Hershey and Knoebels

By , May 12, 2014
Manny Esteves

Finally! Opening day! I’ve had some serious theme park withdrawal and decided to head out to Hershey Park and Knoebels’ opening weekends to get my fix. I always found Hershey to be sort of an underrated park; you never realize how many awesome rides they have until you’re actually inside the park. Also, Great Coasters has 3 rides at Hershey, Wildcat (our first coaster) and Lightning Racer (which counts as 2). Interestingly enough, Lightning Racer competes with Great Bear as one of the most ridden coasters in the entire park annually. When I got on, I was shocked to feel how smooth the ride was after 14 years and my eyes were drawn to so many different elements of the ride I never really paid attention to before. I chalked it up to GCII coaster recognition until I started enjoying other attractions like Fahrenheit, Stormrunner , Great Bear and Skyrush. When the ride pulled into the station, my eyes immediately focused on aspects I had been working on the past 5 months. I identified the guide wheel weldments, the brake fins, where the upstop wheels were supposed to be. Chris said it’s part of the job, “you start to see them as these powerful machines.” They’re more than that, though; they’re artistic creations. Too often we associate art with paintings and sculptures when we forget the aesthetic nature that goes into the design of these things. While you’re going down that drop or taking that banked turn you don’t realize it, but take a step back and you may see the beauty behind these massive structures, it just enhances the experience.

Next stop was Knoebels for opening day. It’s a hidden gem over in the middle of Central Pennsylvania as it holds the title of the largest free-admission park. With that family-friendly feel to it, it’s got quite a few great rides and I decided to bring my mom and brother to see what they thought of it. Mom, in particular was someone who I wanted to get a read on. She swore off wooden roller coasters after some rough (and that is probably an understatement) experiences on some less than average classics. When I told her that the GCII specialized in wooden coasters, I saw the painful wince that brought her back to the pains and jolts she now associated with every wooden coaster. She insisted on buying tickets saying she was going to be done after the first one and didn’t need a handstamp, the challenge was issued and accepted. As we went up the lifthill for the Phoenix, I saw the tell tale signs of muscle memory and painful flashbacks. Her teeth began to grit, she clutched the lap bar and shut her eyes, counting the seconds she would have to endure before she said “I told you, I don’t like them.”  Then came the first drop, and her eyes opened like she woke up from a bad dream, “wow, it’s actually smooth.” I chuckled as we went through the rest of the ride, her hands raised and screaming like a little kid. “Well, I gotta hand it to yah. I was wrong,” she said in that heavy Long Island accent. “What else ya got?” We went on Twister afterwards where we had done some track work on my first day on the job and then took a ride on Flying Turns. It was great to see that even though we didn’t build it, the work we did on those rides were enough to bring someone back from the dark side. Maybe next time we’ll bring Dad, although he’s still mad at me for taking him on Sheikra last November.

While GCII did great jobs with their work in both parks, I have to give a shout out to the maintenance crews. We can build and design spectacular structures all we want, but the daily task of keeping the rides smooth and making sure it is a safe and enjoyable experience falls upon the maintenance teams and after experiencing both parks, it’s clearly evident that these people care about their park. So props to you guys!

Lesson 8: True learning is taking what you learn out of the shop, lab, or classroom and seeing it work in the real world

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