The Fun Center at Paige's Crossing is a small Family Entertainment Center located on the outskirts of Columbia City in central Indiana. It has an indoor arcade that is open all year round, as well as an outdoor section with a coaster, two spin rides, a Frog Hopper, a go-kart track, and mini golf. Shoehorning the place into a coaster holiday can be tricky, as the outdoor attractions only operate seven days during July and August, and hours are not generally published more than a few weeks in advance.
Wisdom Rides has manufactured an enormous number of roller coasters over the years under two main product families; the Dragon Wagon and the Orient Express. Examples of both are a common sight on fairgrounds across the United States, mostly because the smaller models can be assembled in as little as ninety minutes. There are also well over one hundred park installations. Despite their ubiquity, however, the basic platform has never seen much refinement; one of the park models I rode back in February really hurt.
Given that experience it was hard to be overly enthusiastic about Runaway Train (#2084), a custom design from the Wisdom stable that lurched from side to side on the curved lift hill. There was a definite sense of The Little Engine That Could as the seven car train reached the apex, only slightly spoiled by Megan muttering ch-ching under her breath. We were in for a pleasant surprise, however; the train dropped about thirty feet into a trench and climbed back over a floating airtime hill, and this entire section was negotiated with a finesse previously unheard of for this manufacturer. A fairly decent descending helix followed, though things went back to normal at its exit when a nasty slam to the side marked the entry to an ascending helix back to the station.
25th July 2014
Indiana Beach was founded by members of the Spackman family in 1926, who developed it over eighty-five years into a popular amusement park. Six years ago it was sold to Morgan Recreation Vacations, and the guest experience has been deteriorating ever since. Operations were utterly shambolic today, so much so that we decided to call it a day almost three hours before our planned departure time. Our visit began with a member of staff at the ticket office informing us that the discount for coaster club members that we'd read about on the park web site was not available as published. Megan was able to resolve this discrepancy subsequently thanks to a friendly individual in guest services who agreed that the web site was incorrect and refunded us the difference, but having to deal with this situation early on set the tone for the day as a whole.
Despite the inauspicious start it was hard not to be excited as we walked across the entry bridge and the park came into view, its smorgasbord of coasters and flat rides presenting a visual first impression on a par with the finest amusement parks in the world. Our reverie was soon shattered, however, as it became apparent that at least one roller coaster was not operating. A quick journey on the Skyride confirmed that the Hoosier Hurricane was down, and from that vantage point we could also see that the Splash Battle had been drained, its station hidden behind a plywood wall. A brief walk added the Falling Star and Music Express to the list of major rides that were closed with no obvious signs of maintenance in progress.
We had to wait a little over half an hour to ride Steel Hawg, as only two of the four cars were in use today. My first encounter with this ride five years ago was fairly positive, and I'd hoped for more of the same, but it wasn't to be as my shoulder bars were set a little too tight for comfort. I still enjoyed the layout, but the final inversion closest to the ground did my upper body no favours. Redesigned restraints and rolling stock would have made a world of difference to the coaster Megan nicknamed the S&S El Crappo.
Our next stop was at the new-for-2014 roller coaster, a production model Dragon Wagon. It was perhaps naive of us to expect that a new ride might be finished and ready to operate two thirds of the way through the relatively short park operating season. Though the track was complete, it looked to be the only part of the ride that was; the rear of the train was missing, the station had no queueing area, and safety barriers had yet to be installed.
The only operator we saw with any enthusiasm for his job today was a middle-aged male handling the load station on Tig'rr Coaster, now the only Schwarzkopf Jet Star 1 left in the United States. This individual was at least making a passing effort to maximize throughput on a low capacity ride by repeating a simple mantra every few minutes; the more weight in the nose, the faster it goes. Unfortunately, most guests were ignoring his advice, with only a few cars going out fully loaded. The ride was impressively smooth and fast given its vintage, and we'd have happily ridden again if the wait time was a bit more manageable.
My first ride on Cornball Express in over a decade was in the fourth car of the train, and while it wasn't rough, the expected airtime was conspicuous by its absence. We tried a second lap a few hours later in the back seat which was better, though still somewhat weaker than I remembered. I'd like to think that the difference was accounted for by the fact that two rows of the train were roped off today, rather than a maintenance issue, though that might be foolish optimism on my part.
Today the ride was being operated by two teenaged girls who were averaging one dispatch every ten minutes. A rope barrier was in place at the entrance to the station, and oncoming riders were being allowed through in just the right number to fill the air gates. Once this had been done, the same girl would take fifteen seconds to wander slowly back to the control panel to open the gates. Guests were allowed to board and fasten seat belts, which were checked visually one at a time. Eventually the buzz bars were closed, and all those in the train were instructed to place their hands in the air (this was important, apparently) so that the operators could tug on each bar in turn. Only when this was complete was the train actually dispatched.
The operators would then sit down for a chat and a drink of water in a shaded area beside the brake run, leaving the station area completely unattended. Once the train returned, they would wait for all guests to disembark before slowly meandering back to the entrance rope to begin filling the air gates again. The whole performance reminded me very much of the Happy Valley parks, but with one difference; the loading procedures in China were quicker.
The single train on Lost Coaster of Superstition Mountain was going out once every five minutes on average. The second train was nowhere in sight, making me wonder whether it has become a parts donor to keep the first operational. We were next in line to ride after a one hour wait when the operator shut the ride down because due to a loose door hinge, resolved twenty minutes later by a maintenance technician using a compressed air rivet gun. We ended up with a backwards facing seat in the front car, from where the ride was very lively indeed, even if we couldn't see much of the theming. The highlight was a double-down half way through the course taken in nearly complete darkness.
We arrived at the Water Swings just as two operators were swapping over, and watched bemused as they decided to enjoy a lengthy chinwag in front of the exit gate while the previous riders were trying to leave. A large crowd had built behind them before light dawned and they moved out of the way without even a perfunctory apology. The ride itself was good, though; placing a wave swinger over water improves the thrill factor considerably, especially when the breeze keeps catching the chains.
I'd managed to forget most of Frankenstein's Castle, a lengthy upcharge walkthrough and one of the better attractions in the park. The first half was mostly dark, with a few funhouse effects on the floor and cartoon ghosts on the walls, punctuated by the occasional illuminated skeleton. A brief exit into daylight led to the highlight, described in more detail in the report from my first visit.
The last ride of the day was the Den of Lost Thieves target shooter, running two of its eight cars today. We were next in line when a small group came up the exit and were allowed on board immediately. There may have been a legitimate reason for this, but the operator didn't feel the need to tell anyone in the main queue what it was. As irritating as this was, the last straw for us was the discovery that one of the guns in our car was faulty, meaning that we'd waited almost thirty minutes for nothing.