Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Blast From The Past - Knoebel's Phoenix

Playland Park in San Antonio Texas opened in the spring of 1940, It was a small park, consisting of the some of the usual fare of the day, a carousel, bumper cars, a train, a Ferris wheel, a Rollo plane, a fun house and some kiddie rides. Even though it didn't draw big crowds, the park's slogan was "The Fun Spot of San Antonio."

In 1945, owner Jimmy Johnson decided to add what would become the centerpiece of Playland. The Philadelphia Toboggan Company was contacted and Herbert Scheck designed the Rocket. With Frank Hoover supervising, construction began in 1945, but due to WWII, the lack of building materials and labor the coaster's opening was delayed until 1947. The first hill measured 78 feet, with a 72 foot drop, and there was some 3200 feet of track. At the time of its opening the Rocket was hailed as "the largest roller coaster in the world."

Playland Park closed in 1980 leaving The Rocket standing silent. In 1984, Knoebels Grove Park in Elysburg, PA purchased the coaster and began the huge project of dismantling the ride and moving it to Pennsylvania. De-construction began in January 1985, under the supervision of Charlie Dinn. The move was quite a challenge, every board was individually numbered and cataloged on site. And, then loaded and transported to Pennsylvania. Thirty five trucks were used to accomplish the move.

Even without blueprints, construction proceeded smoothly throughout the winter and into spring. Dinn had continued to head up the crew and Leonard Adams was responsible the track work and other essentials. On June 12th, 1985 one of the trains completed its first successful trip around the reborn coaster. And, on June 15th, Knoebel's first traditional wooden roller coaster, the Phoenix opened to the public.

The coaster was named the Phoenix, after the mythical phoenix bird which rises, reborn from its own ashes, to symbolize its rebirth. A quarter of a century later the Phoenix still thrills riders and consistently ranks as a top ten coaster.

The project was also the first large-scale wooden roller coaster relocation in many years, and it said to have sparked the restoration and relocation of other roller coasters standing but not operating.