Thursday, July 29, 2010

A Blast From The Past - Miracle Strip

All the talk of Legoland purchasing the closed Cypress Gardens Park in Winter Haven Florida and their plans not including the classic John Allen Skyliner has brought back fond memories of our first rides on the coaster, so this week’s Blast travels back to Memorial Day weekend of 2004 when we finally experienced Miracle Strip Amusement Park in Panama City Florida.

Opening in March 1963, Miracle Strip was located just across from the Gulf of Mexico & Panama City beach. The park resembled a traditional seaside boardwalk, similar to those on the east coast. The park featured several rides that were made uniquely spectacular by placing them within enclosed spaces and adding pounding music and lighting effects.

The Abominable Snowman was a typical Eli Scrambler, made atypical by the entrance, which passed under the big guy, into an air conditioned igloo. The ride featured strobe lighting and a pounding sound system.

To ride Dante's Inferno you had to walk through a grinning devil's mouth, where a you had the pleasure of riding a Chance Trabant.

Built by Bill Tracy in 1965, the Haunted Castle was a campy haunted house ride shaped like a castle with a dead tree outside, two passenger cars that bumped along dark corridors past day-glow horrors. The maze of track showed off several morbid attractions; the electrocution of a dummy inmate, dismemberment, spiders and lots of black light effects. The rides second floor also had a some unusual effects.

The Train was a small multi-passenger diesel-engine train ride that took riders from the station located near the center of the park, around a few attractions, such as the paratrooper, spider, dungeon and log flume, The train went through a tunnel that led into the wooded area where the park was never developed, then looped back to the station. The 02 drop tower, added in 2002, was the last addition to Miracle Strip

The real treasure at Miracle Strip was John Allen's Starliner, it was one of the first attractions built at the park and still thrilling riders on the parks closing day. It ran nearly the length of the park, the roar of wheels and the screams of happy riders could be heard all over the park.

The Starliner was the third major roller coaster Allen built PTC and his seventh overall. Frank Hoover supervised construction of the roller coaster. Stepping under the colorful sign the line leads to the beautiful curved station. On the way up the ramp there is a Philadelphia Toboggan Company plaque on the side of the station, The trains were three bench PTCs with no headrests, or seat dividers and a single seat belt a single-locking "buzz" bar.

The Starliner operated with manual skid brakes, an operated released the brake and the train rolled out of the station and began climbing the 70-foot lift hill. A 65-foot first drop which leads to a series of hills, the third hill is nearly as tall as the first and at the bottom riders enter a tunnel that is painted like an open mouthed dragon.

Halfway through the tunnel riders are caught off-guard as the train catches some air on a hidden bunny hop before the track rises into the turn-around where the train loops around and hugs the previously-traveled track. The section after the turn-around was a series of signature John Allen bunny hops each with plenty of airtime for the whole family to enjoy. As the train flew into the brake shed a light and bell went off in the front of the station, as the operators applied the brakes to slow the train to a stop.

Although the park had been losing money for several years, in 2003 Billy Lark who was the parks only owner, announced that the 2004 season would be Miracle Strip's last. Citing declining attendance and increasing expenses, Lark sold the land for use in development of condos. Crowds came in force full of spirit as the park celebrated their last days of operation. The park closed its gates Labor Day weekend of 2004

In Nov 2006 Kent Buescher, president of Adventure Parks Group LLC, announced they had purchased the Skyliner and were moving it to Winter Haven. It was rebuilt and brought up to the safety standards of that time, at an estimated cost of$5 million, with plans to open the next summer. The ride operated at Cypress Gardens until the park closed November of 2008.

Like the Skyliner, some rides were sold and relocated, the log flume is located at Wild Adventures in Valdosta GA, is was to reopen in 2006, but it never opened. The O2 was moved to Dixie Landin' in Baton Rouge LA and opened in 2006 as Hot Shot. Musik Express headed west to Cliff's in Albuquerque New Mexico and the Wave Swinger was at one time traveling with the North Florida Fair. The Carousel was moved to Pier Park in April 2009, and appropriately named "The Miracle Strip Carousel". The Sports Cars were moved to Lake Compounce in Bristol, Connecticut and reopened as Zoomer's Gas-N-Go

The September 7, 2009 Panama City News Herald, stated the remains of The Miracle Strip Amusement park would be either removed from the site to be sold, or demolished, beginning the next day, Lark was even considering using Ebay and Craigslist to sell some of the remains. Since then the park has pretty much been demolished, Florida's oldest roller coaster is SBNO and all that remains is the memories.