The Zippin Pippin was the oldest continuously operating roller coaster in the United States when it closed on October 29, 2005. It had been built originally for Overton Park, named for John Overton, co-founder of Memphis on Madison Avenue at the east side of the city in 1915. Designed by John Miller and built by Harry Baker of the National Amusement Device Company, it was moved and became a staple at Libertyland in Memphis TN in 1923, under the name of the Mid-South Fairgrounds, the former Montgomery Park racetrack, which was changed its name to Libertyland during Bicentennial fever on July 4, 1976.
The ride was severely damaged during a storm during the spring of 1928 and the section of the far turnaround that went past Maxwell Boulevard appears to have been lengthened into the area of the lift hill, turn, and first drop during the repairs for that season.
Long know as Elvis’s favorite coaster, because he liked to rent out the park after hours for his entourage, the publicly owned park had been subsidized by the fair and the fair commission decided to discontinue operations after the 2005 season due to the continuing deficits.
The park was piece mealed at auction on June 21, 2006 with some rides heading east as far as Pennsylvania and North Carolina but the Zippin Pippin was sold in its entirety to the Honky Tonk Hall of Fame & Rock-N-Roll Roadshow. They only wanted the lead car of the single train and they sold the rest of the coaster to Carolina Crossroads, a new park to be developed near Roanoke Rapids in North Carolina during October 2006. The coaster was never moved and donated back to the Save Libertyland organization during late 2007.
After a few more fits and starts about moving the coaster to the old pyramid arena and building an amusement park there, the dust quietly accumulated on the deteriorating Zippin Pippin. Enter the City of Green Bay, current operator of Bay Beach, the ninth oldest amusement park in the US. Mayor Jim Schmitt pushed through the proposal to bring the Zippin Pippin to the citizens of Green Bay, because the former wooden coaster from the Golden Age, either the Jack Rabbit or the Greyhound, was also designed by John Miller. After a slight construction delay due to a harsh Wisconsin winter, the new Zippin Pippin opened to the public on 5/21/2011.
Very faithful to the original layout, with the exception of being a mirror image to enable a spectacular view of Green Bay, the rebuilt coaster delivers a better ride than the Libertyland version we last rode in 2002. With the shoreline view as riders climb the lift hill, this is what traditional parks offered in years gone by. Lots of airtime including a whoop-de-doo right before the brake, the Zippin Pippin has broken in very nicely, and delivers lots of fun throughout the course.
While in Memphis the Zippin Pippin ran only a single train of 4 cars with 3 rows per car. At Bay Beach, it has 5 cars per train and a second train along with the associated transfer track. This difference ratchets up the intensity factor for riding in the rear of the train. The rolling stock and mechanical parts came from the ill-fated Intimidator/Thunder Eagle. The coaster itself was built from entirely new material and it was first thought that maybe the station could be built from material salvaged from the Libertyland location but that wasn’t viable and the station is entirely new also.
The queue is located in the middle of the ride, so guests can watch the trains go round and round as they move towards the station. We were there on 7/3/2011 and the wait was about 20 minutes. Bay Beach operates in the historical manner, with free admission and tickets required to ride. It only costs $1 to ride the Zippin Pippin, and no wristband option is available. The transfer track rolls under the platform so the ride operator on the left side of the train, as you face forward, is actually walking at a lower level than when they work on the side next to the pneumatic gates.
Even on this hot day, they were steadily dispatching trains well under 3 minutes. Zippin Pippin thrilled its 200,000 rider on just after lunch on 7/15/2011. This was the budget goal for the entire first season; so to say the ride is a success would be an understatement. During most of our rides, the most heard statement we remember was “This was better than I expected.” Children encouraged their parents to “Go get some more tickets while I get in line.”
With lots of airtime, and a great view, Zippin Pippin is destined to thrill visitors to Bay Beach for years to come, with no cost to the taxpayers. They even have one of the coaster cars from Memphis so people can sit in the car and get their picture taken “Just like Elvis.” Until next time, get out to a park and get in line. The season is half over and the winter will be long.
Our thanks to the staff at Bay Beach and the folks of Green Bay for the effects to preserve the history of the Zippin Pippin! And, we invite that all our NPN readers make a trek to Green Bay to experience Bay Beach and ride the Zippin Pippin!