The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

April 24, 2011

Safety issues derail coaster

By Marcia Moore
The Daily Item

— ELYSBURG — The eagerly awaited Flying Turns coaster at Knoebels Amusement Resort is going off the rails during test runs, indefinitely delaying its opening.

“If we could build vehicles like they did in the 1930s, it would be open. But, they’ve changed the rules,” park co-owner Dick Knoebel said Friday.

The wooden, 1930s-style ride has been five years in the making.

Knoebel rode the original Flying Turns ride at a Cleveland park in the 1960s and describes it as “the most thrilling ride” he’s ever been on.

“It’s a real classic,” he said, and once it opens at Knoebels, would be the only one of its kind in the world.

The bobsled-style ride’s connection to Cleveland prompted filmmakers in the Rust Belt city to film a documentary about Flying Turns’ rebirth in Central Pennsylvania.

Construction began in April 2006, with planned openings for 2008 and then 2009 postponed because of wheel problems and other issues.

Knoebel was optimistic they’d ironed out all the kinks last year, but the Flying Turn vehicles failed to make the cut during the latest round of test rides.

“Back in March 2010, we had a good vehicle and ordered three,” he said. “They worked beautifully five out of six times.”

The Flying Turns cars performed poorly on some test runs, even jackknifing.

“It has to be right each time,” Knoebel said, explaining that new industry standards require heavier cars than were used in the early 20th century coaster design.

The passenger cars are undergoing a redesign in Texas and will be tested again in about two weeks.

It’s not the only attraction that won’t be ready for Knoebels’ 85th annual opening day on April 30.

Black Diamond, a three-story, haunted coal mine-theme ride, has been pushed back to mid-summer as crews continue to work on it.

But it’s the Flying Turns ride that has coaster enthusiasts worked up. Fans have even set up a Wikipedia page devoted to its awaited opening.

Lance Hart, a coaster fan from Charlotte, N.C., has provided numerous updates about the two Knoebels attractions on his screamscape.com website over the years.

In one post about Flying Turns, he wrote, “I have serious doubts 2011 will be the lucky year, but I’ve got my fingers crossed.”

American Coaster Enthusiasts spokesman David Lipnicky said the ride is one of the most anticipated among its 7,000 members.

“It’s been nearly half a century since that type of coaster disappeared,” he said. “I’ve ridden more than 500 coasters all over North America, and it’s the one kind I can’t wait to try. For some, it’s a piece of Americana and for others who have ridden it, they just want one more chance to experience it.”

Lipnicky, a Texan who visits Knoebels each October, said he has “absolute faith” that the Flying Turns coaster will open once all safety issues are addressed.

“They’ve done things the industry said they couldn’t,” he said, including creating a successful amusement park in rural Pennsylvania.

Despite the setbacks in duplicating an 80-year-old ride, Knoebel said he’s determined to make it a reality.

“I guess I’m stubborn. No, I’m dedicated,” he said.

The park is scheduled to open noon to 6 p.m. April 30 and will be operate weekends only until May 25, when it opens daily.

A new policy restricts tobacco smoking to nine designated areas within the park and one area at the pool.

— Email comments to mmoore@dailyitem.com