, with its humorous day-glo stunts and typically ghoulish Tracy figures.  Like the Wacky Shack, I never got tired of it.

Next we queued up for Thunder Falls, the park's flume.  This was where we probably could have used some sunshine, but the ride was still enjoyable through the misty tunnel and around the fountain, then up the hill for the big splashdown.  Nearby, Karen noticed a cute water fountain specifically for dogs, another thoughtful amenity in the park.  And we did see a lot of guests with their dogs on leashes.

Then we walked over to the Ferris wheel for a relaxing ride with panoramic views of the park.  We also had some nice views of the Ravine Flyer's turnaround across the highway.  We then wandered through the small "North End" section of the park and looked at the ACE Memorial Park that Waldameer had created a few years back in memory of some coaster enthusiasts.  I don't know of any other park (except perhaps Knoebel's) that would have created and maintained such a space.  It really spoke to how the staff of Waldameer cared about their guests and the amusement park community.

We walked over to the Potato Patch next to the Comet for fresh cut French fries.  I decided to get a Gatorade, so I went back toward the north end to a vending machine I saw there.  The instructions for using my Wally Bucks with the machine were a bit confusing.  They said to slide my card and push "Play", as if the drink machine was a game.  So I slid my card and pressed the button for Gatorade but nothing happened.  I then noticed that there were "Play" buttons on either side of the card swipe.  So I swiped again and pushed that button, but again nothing happened.  I did notice however that it deducted money from my card.  There was a fried dough food concession next door, so I asked the worker there if he knew anything about the machine.  He was very eager to help and came over and walked me through the procedure.  But again, nothing happened except that more money was deducted from my card.  He then noticed faint print on the machine's LCD readout saying it was sold out.  I guess it just wasn't my day for dealing with Wally Bucks.  So I walked back over to Guest Services at the other end of the park and explained what had happened.  They put money ("credits" actually) back onto my card.  But I still didn't have any Gatorade.  So I went back to meet up with Karen and shared some of her fries.

We took another trip on the Sky Ride.  Then I took another walk through the Pirate's Cove while Karen watched a production on the stage of the nearby Showtime Theater.  The park's two Teddy bear mascots guided the audience through an international musical journey, geared mostly for children who were encouraged to sing and dance along.

By then it was time for our buffet, so we headed back over to the Lakeview Grove.  Club members began to gather and the food was brought out.  Karen and I contented ourselves with the macaroni and potato salads plus sandwichs consisting of a bun piled with condiments.  Steve Gorman came over and sat with us for a while to chat.  He had graduated from my alma mater, UMass, and his sister had settled in our fair city.  We talked about the Pioneer Valley and parks and the amusement business in general.  He had brought a few pieces of Waldameer memorabilia, including some ratchet dogs and a park sign, that he thought might be good to raffle off.  But Geff Ford (our trip organizer) suggested he save them for the club's fall event which usually drew a larger crowd.

Karen and I spent the next hour or so talking with other club members.  I watched the Ravine Flyer blast through its course behind us.  It was a really intense ride and I just didn't have the strength for it.  There would be ERT on it after the park closed, but I knew I wouldn't make it till then and neither would Karen.  So we called it a day at about 6:00 and said our goodbyes to everyone.

We stopped into the park's gift shop to use up the rest of our Wally Bucks.  My card inexplicably registered as having nothing left on it, but by that point I wasn't surprised.  I found a really nice mug and a new magnet.  Karen got a pretty wind chime.

Waldameer was certainly the least exhausting park out of our entire trip.  It had the friendliest employees as well.  But seeing as how it was our final park, we were already dragging by the time we got there.  I was glad we didn't attempt our original plan of six parks in five days.  But I knew we'd eventually return to Waldameer.  That night, we stayed at the nearby Glass House Inn as we did the previous year.  Our cozy retro room had an apt plaque affixed to the wall:  Traveller's Rest.

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