by Paul Ruben
I had come to Cedar Point, Sandusky, Ohio, to ride, photograph and write about GateKeeper, their new Wing Coaster from B&M. It’s a spectacularly thrilling ride, and I was mesmerised by it until, wandering around the park, something else caught my eye.
It was a narrow- gauge coal-fired steam locomotive on the Cedar Point & Lake Erie Railroad, the park’s train ride.
This year was the 50th Anniversary of the CP&LE, which was opened in 1963 by George A Roose, then president of Cedar Point. It’s a traditional favourite of park guests, with more than 1.8 million riding last year and more than 116 million since it first opened. I climbed aboard, and was transported on a 15-minute, two-mile excursion over bridges and through a land of “Old West” animated skeletons.
In 1992 one of the locomotives was named the Judy K to honour Judy Kinzel, wife of Dick Kinzel, then president and CEO of the park’s owner, Cedar Fair. All they ever named after Dick was the highway leading into the park. A locomotive is much cooler. That’s the Judy K behind me in the photo. Many of us who enjoy amusement parks also enjoy trains. Watching rolling stock faithfully following the predestined path determined by the rails is fascinating. Many of us had electric trains as children. Many still do. We go to toy train shows, and go to amusement parks to ride the rollercoasters, miniature trains, monorails, dark rides, and anything else with rails.
In 2004 when I visited Blackpool Pleasure Beach in England I was invited to owner Geoffrey Thompson’s home. There I was delighted to find he had a train that meandered around his garden that we could ride. We sat atop two of the cars and in the faint light of dusk rolled through his grounds. I had sensed before that Geoffrey and I were kindred spirits, and this confirmed it. He still enjoyed small trains, a man after my own heart.
Walt Disney developed a love of trains at an early age. Close to the Disney family farm in Missouri, there were Santa Fe Railroad tracks. Often Walt would put his ear against the tracks, to listen for approaching trains. During his life Walt would often try to recapture the freedom he felt when aboard those trains. He built his own miniature trains such as a half-mile scale model railway in his backyard that he called the Carolwood Pacific Railroad. At California’s Disneyland, a railroad was one of the first attractions he planned. Later, when he began the design for Florida’s Walt Disney World, he made sure that the train station was located near the entrance to the park.
Do you want to be like Walt? Most park owners do. Following Disney’s lead, many amusement parks today feature train rides. They have broad appeal because they are rides the entire family can enjoy together, and they can also be useful for helping you get around the park. In North Carolina, Tweetsie Railroad has even themed the entire park around its signature attraction. One of most prolific manufacturers of such attractions, Chance Rides began to fabricate its 24-inch (61cm) gauge CP.Huntington locomotive in 1960, and has now delivered 373 plus countless coaches to venues world-wide. So Happy Anniversary, CP&LE, long may you roll.