Everything Old is Still Old, Only Moreso

By Shamus Posted Sunday Jun 22, 2014

Filed under: Personal 47 comments

Like I said last Thursday, Heather and I went to Kennywood. We had a good time. Rode some rides. Managed to avoid sunburn. Probably ate more overpriced junk than was smart or reasonable. At the end of the day we had our picture taken:


Then we went home. Heather finished college, we got married, had 3 kids, I began and ended my first career and embarked on a new one. Then we went back to Kennywood:


Turns out my last visit was in 1995, not 1994. Still. Nineteen is a lot of years. Those years were very good for my brain, but exceedingly unkind to my body. And despite the supposed growth in maturity that comes with age, I still managed to eat more overpriced junk than was smart or reasonable. Again.

It was fun, in a hurry-up-and-have-fun kind of way. The day ended like this:


But that’s how they always end, isn’t it? Even when you’re young. Walking and standing on asphalt for eight hours, only stopping for brief periods to sit on a bench and eat sugar-infused starch fried in lard is not something humans have been bred forNot yet, anyway. We’re certainly working on it.. And it shows.

But we can’t start at the end of the day. That doesn’t make any sense. The first ride of the day was this:


I stole that shot from Google Image search. The coaster is tucked in behind some games and walls, making shots like this hard to get.

Are there other coasters like the racer? I’ve never heard of one, but then it’s been 19 years since my last rollercoaster ride so I can’t pretend to be an expertAccording to Wikipedia, there are 14 race-style rollercoasters, which are a sub-type of “Dual Track” style coaster.. It seems like an obvious trick: Put a couple of tracks side-by-side. You can get twice as many riders through the coaster, without any of the engineering problems that come with making trains longer. From a pure guests-throughput point of view, it’s basically like having two coasters for the real-estate footprint of one.

The ride was built in 1927. That’s pretty old for something that’s designed to absorb thousands of pounds of force a couple of hundred times a day. And is made of wood.

Calvin Coolidge was president when the Racer welcomed its first batch of riders. The stock market crash was two years away. It had been running for twelve years when World War II finally took off.

My second ride of the day was this thing:


No big deal. Used to ride stuff like this all the time. They’re good for cleansing the palette between coasters. The lines are short and the motion is kind of steady and relaxing. Sure, it turns you a little bit upside-down once it gets going, but it’s smooth and breezy. Cools you off and lifts you up so you can get a high-angle view of the place.

All of that was true in 1995. But something has changed. When I disembarked from this thing on Friday I felt horrible. Not nauseous. Not dizzy. My stomach was fine. But my head was convinced I’d just been in stand-in for General Zod’s face in Man of Steel. I didn’t want to look up. Strange headache. Weakness.

I don’t know what these 19 years of aging has done to me, but apparently they killed the part of my brain that enjoyed spinning rides. In fact, I get mildly uneasy just looking at the picture above. It really was that bad.

At least I can still ride coasters.


My middle daughter. Esther photobombs all pictures, even ones in which she is the only subject. This was taken in line for the Old Mill, which is hasn’t been called the Old Mill in years, and even then it wasn’t actually named Old Mill.

It’s your typical kitchy spook ride. You get in a little boat and the current carries you through the course of blinder walls that make each little vignette seem like its own little world. Lots of animatronic skeletons rocking back and forth, drinking hooch and grinning at guests. Some of them had a “hayseed yokel” vibe, while other scenes leaned more towards “pirate”. I was never sure if the thematic disconnect was deliberate, or the result of a ride that had been tinkered with one too many times over the years.

At any rate, the skellies seemed to have a good time despite being dead. Even kids could laugh at these guys. It was a good mid-day ride. Get out of the sun and into a cool dim tunnel where things were quiet.

The name changed over the years. In the 80’s the name was changed to Hardheaded Harold’s Horrendously Humorous Haunted Hideaway, but everyone still called it Old Mill. Because obviously. Then in the 90’s it changed back to Old Mill.

But sometime in the last 19 years someone desecrated the thing. It’s now Garfield branded. There are actual billboard-sized Garfield strips on the tunnel walls, illuminated by blacklights. They are every bit as funny as regular Garfield strips. (Well, the good ones are.) And while the old ride also wasn’t funny, the old ride wasn’t based on a comic and didn’t ask you to read anything before you didn’t laugh. It was content to be mundane and ordinary in a contemplative, quiet sort of way.

Now it’s all orange and purple and glowing and garish and ugly and cheap. You wear 3D glasses for crying out loud. 3D glasses. For a boat ride. I’m sure Disney has a boat ride where you wear 3D glasses and there’s a laser show and actors and holographic projections and it all ends with a live dance number and it’s brilliant. But this is not that. This a ride where you put on 3D glasses so you can sit in the dark and squint at terrible Garfield strips that are to cat humor what Kafka is to cat humor.

So now I’m that guy. The old guy who doesn’t like the new stuff. The old thing sucked, but I liked it because it was my old thing. A quarter century from now my kids will shake their heads and wonder who ruined the classic Garfield ride with boring skeletons. “Old Mill?” That’s like, the most generic name ever! Nobody will remember that!


Like most non-Disney theme parks, Kennywood has a real estate problem. They got land when it was affordable and placed their park close to the city. In 1898 the whole ubiquitous automobile thing hadn’t happened yet, so your customers were locals and they only stayed a couple of hours. It was more like going to the movies, or the lake. A hundred years later, the population is tenfold, people come from far off, and they stay all day. You want your park to be as large as possible. But in those same hundred years all the real estate has been devoured.

So Kennywood is perched along the MonongahelaMo-non-ga-hey-la. Yes, it’s as unwieldy as it looks. Locals just call it the ‘mon’. along with a bunch of heavy industrial infrastructure. So not only is the surrounding land not for sale, it is also very, very ugly. They’ve done a great job at obscuring this from within the park. Trees and fences hide the worst of it. About the only time you can see the neighbors is when you’re at the top of a coaster, and there are usually better things vying for your attention at that point.


Still, if you ride the train and you look for a gap in the trees, you can see a slice of the mile-long edifice of metal and concrete that glares at Kennywood from across the river. It looks like the sort of place Gordon Freeman might go to murder a bunch of Combine. Grim and joyless, but also kind of exotic and compelling.

But that just makes the park seem more inviting by comparison. It’s a good way to spend a day, and I’m very sorry it took me two decades to find my way back here.


But it always ends with sore feet and a craving for food that doesn’t begin trying to kill you the moment you swallow it. Not a bad way to start the summer.



[1] Not yet, anyway. We’re certainly working on it.

[2] According to Wikipedia, there are 14 race-style rollercoasters, which are a sub-type of “Dual Track” style coaster.

[3] Mo-non-ga-hey-la. Yes, it’s as unwieldy as it looks. Locals just call it the ‘mon’.

From The Archives:

47 thoughts on “Everything Old is Still Old, Only Moreso

  1. The Nick says:

    Sounds like a fun little vacation day.

  2. Amarsir says:

    The Racer reminds me of Rolling Thunder at Six Flags Great Adventure, which was closed at the end of last year after 35 years in service. I’d guess that for wooden coasters that can’t do extreme turns, that’s one of the tricks you can do to spice them up.

  3. The Rocketeer says:

    Reminds me of going to Holiday World every few years. I haven’t been in a long time though.

    I didn’t realize it at the time, but apparently Holiday World is one of the nation’s best theme parks; it has a handful of the top coasters, too.

    And unlimited free drinks.

    1. Ciennas says:

      I went there once! I wonder how it’s doing nowadays.

  4. Commissar Moose says:

    I’ve been to Kennywood once maybe about 10-15 years ago, since my parents are from the same part of the country you are (Western Pennsylvania, south of Johnstown). Not a terribly fun trip, since it was raining a good chunk of the day and my dad fell and injured his ribs the night before. I’m not sure if I even rode any of the rollercoasters. I wish I could go back sometime, though living in Florida makes that rather difficult. Glad you had a fun trip, though.

  5. Ingvar M says:

    There’s a “racing” coaster at Port Aventura (near Barcelona, Spain). Wooden coaster, sends off a red and a blue coaster and it’s not 100% parallel tracks, there’s some small differences between the red and the blue layout, so they’re actually interestingly different to ride.

  6. =David says:

    There’s a Racer-like roller coaster, also called the Racer, probably from a similar vintage, at Kings Island in Ohio. Apparently for a few years they actually had one of the trains mounted backwards so that the entire ride was taken back-first- they called that train the “Recar” (Racer backwards).

    Also, it’s a little newer, but there’s a dual coaster at Universal Islands of Adventure called “Dragon Challenge”- it’s part of Harry Potter now, but back when it wasn’t, it was called “Dueling Dragons,” and they would actively try to run the trains at the same time.

    When they re-themed the ride to Harry Potter, they also stopped running the two halves of the coaster concurrently. Much like with The Mill, I pine for the old days of Dueling Dragons. Now that they don’t go at the same time, the experience has lost something.

    1. Hitch says:

      I haven’t been to Islands of Adventure since before Harry Potter. The problem with Dueling Dragons was that there was a perception that the “fire” coaster was more exciting than the “ice” coaster, so the lines were always disproportionate, creating problems with the synchronized start. They’d often have a full fire coaster waiting for a few more people on the ice side. That slowed the total throughput down. That’s probably why they dropped that.

      1. Fawkes says:

        Actually once it got rebranded, the lines weren’t terribly disproportionate. The reason they ended up stopping that practice was due to a couple of incidents where a rider got hurt. While the actual reasons for the injury are unknown, Universal apparently decided to hedge their bets and just stop dueling them.

        What the Harry Potter rebranding did do was remove the ‘story’ of the ride, which I find the most disappointing. The ‘Dragon Challenge’ theming from the Tri-Wizard cup is just enough, but not any more. Thankfully the one actual new ride for that area was rather beautifully done, and I still have hopes for the new expansion they are finishing up.

        1. Hitch says:

          That is disappointing. I went on a slow day and the line was short enough that I let people go ahead of me so I could watch the whole story cycle on the “stained glass window.”

    2. Paul Spooner says:

      So, I always wondered about those racing rollercoasters. Are some of the trains just plain faster than others? Or is it the track path that’s the deciding factor? Or the combined mass of the riders? Their wind drag? How well tuned is the “race” part of the coaster? Does it depend at all on the riders qualities or actions?

      1. RobS says:

        Cedar Point in Ohio had one of these (I assume they still do, I haven’t been there in at least as long as Shamus hasn’t been to Kennywood), I imagine most amusement parks large enough for roller coasters have one these days.

        The whole racing part is just an illusion: two trains running at equal speed on parallel tracks; when going around curves, the train on the inside track will naturally pull ahead. The ride seems to be very carefully designed so both trains arrive simultaneously, resulting in a “tie”. I’m not really a big roller coaster person, but the psuedo-competition does add to the fun.

        I recall a single line entered between the trains, so getting both filled, and thus starting together, was not an issue; that also made it easier for groups to get in cars at the same point in each train.

        Edit: Mentioned below, it’s the Gemini. I was just too lazy to look it up. :)

  7. Tektotherriggen says:

    Blackpool Pleasure Beach, England, has the Grand National roller coaster, which has two racing tracks with the twist that the tracks swap over during the course. So if you got on the left-hand station, you’ll get off the right-hand one. Wikipedia claims the Kenywood Racer does the same thing – is that true?

    1. Shamus says:

      Yes. Trains swap sides.

  8. Lazlo says:

    I find it amusing that you did basically a video game review of an amusement park ride. “The graphics were OK, at least up to par with modern bro shooters, but the theme was inconsistent, they tacked on a useless 3D element that no one wanted, the theme was garbled, the plot was a mess, and the UI was subtle to the point of non-existence. On the plus side, they did manage to avoid QTE’s and at least the ending was better than Mass Effect 3.”

    1. rofltehcat says:

      I guess it runs in his blood.
      Speaking of blood, let’s play “medical online forum”: To me the exertion described by Shamus sounds like just that: The kind of rides depicted apply rather constant g forces on the body and thus your heart is having trouble keeping up with that. So it may just be age, daily condition or something more severe.
      Take it from me on good authority as a random stranger on the internet who knows basically nothing about medicine and probably has a huge amount of misconceptions!

      I still hope you did the “raise arms now and smile to look good on the overpriced photo you won’t buy” QTE!

      1. Mephane says:

        I could probably read a review of anything in Shamus’ style of video game dissection. :D

    2. Tizzy says:

      Also in the review: Despite an ideal location for them, a severe dearth of combine to shoot…

    3. Daemian Lucifer says:

      On that subject,is anyone else weirded out that the cost of an amusement park is in some cases less than the cost of a blockbuster movie and some recent video games?

  9. Mike Elkins says:

    An excellent racing coaster: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gemini_(roller_coaster)

    at Cedar Point in Ohio.

    1. Retsam says:

      Was checking to see if someone had mentioned this; Gemini is really fun, and the fact that it has double the throughput, and that Cedar Point has so many other great rollercoasters makes the line really short, generally.

      I remember one trip to Cedar Point where my cousin and I rode the Gemini about 13 times in a single day; we’d get off, and run down the exit and back up the entrance and get on maybe one or two trains after we had gotten off.

      That’s actually second place in terms of “most rides of a single roller coaster in one day” for me, behind Shivering Timbers in Michigan’s Adventure. Unlike Cedar Point (and despite being owned by the same company), Michigan’s adventure only really had one really good roller coaster, so I just rode that one all day.

      1. Bryan says:

        Oh, I don’t know; the Corkscrew wasn’t that bad. The water park, on the other hand… but that’s probably just because I was starting to not-exactly-enjoy water the last few times I went there. :-)

        And, yeah, Shivering Timbers was probably better.

        That giant ship thing whose name I can’t remember was pretty good though…

        And at Cedar Point, I remember the UV lighting in one of the indoor rides (again, whose name I can’t remember), which we got to well after dark outside, and what it did to both my glasses and the various bits of junk that people were carrying around. Don’t remember a lot of the rest of that day.

        And that was all about 15-16 years ago, too…

      2. SteveDJ says:

        Speaking of short lines, I remember a trip to Disneyland oh, so many years ago (mid 80s) that happened to fall on a VERY SLOW DAY at Disneyland. How slow? I was able to get off the Space Mountain ride, and zip from the exit back through the entrance, all the switchbacks, and to the end of the line – and that “run” took longer than the wait at that point to re-board the ride.

        Ah, the memories… I rode Space Mountain a dozen times that day … actually just that afternoon!

    2. Joshua says:

      Cedar Point is still my favorite amusement park. Here in Texas, we have Six Flags, but I don’t care for it as much. My wife, who was born and raised in Texas for all of her life, also really liked Cedar Point much better.

  10. Gravebound says:

    Twenty years did seem like a long time between visits, until I did the math on the last time I went to Six Flags (the original). That was nineteen years for me, as well…doesn’t feel that long ago. The Runaway Mine Train was my favorite; it’s small, but still roller-coaster-y.

    I can’t ride any of the really big coasters, fear of open heights, and all. But I was probably just traumatized as a child by riding the Viper at AstroWorld. It used safety bars that only went back as far as to the fattest passenger. I was a skinny little kid sitting next to my fat (at the time) grandma. The seats were slick benches and the sides were cut out. I spent the whole ride head down, gripping that bar for dear life as I slid closer and closer to the opening. In the after-ride photo all you could see of me were my hands. :P

    I also just now read that AstroWorld was closed in 2005. Huh. There were a couple big rides (that strap you in securely) that I enjoyed there. Sad Panda.

  11. Norman Ramsey says:

    The photo of Esther is AWESOME. She has a future in stand-up.

    1. Alexander The 1st says:

      I really hope the placement immediately after “At least I can still ride coasters.” was intentionally comedic, and not just dropped there to introduce the Old Mill.

      Also, she clearly hasn’t photobombed the bench sitting photo – missed opportunity, that is.

      1. Paul Spooner says:

        I’ll bet Isaac is looking at her. Vicarious photobomb!

      2. Humanoid says:

        Failed to photobomb the 1995 picture too. No excuses.

  12. rayen says:

    The last time i went to a Theme park was yesterday. I will go again today. If you haven’t already guessed i work at a theme park, Six Flags over Texas to be specific. I feel like there used to be a duel-coaster but it’s gone now. Still plenty of big coasters and a couple of small ones. Entertainment doesn’t get to ride coasters though, i get to watch the same show 5 times a day.

  13. Spammy says:

    I’m glad to hear you had a good time with your family. That said, although it shouldn’t, I still feel somewhat awkward to think that I’m closer to your kid’s age than yours. Although it’s not as bad as talking to a fellow student in my geology classes and realizing I’m only a few years older than her son. Or finding out that the buy I’ve been playing MechWarrior Online with is as old as my dad.

    The Internet does odd things like that when you bring people together by interest instead of age range.

  14. Ravens Cry says:

    This is something I’ve never done, go to an amusement park like this.
    Never really had the cash for it, either growing up or now.
    Not complaining or anything, it’s just something everyone seems to have done that I have not.

  15. Fabrimuch says:

    Wow Shamus, you look awfully pale in that one picture!!

    Hope you enjoyed your vacation. I love rollercoasters!

  16. Veylon says:

    Shamus posts blog about family trip to amusement park.

    What I take away from this: Suddenly Garfield minus Garfield makes sense!

    There must be something wrong with me.

  17. Paul Spooner says:

    “…along with a bunch of heavy industrial infrastructure.”
    I continue to be amused by the word “infrastructure.” It means foundational systems, stuff that is only there to help other stuff, the structures functionally “below” in the sense of support. But infra can also be taken in a literal sense, since a lot of infrastructure is also buried underground, behind walls, or otherwise visually obscured “under” something else. Over the years, I’ve begun to think of infrastructure in this second informal sense, which makes a “slice of the mile-long edifice of metal and concrete” being described as infrastructure quixotically comical. Almost like an implied pun.

    1. Shamus says:

      I’ve always assumed this is “economic” infrastructure. Gathering of raw materials, turning it into parts, processing of waste, that sort of thing. Sort of a “everything that isn’t a retail cashier is infrastructure” kind of mindset.

      I have no idea if this is or ever was correct or if anyone else uses the word this way. It’s just sort of how I assumed everyone else was using it.

      1. Mephane says:

        I’ve learned a similar, but more restricted meaning; for me infrastructure has always been the shared processes that need to be run in order for actual stuff to happen – streets, railroads, power plants & lines, pipes, waterworks, waste disposal etc. I never considered a factory as part of infrastructure.

      2. Robyrt says:

        I’d call that sector “industry”, but I see where you’re going here. It’s a SimCity distinction: everything is either residential, commercial, industrial, or infrastructure (the stuff the player has to build themselves).

  18. Wide And Nerdy says:

    This has nothing to do with anything but for some reason whenever I read your name, I start wanting to hum “Shamus Young, Shamus Young, et cetera, et cetera.”

    There will never be an appropriate time to mention that.

    1. He steals from the rich, and . . . um . . .
      (searches for a rhyme)
      . . . coats them with dung!
      Shamus Young!

  19. Mike Olson says:

    Gah! When did your kids all become nearly full-scale humans?!

    I hope I have an excuse to get down to PA some time in the coming years, would love to stop by and have a chat. I miss our AW conversations!

    Anyway, It’s great to see you all looking healthy and happy!


    1. Shamus says:

      Thumbs up. You’re welcome anytime. We’ll roll out the red carpet for you.

  20. CraigM says:

    Racing coasters, man that reminds me of the American Eagle at Six Flags Great America. I had always assumed those were common, guess that’s because I grew up with that one. It’s still neat to see such an old coaster still running, there’s something about the noisy clacking and bumpy ride of a wooden coaster that’s special. Just remember to take the blue track, its faster (Yay silly pointless competition).

  21. Vermander says:

    I hate it when older theme parks forget the “theme” part and just start cramming in random rides and attractions based on what’s available or what’s popular. Like when you see a bunch of NBA basketball games and stuffed Family Guy characters hanging from a rack in “Wild West Land” or whatever. All the Six Flags are really bad at this. You’ll see random superhero rides next to 90’s relics like Wayne’s World and vaguely Warner Brothers themed kids rides.

    Personally, I always liked Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, VA, which had a “European” theme. They did a good job of making sure each ride or game at least matched the decor of its section of the park. For example, all the spinning rides in Italy had a “Da Vinci’s workshop” theme and the cafeteria in Germany looked like a Munich beer hall.

    1. You’re assuming there’s anything to forget. Our fairly venerable rollercoasters-n-stuff place was always pretty much a “Themeless Park” unless you count the agricultural section . . .

      1. Paul Spooner says:

        Does “Popular Cultural Kitsch” count as a theme? Sounds like Kennywood really nailed that one.

  22. Galad says:

    That was a lovely write-up, thanks for sharing it with us, Shamus ^^

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