Rotating Rodents Will Get You Laffin' In The Dark Like You've
Never Laffed Before.
located just outside Pittsburgh, is one of the planet's most revered
amusement parks, a living museum of scream machine history. On
August 28th, 1987, Kennywood was officially presented with a bronze
plaque by National Park Service historian James Charleton designating
it a National Historic Landmark (an honor long overdue) and in
1998, Kennywood celebrated its first centennial, saluting 100
years of unwavering service to our needs. Of course, most know
and love this sacred place for its spectacular collection of rollercoasters.
Today, there are two surviving John A. Miller-designed coasters,
the Jack Rabbit (1922) and the Racer (1927); the
infamously gut-wrenching Andy Vettel-designed Thunderbolt (1968); and what was once the world's biggest looping hypercoaster,
the Arrow Dynamics-designed, 80+ MPH Steel Phantom, now
reborn as Phantom's Revenge, sans inversions. I can name
but a handful of parks that possess any number of coasters as
remarkable as this high-quality quartet.
But it's not
just the coasters that make Kennywood such a nutritious part of
any Thrillseeking diet; classic dark rides and walk-through fun
houses have always been an integral aspect of the Kennywood experience.
As a matter of fact, Kennywood installed its first dark ride,
the float-through Old Mill way back in 1901, a year before
the park even erected its first coaster (Fred Ingersoll's "Three-Way,
Figure-Eight Toboggan," added in 1902). During its more than
90 years of operation, the Old Mill underwent a number of name
and design changes, variously called the "Fairyland Floats"
and "Hardheaded Harold's Horrendously Humorous Haunted Hideaway,"
but it currently operates with its original name and still offers
a languorous, six-minute trip past several illuminated scenes
and through a number of completely dark stretches (though it was
never dubbed a "Tunnel of Love," it might as well have
been, wink, wink...).
And perhaps no other single attraction better symbolizes Kennywood than Noah's
Ark. This elaborate walk-through fun house (more accurately
a fun boat), first appeared in 1936 at a time when Arks
were considered de rigueur at a properly-equipped amusement
park. Packed to the rafters with timeless gags like distortion
mirrors, revolving barrels, shimmying floors and twisting mazes,
the Arks also included figures of Noah and his two-by-two menagerie
all inside a structure that gently rocked from stem to stern.
its history, Kennywood's Ark has been updated and revitalized.
In 1969, a whale was constructed at the front of the attraction,
allowing guests to enter through its gaping mouth, and in 1996,
the entire Ark was rebuilt at a cost of nearly $2 million, with
the addition of several new high-tech stunts (another example
of the park's unmatched efforts to preserve its heritage). The
whale entrance was replaced with the falling "Elevator of
Doom," a stirring trick that deposits visitors into a genuinely
creepy subterranean maze. And a new final show now takes place
inside an "undersea" steel chamber that buckles and
eventually succumbs to the ocean's exterior pressure, water spraying
through the chamber wall's bursting seams.
about all the Arks built in the 1920s and 30s have sunk without
a trace; only three remain in the world today and Kennywood's
Ark is America's last functional example.)
the Old Mill and Noah's Ark, an impressive number of dark rides
and walk-throughs have come and gone at Kennywood: Laughing
Gallery, House of Trouble, Daffy Dilla (later
renamed Hilarity Hall), Tumble Inn, 13 Spook
Street (later renamed Daffy Klub), The Traver Engineering-designed Laff-In-The-Dark, Fun On The Farm, The Enchanted
Forest, Zoomerang (later renamed the Safari and
eventually, Le Cachot), Tornado (purchased from
New York's defunct Freedomland theme park), Ghost Ship,
and finally, The Gold Rusher, built in 1981 and
still rolling today.
Since The Gold Rusher's debut, 19 long years passed before ol' Special K decided
to turn down the lights once again. And now that we're in an age
of thrill ride cross-breeding, it was almost preordained that
Kennywood should cook up an attraction that combines the two things
they do best: coasters and dark rides. For the 1999 season, the
park unleashed the most intense dark ride they've ever created,
a real head-turner called The Exterminator.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
rollercoasters are no longer the rarest of novelties. Disney's
several Space Mountains (at their parks in California,
Florida, Tokyo and Paris) and the two Outer Limits: Flight
Of Fear linear induction motor coasters at Paramount's Kings
Island (Cincinnati, Ohio) and Paramount's Kings Dominion (Doswell,
Virginia), are the most extreme examples of what can be accomplished
by hiding a coaster's twists and turns from the harsh light of
day. One could even argue that they themselves qualify as dark
rides, too. But The Exterminator trumps them all as a bona fide
dark ride by incorporating a meaty story, a "pre-show"
that sets up the action, several way-cool scenic elements and a ride vehicle that has some diabolical moves.
For The Exterminator's hardware, Kennywood went to the French manufacturer
Reverchon and ordered one of their Spinning Wild Mouse coasters.
Up until recently, stock Wild Mice were typified by compact two-row,
four-passenger carts zigging and zagging through hairpin turns
and diving down abrupt drops. Reverchon's special edition incorporates
those head-snapping turns and zippy dives, but its cars carry
passengers in a single row and are capable, as the ride's name
implies, of spinning.
park hired R & R Creative Amusement Designs to develop a dark
ride around these wacky mechanicals. R & R Creative came up
with a tale inspired by those Grade-B monster movies of the 1950's:
sewer rats dwelling below fictional "Kennyville" have
mutated into giant beasts and are causing havoc in the tunnels
beneath the city. Exterminators from Vermin, Inc. have been called
in to deal with the problem and they're up against much more than they bargained for.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The Exterminator is located at the far end of the "Lost Kennywood"
section of the park, inside an ominous cinder-block bunker rising
behind the Pittsburgh Plunge Shoot-The-Chutes. The exterior
portion of ride's queue winds beneath the elevated Plunge turn,
taking us closer and closer to the entrance of an industrial access
Parked right outside that entrance is a Vermin, Inc. van and a barricade warning
that poison gas is currently in use. Listen closely and you'll
be able to hear the van's radio squawking with urgent dispatches.
From the tone of these messages, you can surmise that the operation
isn't going as planned.
we're led in groups inside the tunnel. Deeper and deeper underground,
we walk through bare cement hallways lit only by heavy-duty wire-caged
bulbs. Soon, we turn into an electrical systems monitoring station.
The far wall is covered with dingy-green metal panels and innumerable
gauges, switches and knobs, just the kind of outdated, pre-computer-age
"technology" you'd expect to find beneath your average
Two video monitors at either end of the wall alternately telecast alerts from
an off-site authority and news reports from a local TV station.
The alerts warn that a power grid beneath parts of Kennyville
and Kennywood amusement park has been knocked out, and the newscaster
gravely intones that eight-foot rats on a rampage beneath the
city are the cause of the power failure. Even worse, the first
team from Vermin, Inc. sent to kill the rats has disappeared.
As the crisis mounts, the newscaster continues, a second team
has been flown in from Atlanta, armed with a far deadlier arsenal.
The story is punctuated with still shots of an exterminator geared
up in a bright orange biohazard suit and packing some major weaponry.
Looks pretty serious.
monitoring station, we clamber onto the boarding dock's perforated
metal platform. There's enough dim red light to keep us from stumbling
into harm's way, but not much more. And what are we directed to
climb into? A giant rat. That's right, we're now the targets for those exterminators. Yikes! (You should also note the number
of available hand grips around you. You're gonna want to take
advantage of these very soon.)
With lap bars firmly in place, we lurch forward and make an immediate left-hand
turn, passing by more posted warnings and barrels of deadly chemicals.
We roll straight through a pitch-black corridor, but there's something
to see down on the left: peeking through a gnawed hole in the
wall is a pair of glaring, bloodshot eyes.
There's another hard turn to the left and we mount the chain lift. Minus the
threat of man-eating rodents in the vicinity, this dank, musty
space would still be plenty unnerving. Those red utility lights
cast an eerie glow over the metal tracks, blackened utility pipes
and craggy walls, and over the clankity-clank of our ascension,
the sound of a howling wind follows us up the inclined passageway.
Just before we hit the top of the lift, there's one of the exterminators and
he's got his weapon drawn. As we pass by, he yelps into his radio,
"It's huge!" Luckily, he seems to be too stunned to
fire and we escape a blast of noxious gas by making another quick
turn and heading back into total darkness. Now's when you might
want to get a good grip on one of those handy rails, friends,
cuz this rat is about to go berserk.
We rip around the first 180-degree turn, the lateral forces slamming everyone
on board to the right. Too bad it's so dark you can't see your
hand before your face, because there's no way to brace for - Whoa! - another mad reversal of direction. Skittering through the gloom,
we zoom back around, turning on a dime. Plowing through these
tight-radii twists is a kick, but remember, we're still locked
down in a face-forward stance; our dizzy varmint is just limbering
A gray light
hums over the murky surroundings as a bolt of high-voltage electricity
crackles between two massive ceramic-ringed conductors. Better
hope we're properly grounded! Avoiding electrocution, we scoot
around a wall and dash through a narrow shaft with just enough
time to read an overhead sign: DANGER - BOILER ROOM. Out of the
fryin' pan and into the fire, people!
Yanking around a turn, we make a sudden plunge down into the steamy confines
of the Boiler Room. Our frantic rat high-tails it back up and
scrambles to the left, pulling us into another black hole. What
is that up ahead, twisted metal track?! A second before
we derail, we're turning and about to dive when a menacing claw
reaches down and takes a swipe at us. We fall away in the nick
of time, but our gathering speed should be cause for concern.
We're about to enter the Spin Cycle.
the vehicle disengages from its fixed position and our rat starts
makin' like a whirlpool on wheels. Round and round, faster and
faster, hurling through those 180-degree turns, we're plastered
against the back of the car, plastered against each other, hangin'
on for dear life. What little we could see before is now completely
lost in a high-RPM blur. No matter how hard the centripetal forces
work to compress yer lungs, you'll still find the strength to
let loose with a barrage of ecstatic whooping.Waa-Hooooo!
haze of the boiler flashes by again and again as we gyrate towards
its bulky metal doors. Blinded by the steamy mists, we careen
through the boiler itself, making a frenzied turn and dropping
out the other end facing any way except forward. We get
centered just in time to leap over a wicked little bunny hop that
jolts us out of our seats, flying past two exterminators bathed
in green light. See ya later, boys! Back into the dark, we go
wonky again, twisting and twirling all the way into the final
run. At last, we re-enter the station, still spinning out of control,
as this little action-crammed horror movie ends the way they all should: Monsters win, "good-guys" lose!
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
my word that The Exterminator is a winner; stand by the exit and
watch as group after staggering group gallops back around the
Vermin, Inc. truck, eyes wide with delight. These are verbatim
quotes, folks: "Oh, man, that was awesome!" -
"We gotta do that again!" - "When we started spinning,
I thought I was going to lose it!" - "This is the best
ride in the park!" Thought I might beg to differ with that
last remark (how does one choose between so many of Kennywood's
first-class attractions?), The Exterminator's impact is undeniable.
I neither saw nor heard a single dissatisfied customer.
together the traditional scares of the beloved "spook house"
with modern-day widgetry, R & R Creative, Kennywood and Reverchon
have come up with an old-fashioned, newfangled dark ride that
brings the decades-old genre into the 21st century. Thanks to
The Exterminator, the spirit of so many dearly departed "Laff-In-The-Darks"
logo artwork and "boiler room" illustration courtesy
Kennywood and R & R Creative Amusement Designs, Inc. respectively.
All Rights Reserved.