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Kenneywood has made a valiant effort in the last decade to bring its Kiddieland into the 21st Century. The competition from rival parks is intense, and since parents and grandparents often pick a park based on its Kiddieland, it is a competition that has to be faced. But the situation at Kennywood is unique. First, over on the east side of Pittsburgh within a reasonable drive, the company runs Idlewild, probably the nation's greatest kiddieland park. Most families basing their whole day around young kids will go there. Second, the section of Kennywood devoted to Kiddieland is hemmed in on all sides by the lake, cliffs, rafting ride and picnic pavillions. Squeezing more rides would require overlapping and entertwining. Yet families don't like that. They want open space and plenty of landscaping. So what to do? They could build a fake mountain and let the train and auto ride tunnel through, then extend Kiddieland up onto the mountain. But that would destroy the views of the Monongahela Valley. They could remove some of the pavilions. But families, schools, towns, churches and companies have a century old tradition of annual "KW Days," and they need those pavilions. They could remove some of the 1940s kiddie rides for newer ones, but each of those is a historic treasure, and still popular, as shown by long lines. The greatest loss for this kiddieland was the bandshell fire of 1964, which took out the famous Little Dipper, America's greatest entry level roller coaster. The Rollo Coaster at Idlewild and the Little Beastie at Kings Island are the only remaining junior coasters which come close to it. This was America's first Kiddieland (1923) and is still a good one, but desperately needs more room. During the upcoming park expansion, perhaps Aero 360 and the adjacent picnic grove could be moved to the new section, and this kiddieland could expand all the way over to the Logjammer. That would allow room for a legitimate kiddie coaster like Runaway Reptar, Barnstormer or Woodstock Express, and an aerial ride like the KI Helicopters or the CW Balloons.
Auto Race. #1. The last of these still operating. Great ride. Faster than expected. Cars are a bit uncomfortable for adults, but they’re real antiques, and they were designed for kids. Meticulously maintained. Exciting as it is now, it once had three hills and the cars had working headlights, which made a night ride a magic trip The cars are scale model Packards. This is on the national historic registry, and as part of the main park, for adults, it's still worth a ride, but as a kiddieland experience for anybody under 14, no other park in America has anything to match it. After a century, there is still always a line, and people still trade places in line to get their favorite car. Veteran auto racers try to make it all the way through the course without the guide wheels touching the safety rails. If that sounds easy, try it. The Inside Bend, shown left, is where most hopefuls fail. There are people who have spent a lifetime trying and not done it. The few who succeeded have their own cult following. Nine of the original cars remain, of which KW runs five or six at a time with three or four in reserve.
The Train # 1. Manufactured for the Philadelphia World's Fair, this is a classic with its own place on the historic registry. Compared to the magnificent full sized trains at Disney World, Kings Island, Busch Gardens and Dollywood, this is noncompetitive. But as a kiddieland ride, it is unsurpassed anywhere, and no park in America offers a ride with the scenery of this one. The longest ride in the park, The Olde Kennywood Railroad winds along the cliffs behind Kiddieland and the picnic pavilions before finally turning at the Log Jammer and returning on the same track. You look down on the Monongahela Valley, with three towns, six mills, a dam and set of locks, railroads on both sides of the river and boats pushing barges. Veterans take this train once in the afternoon and again after dark when the lights are all on down in the valley. Adults find the historical tableaus hokey, but they were designed for children. Bring your camera.
S.S. Kenny. Kennywood's miniature version of Zamperla's Rockin' Tugboat. This is a great ride, sure to be considered a classic when amusement park historians look back at the first decade of the 21st Century. The adult version of this can be disorienting for many riders, and even this downsized model is a challenging experience. A good training experience before a kid tries full scale rides like Cosmic Chaos or Wipeout. It's fun to watch the tykes get off this one. Some are unaffected and some stagger against the metal railings for a minute until they get their bearings. Made in Italy. The boat's base swings back and forth from one end of the track to the other, while the deck rotates around 360 degrees. Seats are perfectly comfortable for parents to ride this with their kids. It may have been a mistake to locate this and the Crazy Trolley way at the back end of Kiddieland. It might be better to put them out at the Kiddieland entrance so people passing by along the main midway will see them. Two of the older flats could be moved to the back.
The Kiddie Turtle (#1) is part of a rare double (also see photo top left). Very few of either the adult or kiddie models of this ride remain. Kennywood has both, and each one is the best of its size still operating anywhere. This is a beautifully maintained antique, still smooth and fast and comfortable. It's a tight squeeze for adults, but perfectly designed for kids. The Kiddie Turtle is a step up from the more placid circle rides (boats, planes, elephants, swings), where beginners can sit in safety and get used to the idea of motion and being on their own for a few minutes. Here, the noise and speed and semipredictable up and down movements offer more excitement to the child ready for a bigger adventure.
The Swings are very popular with the two year old set. These are in a single row, and have the same safety bar sliding up and down on the chains as their big brother, the Wave Swinger.
Crazy Trolley. Kennywood's version of The Bus. A kiddie Flying Carpet, this cycles up and down in a wide circular motion with the tykes safely seated inside. Unlike its adult counterpart, this Bus has a slow and smooth pace. The excitement for kiddies is the sensation of being high in the air, looking way down on parents and the surrounding landscape. Parents can ride this with their kids but it's a tight fit. Even though this is in Kiddieland, it's a ride for older kiddies. They have to be responsible enough to stay seated and behave.
Li'l Phantom. A great disappointment. First, this 1996 installation is simply a 154' loop with a lift hill and two smaller rises. Kennywood redid the layout, raising the track to pass over the line and load on the opposite side of the station. But even as kiddie coasters go, this is weak. The Li'l Phantom is much too rough, jerky, uncomfortable and abbreviated. Two circuits of a very small loop and they bring the train to a complete stop in the station at the halfway point? They would be better tearing this and the adjacent restroom building out and adding a Taxi Jam or Roller Skate, doulbing it back on itself to fit in the tight space. Phantom is one of Kennywood's legendary names, and any ride bearing it has a lot to live up to.
Whippersnapper is a replacement for the original 1923 kiddie Whip, which was destroyed by the 1975 Ghost Ship Fire. This Whip was a sister model originally installed in Boston's Paragon Park. When Paragon closed, Kennywood bought the ride. It's in beautiful condition and is a great ride for young tykes just beginning to try something besides circle rides. It's too small for adults, however, so Junior will have to walk by himself to the car, get in, sit down and hang on. His reward is a long, smooth ride, with a burst of excitement at one end, time to catch his breath and reset, then a burst of excitement at the other, repeated a dozen times.
Dynamo is a treacherous little ride. It hides there in kiddieland, luring trusting adults to go on it with their children. The cars are circular tubs seating two or three. They rotate rather rapidly. Then the whole disk on which they sit rotates. They do this for a long time. When they're done, the kids have had a great time and the adults need to find a bench and close their eyes for a while. We know several parents who had spent a lifetime riding the TiltaWhirl, Octopus and Wipeout and it was this little kiddieland ride that ended their careers. They haven't been able to face a ride since. So if your kid is graduating up from plastic elephants and airplanes, by all means put them on Dynamo. But stay off it yourself. If your kids insist you take them on it, you might keep your eyes closed.
The Miniature Mangels Carousel is the only one of its kind left still operating (two are in museums but do not work). First installed adjacent to the Jackrabbit in 1923, it was moved to its present location in 1927 when the park was expanded and Kiddieland was moved. The16 moving horses, 10 fixed horses and two chariots are all original.
The Ferris Wheel # 1 is another of those 1923 originals. There are only three of this model still working. The cars were replaced in 1972 but the frame, gears and motor are original. The six cars are actually cages so kids can't fall out while the ride is operating. Through some maintenance miracle, KW mechanics have kept this one running smoothly and quietly. Among all tiny tot ferris wheels, this one is the best .
The Circle Rides are all 1940s in origin. They include the Orbiter, Elephants, Motorcycles, and Airplanes. These are the rides toddlers get their first experiences on. Parents and ride operators can hover close by, the rides move fairly slowly, everyone is firmly buckled in, and there are no changes in direction. But they are all classics, beautifully maintained, with original machinery and vehicles, smooth running and brightly colored.
These rides are the best example of why KW's Kiddieland needs redesigned and expanded. They need more room and landscaping to show them off. Crammed in as they are against fences and each other, it's hard to appreciate them as the works of art they are.
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