A Trip Back In Time: Knoebels Amusement Park (Part 1) - PassPorter.com
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A Trip Back In Time: Knoebels Amusement Park (Part 1)

by Christina Radvon, PassPorter Message Board Guide (Moderator)
Last modified 06-05-2011

PassPorter.com > Articles > U.S. Travel > Traveling  

Take a trip back in time -- all the way back to your childhood! Okay, hopping in your time machine isn't an option just yet, but you can still take a nostalgic trip back in time at Knoebels Groves in Elysburg, Pennsylvania.

My family -- my husband, son, and myself -- recently returned from a week-long stay at Knoebels Amusement Park & Resort. You read that right: one week at one park. For my husband Walt and me, it was a trip back to our childhood. We went to Knoebels with our parents and our parents went with their parents many years before. In 2000, Knoebels celebrated its 75th anniversary as an amusement park.

Our stay began with an unusual experience at most amusement parks -- our own cottage. We rented a cottage for the week. The three bedrooms, full kitchen and a huge wrap-around sun porch were all ours. The cottage backed up to a stream and was just 50 yards from the park perimeter. A little island of tranquility just outside the park - perfectly located for us to spend a few hours in the park each day with a nap mid-afternoon before heading back out to enjoy the sights and sounds each night.

As we unloaded our bags, my son, DJ, skipped up and down the sidewalk, his little hand cupped behind his right ear, shouting "You hear that, Mama? That's a choo-choo whistle!" Good ears. And as I stood there watching him bounce and skip with his endless enthusiasm, I got a little teary. This was exactly why I'd wanted to go there.

Knoebels is an anomaly in the amusement park industry -- there is no entry fee. Ride tickets can be purchased at any ticket booth or window in the park. Even the ticket booths are a sight to behold. Many are decorated like circus wagons and carousels with richly detailed murals and curlicues. They're even themed, in some cases, to the rides near-by.

The ride closest to our cottage was Ole Smokey. It's one of two train rides that run through the park. Ole Smokey is an old fashioned double-out-and-back kiddie steam train. The engineer can be seen at the station feeding the engine from the coal car at every stop. We know it's really real coal because we sat too close to the front of the train once and I got an eyeful of ash. DJ was too short to notice. Good for kids, but Moms and Dads beware!

Like many of today's amusement parks, Knoebels has humble beginnings. However, Knoebels is still family-owned and straddles the stream and the swimming hole that first drew visitors to Knoebel's Farm nearly 100 years ago. Originally a farm, run by Ole Hen (the family's patriarch), a saw mill and a lumber yard, the farm later became a destination for "tally-hos" around the turn of the century. Tally-hos were a Sunday afternoon hay or wagon ride with a destination often fit for camping, hiking, and even some swimming. Wily Ole Hen seized the opportunity. He began to charge 25 cents to water, feed, and care for the horses that pulled the wagons. Eventually, he began offering light refreshments and carnival-type snacks like popcorn, peanuts, and ice cream to the visitors.

The year 1926 brought the Crystal Pool to Knoebels. Visitors still loved the ole swimming hole, but the pool was a much anticipated modern convenience. Where the covered bridged once spanned the creek and the more daring leaped from its railing, we can see the high dives at the Crystal Pool -- still located in the same spot, though it has been renovated and expanded through the years. Unfortunately, the pool wasn't on our agenda for this trip. There was so much to do and so little time!

The first cottage was built in 1917. While we couldn't trace the beginnings of our little cottage, the Knoebels History Museum provided us with peeks at the past. There is one in particular that has always caught my interest. It's a little tugboat that is still standing near the back of the pool area. The speed slides run right past it. It is the last remaining of the themed cottages. DJ makes quite a fuss whenever we pass it on the Pioneer Train (a 1 ½ mile ride past the pool, slides, some private cottages, the campground, and out through the woods). We learned our lesson the first night on the Pioneer Train. The ride through the woods was so dark near the back of the train, the older kids screamed as we went through the tunnels. My little boy was scared to death on our first ride. We went to a nearby discount store and bought battery-powered glow-sticks from the sporting goods dept. We used them for late-night train rides throughout our trip. Every trip thereafter was a cakewalk thanks to our glow-sticks.

On several of our train rides that week, we had a special treat -- riders of the four-legged kind rode the train with us. Knoebels not only allows pets (on leashes) in the park, but they're even allowed on some rides! We must have pet a hundred dogs of all ages, breeds, and sizes that week!

Back in 1926, the same year the Crystal Pool made its debut, Knoebels' first ride appeared for the season. A Philadelphia man named Joe Gallagher operated a steam powered carousel as a concession on the same site that the current Grand Carousel operates today.

Even I was surprised to find children leaning off their horses to capture the brass ring! Clearly, they had a system because most of the kids had 10 or more steel rings at the end of the ride. When the brass ring was caught, one of the agile Knoebels ride operators would leap backwards onto the carousel as it moved to exchange ride tickets with the holder of the brass ring. It's worth the 60 cents just to see this acrobatic act!

In 1941, just 10 days before the start of World War II, the current Grand Carousel was purchased by H.H. Knoebel and that carousel still runs and offers children of all ages the chance to catch the brass ring to this day.

Every ride in the park has its own life, its own history. Knoebels does something no other park does -- it rescues rides and rebuilds or re-engineers them to fit within the park's borders. Nearly every ride in the park was once somewhere else before it found its home and its most appreciative audience at Knoebels. In 1985, Knoebels did the unthinkable -- they moved a whole roller coaster! The Phoenix was reborn at Knoebels from the ashes (timbers and track) of the Rocket at Playland Park in San Antonio, Texas where it was built in 1947. The Phoenix, a favorite wooden coaster among hard-core coaster enthusiasts like myself (it often makes American Coaster Enthusiast's top ten list of roller coasters each year), celebrated its 20th year at Knoebels this summer and I rode it! To read more about the other rides that found a new life at this vintage park visit http://www.knoebels.com/history.htm.

Knoebels isn't just history and recycled rides, though. It is old fashioned band organs, kettle corn, hot roasted peanuts, homemade fudge, covered bridges, camping, picnicking, games and more!

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Updated 06-05-2011 - Article #669 

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