By Ashley Wislock
The Daily Item
— ELYSBURG — Seven long years of rumors, expectations, frustrations and doubts swirling around the Flying Turns at Knoebels Amusement Resort were erased with a simple Facebook post, one sentence in length.
“It’s true, will open to the public at noon (Saturday),” a Friday night post read.
Sure enough, Saturday brought hundreds of fans to the Elysburg park, some waiting in line for more than an hour, to try out the wooden, bobsled-style coaster, which received final state safety approval Tuesday, park spokesman Joe Muscato said.
“It’s a great feeling to see people smiling and enjoying it,” he said.
About 200 people per hour rode the coaster Saturday, while 175 riders attended a special preview event Friday night, Muscato said.
Friday night’s event was a bit of a nail-biter for park officials, park co-owner Ron “Buddy” Knoebel said.
“The anticipation was so great, the worst thing that could have happened was that they said, ’I don’t like it,’” he said. “But instead they said, ’It’s better than expected.’ That was very neat to hear.”
Plans to design and build a wooden bobsled coaster at Knoebels were announced in the fall of 2005, and construction began in April 2006. The coaster is 50 feet high and has 1,300 feet of track, according to the Roller Coaster Database.
However, problems with the cars and wheels delayed the coaster’s opening for years. Many coaster enthusiasts doubted if they would ever get to ride the Flying Turns.
Wearing a shirt proclaiming “I Flew” with the Flying Turns logo, Dave Stitely, of Pittsburgh, was one of those who doubted.
“It’s been a long time coming,” he said. But It was “well worth” the wait, he said.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “It’s not like any other ride.”
One person who said he never doubted the ride’s completion was Justin Garvanovic, founder of the European Coaster Club, who traveled from his home in West London for the coaster’s opening day.
“I paid $880 to ride this,” he said.
Garvanovic said he has been coming to the park for more than 20 years and told the Knoebels family to contact him as soon as the ride was ready to roll.
“Exactly a week ago, I got an email that said, ’Pack your bags,’” said Garvanovic, who had ridden the coaster six times by 3 p.m. Saturday. “And also, ’Don’t tell anybody.’”
The coaster is an update of a classic amusement park ride from the 1930s and 1940s that features a halfpipe-style structure with no car track, so that the ride’s cars move freely along the turns like a bobsled, according to The Coaster Critic, a website dedicated to roller coasters.
At first, all bobsled-style rollercoasters were made of wood, but the last wooden bobsled coaster — located on Coney Island in Brooklyn, N.Y.— closed in 1974, according to the Roller Coaster Database.
However, several steel bobsled coasters exist today, according to the Coaster Critic.
But Knoebels, which offers a traditional amusement park experience for guests, decided to re-create the traditional wooden ride.
“It rides brilliantly,” Garvanovic said. “It’s the perfect ride for the park. Knoebels doesn’t need a 200-mile-per-hour mega-coaster.”
The park had to re-create a whole new vehicle for the ride to meet modern safety requirements, Muscato said. By July, park officials “could see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
“It’s like when you build a house,” he said. “The structure goes up really quickly and you think, ’When can we move in here?’ But there’s all the extra work which goes on and on.”
But the coaster enthusiasts coming off the ride said they are glad Knoebels made sure the ride was perfect before opening it.
“I totally understand,” said Christopher Clarke, of Delanco, N.J. “I’m glad they took their time and made sure it was safe.”