Sunday, November 10, 2013

Steelworker Picnic - Part 2

Microsoft Word Illustration
by Robert Giles

The sign said Wampum PA – one mile. We were still on Route 18 north. We had crossed into Lawrence County.

“Holy moley." I pointed to a ruin of a building set back about 50 yards from the road at the base of a hill. “That looks like one of those buildings in Europe that were bombed during World War II.”

Perhaps a Panzer Division had come south on Route 18 and annihilated the inhabitants. No, there was evidence of life - washing on a clothes line, a lone bulb lighting an apartment window, smoke drifting from a chimney pipe. There were even children playing baseball in a field.

"There can't be people living there, there just can't be."

“Bobby, people have been living there since I was your age. The building has always been kind of seedy, I guess "dilapidated" is the word for it today. It used to be housing for the cement company up ahead. I don't know who the devil owns it now.”

“What do they do when it rains?”

We came to one of those enclosed conveyor systems that carried stone down from the ridge on the east. It looked like a small covered bridge on stilts - a crazy snaking one built over dry land. It went all the way up into the hills toward Ellwood City.

“Out of sight on that hilltop there’s a limestone quarry and a big steam shovel. The limestone is pulverized before it comes down to the plant on that conveyor."

My mood brightened. The thought of riding a conveyor down the hillside reminded me that we were going to Idora Park. 

Soon we were sitting in Mahoningtown waiting for the train to clear at the railroad crossing. I read the names on the boxcars - Erie Lackawanna, Santa Fe, Burlington Route, Ashtabulah.

“Stop bouncing, Bobby, you’re squashing my knee”, my sister gave me a pinch.

We finally arrived in Youngstown. At the end of a residential street was the amusement park. Idora was then or became known for its horticulture, its antique carousel, and its wooden roller coaster, the Wildcat.

It’s the Wildcat I remember best. I was probably too small to pass the height requirement on that first visit. My first ride on the Wildcat happened a few years later.

There was a long wait in line on picnic days. When we got to the ramp, we had to wait another ten minutes to get on the platform. Then we had to stand until the seats emptied for the next ride. If we were very lucky, we got a seat in the first car with nothing in front but the wind.

Finally it was time to ride. We fastened a lap belt across the width of the car. Then we pulled a metal bar down that held us tight against the seat back. A worker checked each seat to make sure we were ready for takeoff.

Right off the bat we went down a hill, a small one I grant you. But how many roller coasters start with a descent? 

"Duck, Bobby, that overhang will take your head off."

Into a tunnel we went. We might see a thin beam of light through a pinhole or two, but otherwise it was complete darkness. 

From blackness we emerged into bright sunlight. That put a strain on the old eyes, didn't it? 

Before us was an impossible hill. There was a clank as a chain gear engaged. The chain pulled the coaster a foot at a time to the top. It seemed to take forever. At the crest of the hill, time stopped entirely as you stole a glance at the abyss. Down, down, down.

That always gave me the willies.

From the top of the first hill, you were the plaything of Newton's Laws, a marble dropped on a set of rails. The hill gave you enough momentum to take you through the rest of the ride and out onto the platform with a whoosh.

Don't ride a wooden coaster if you're not willing to be jerked around. The Wildcat had four hills, each with steep descents. There was a hairpin turn at the start of the final stretch. The abrupt deceleration when you sailed onto the platform at ride's end gave you a whiplash.

A sign cautioned those with medical conditions not to ride the Wildcat. It was good advice. 

For some people the sound of a a roller coaster is screaming voices and the clatter of wheels. For me it is the clank of the chain engaging on that first steep hill. 

If you want a happy, unguarded expression for a photograph, stand with your camera and wait for your subject to come down from the Wildcat. All shields are down. The danger is over. They're glad to be alive.

(For a moment there, I sounded like there was still a Wildcat to ride ... but the famous Wildcat has gone the way of the saber-tooth and the giant ground sloth.)*

*"Heavily damaged by fire on 4/26/1984. What wasn't destroyed by fire was finally demolished on 7/26/2001." - Roller Coaster Database
Idora Park Today - Google Maps


  1. My goodness! I can vividlyt remember the Wildcat. Wooden roller coasters RULE! The ones at Idora and Kenneywood are the best. We had our school picnic at Kenneywood; but I always remember Idora. A family friend worked at Spangs (Armco?) in the 60s/70's & my family would always join their family at Idora for the company picnic. I remember having the pass pinned to my shirt (or held on by the "buttonhole" in it). Such memories....

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  3. Thanks, patchwork, for taking the time to comment. Stay tuned. There is a Part 3.
    There. This time I did not misspell anything. Or did I misspell "misspell"?

  4. What do you think those two round stone circles are? Part of the park? How sad that it's all gone. Just like West View Park, which is a shopping center now. Another of those long-gone things that we were fortunate to get to know, I guess.