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Good Reads - May 2017

New Book Celebrates the ‘Lost’ Generation of Rides

There are scores of books, websites, and even YouTube videos available on what can loosely be termed the “first generation” of amusement rides—those dating from the early 1900s up until around 1950. The same is true of the modern era of rides—the “third generation” from the early 1990s to today. The digital era has allowed amusement parks, ride manufacturers, and enthusiasts to document every last detail of these attractions.

But what about the “second generation”—those rides from the 1950s through the 1980s? They’ve fallen into a no-man’s land of sorts, coming after the golden era of the first amusement rides, which historians are keen on covering, but before the age of digital cameras, iPhones, and social media. Fortunately, one author has now taken up the challenge of chronicling these rides and created a new book on this forgotten generation of attractions.

Called “Hang on Tight!” it highlights the rides created by such legends as Anton Schwarzkopf, Harold Chance, O.D. Hopkins, and Werner Stengel. Author Jeremy Kennedy also explores the trials and tribulations of parks and manufacturers in bringing these attractions to completion, and recounts the marvelous and even eccentric rides that never quite reached the midway. The book, almost 300 pages in length, features a massive 20-page index that allows readers to find their favorite rides, parks, and designers from this era.

Kennedy talks about what motivated him to create the book: “A couple of years ago I was shown [part of] a portfolio of images taken by someone granted a personal tour of a theme park boneyard. I was disheartened by what I saw: Arrow log flume boats filled with trash; plastic molds of park characters holding height-restriction signs; even the swinging pendulum ship I rode and loved as a child—they were all camouflaged in a wild nest of kudzu vines. This had a profound effect on me, as I concluded there is little concern for preserving the attractions I’d cut my teeth on.”

“Hang on Tight!” features more than 300 photos of rides and parks—many of them rarely published—plus drawings, blueprints, and correspondence from significant industry players. Some of the original photos were small and grainy, making it impossible to reproduce and enlarge them in the sharp high-resolution standards to which we’re accustomed today. But this only heightens their old-time appeal, Kennedy says.

Kennedy, who authors project management resources by trade, began compiling a vast collection of attraction sales materials and schematics when he was infatuated with amusement rides as a kid. “Before the age of 10, I was emboldened by the kindness of park and manufacturer reps,” he recalls. “I continually acquired pounds of marketing materials, brochures, and even blueprints of rides and attractions in our country road mailbox for several years in the late 1970s through the mid-1980s.”

When asked to name his ride story from the book, Kennedy responds, “I suppose Ghost Town in the Sky’s infamous ‘Silver Bullet’ tube coaster is the most mysterious anecdote of them all. It was to be the park’s first coaster, complete with a big corporate sponsor and marketing rollout. However, the sleek ‘missile-like’ sleds were shredded during the test runs as a result of unprecedented friction on the vehicles. If it weren’t for the pre-opening brochures and park map [in 1984], ‘Silver Bullet’s’ fate would have gone virtually unnoticed.” The site later became the location of the North Carolina park’s “Red Devil” mountain coaster.

“Hang on Tight!” is available at www.blurb.com and www.amazon.com.