Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Blast From The Past - The Crystal Beach Comet

Named for the "crystal-clear" water conditions along the Lake Erie shore, Crystal Beach was a small community located within Fort Erie, Ontario.

The Crystal Beach Amusement Park operated along the waterfront for just over a century. Since the park closed in 1989 the land has been occupied by a gated community, the Crystal Beach Tennis & Yacht Club.

While the park had many rides it's main claim to fame was the Cyclone. Built in 1927, this intense coaster had a full-time nurse on hand, to revive passengers who had passed out during the ride. Packed with spiraling drops and twisting track, the Cyclone terrorized riders until 1946.

The high cost of maintenance and operations doomed the Cyclone. In 1947, the coaster was carefully dismantled and a large part of it was used to construct the parks new coaster,including it's metal support structure and the lattice-work station. Herb Schmeck was brought in to design the Comet, which was part of a three coaster series that included the Hersheypark Comet & the San Antonio Rocket. All three share similar track designs and features, but the Crystal Beach Comet was the longest coaster of the series.

The Comet is arguably the most popular attraction from the Crystal Beach Amusement Park. Legend has it, the best part was climbing the 96 foot lifthill, while gazing down on the lake water. Just as the train started descending the riders cwould get a great view of the Buffalo Skyline across the lake. In the year 1985, the park actually modified the trains of the Comet, splitting them in half, so that one could ride facing backwards or forwards. This really made it two rides in one!

Crystal Beach closed forever in 1989, but the Comet's future was only in doubt for a short time. At the auction, Charlie Woods, the owner of The Great Escape in Queensbury, New York successfully bid for The Comet.

The Comet sat in storage at Fantasy Island in Grand Island NY for a few years before being moved to Great Escape. In 1993 construction began, with the site located on the old sand pit in the back of the park.

PTC provided blueprints from the Crystal Beach Cyclone and new trains as well. John Pierce assisted in the construction, with Martin & Vleminckx building the track. New Oak ledgers, 4 x 12 and 6 x 12 wooden beams were used. The yellow paint was stripped off and steel structure was painted white. The total cost of the project was somewhere in the vicinity of $4 million. The Great Escape Comet opening June 25th 1994.

Over the past 16 season the Great Escape Comet has thrilled many, many riders. We never had the opportunity to experience the Comet at Crystal Beach, but thanks to its preservation we didn't miss out on riding a wonderful piece of amusement park history at Great Escape.