Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Blast From The Past - Hillcrest's Little Dipper

Hillcrest Park was a 58.8 acre private picnic park located in the Chicago suburb of Lemont, IL. One of several small parks owned by the Berry family, Hillcrest opened in 1952. Catered outings at the park ranged in size from 200 guests on weekdays to 2500 guests on weekends. The biggest day it ever had was when a large political gathering was hosted.

Hillcrest's two main attractions were the train and the Little Dipper. Like it's sister coaster at Kiddieland, the Dipper was a junior figure eight, but a mirror image. Designed by Herb Schmeck it was previously moved from Kidtown, a downtown kiddie park formerly located at the corner of Addison and Harlem. Hillcrest Park closed on September 1st 2003, due to a decline in corporate outings and an increase in value of the land, due to the new interstate construction.

The park's rides and equipment were auctioned off on October 25th. The land was sold to developers to build a several large warehouses. The Little Dipper was purchased by Little Amerricka for $9,000. The pieces were numbered as it was taken apart

The dismantling and relocation the Little Dipper to Marshall WI was done in-house, with Darrell Klompmaker supervising. However, the park was busy on other projects, as they are a major supplier of miniature coal-fired steam locomotives, so the coaster sat in piles in Little Amerricka's bone yard for several years.

The park had several other issues to overcome; they had never built a wooden coaster from scratch and they didn't have any blue prints to follow. The ride had to be submitted to the ride inspectors as a new ride since they were moving it across state lines. And they had the rest of the park to maintain in the meantime.

When they were trying to determine the exact position where the roller coaster would fit some extra chairs from the picnic shelter were use. The fit was so tight that part of the handrail close to the Test Pilot ride had to be removed to provide proper clearance.

The single PTC Junior train had to be totally reconditioned, which took one person most of a year to accomplish. Now that same person walks the track every day, to look for loose bolts and oversees any other of the Meteor's needs. So it's in good hands, for he reports that he has only had to tighten a few bolts, and replace even less.

After three years of trial, error and tweaking the Meteor opened on August 8, 2007. It continues its proud tradition as the reigning king of the midway at Little America, thrilling riders of all generations, sometimes simultaneously.