I’ve been thinking lately about a place from my youth. It’s called Idlewild Park. Idlewild is a family amusement park located in southwestern Pennsylvania, where I grew up. It is located in an absolutely breathtakingly beautiful idyllic countryside with meandering streams and lush forests known as the Laurel Highlands.
I loved this place, and still do! I have many happy memories of family picnics there when I was a little girl.
The school district in which we lived had a picnic at the park every year at the end of the school year. All the kids would carry a bagged lunch to the school on the very last Saturday of the school year to hop on school buses that would take them to the park for the day. But, not our family.
Oh, no! This was one of our family’s big events of the summer. And, it was a big day! Dad and Mom and, usually Grandma, would pack up the station wagon with the picnic fixings and us kids and we would drive over the mountain to get to the park as soon as it opened. The three food staples always on hand at this yearly picnic were Mom’s potato salad and pickled eggs and Grandma’s ham salad. Sometimes, we had Dad’s homemade chocolate and peanut butter fudge. And we always packed a few bottles of fix-a-drink (see the story here http://cindyscountrycorner.com/2009/03/25/fix-a-drink/).
What this meant is that our friends from school would go sit under a pavilion and eat a PB&J or a cold cut sandwich, while we grilled hot dogs and hamburgers and had potato salad, ham salad and huge chunks of watermelon. The students who went to the park from school had to leave the park at 5 p.m. But, not us! We could stay till the park closed. Matter of fact, I do recall one time packing up and leaving so late that we got locked in the park! Some park attendant had to come back and let us out! We were the Griswalds before there were the Griswalds, if you know what I mean!
Some of my earliest memories are of this park. I remember going when I was very small, and too little for the “big kid” rides. So, I spent my time in Kiddie Land. My favorite ride there was one that wasn’t even motorized. It was called Kiddie Cars. You got to hop into this little car (that reminded me of a giant ice skate) and you got to pedal yourself (on a rail) around a little wooded area. If some slow poke littler kid (yes, I meant to say littler) was in front of you, then you were stuck! I used to ride the rail as fast as I could pedal and at the end, the ride attendant would tell me that I was the fastest of anyone he had ever seen in his many years of supervising that ride. So, I would naturally, pay another ticket and go around again to see if I could beat my own record! He always said I did!
But, I really couldn’t wait until I was tall enough to ride the big kid rides – the roller coaster, bumper cars and caterpillar. The Rollo Coaster at Idlewild is awesome. It is a Philadelphia Toboggan Company Rollo Coaster built and sent to the park in 1938. It is still in operation today and has been named a Classic Coaster by the American Coaster Enthusiasts.
The Caterpillar is an old ride, too. According to Idlewild’s website (http://www.idlewild.com/) the Caterpillar is a set of linked cars that speed around a circular track. During the ride, a green canopy covers the riders leaving them in the dark. From the outside, the covered ride resembles a caterpillar. There are only three Caterpillar rides remaining in North America with only two, including Idlewild’s 1947 model, known to still use the canopy.
The bumper cars, known as Skooters, were first introduced at Idlewild in 1931. The cars, themselves, have been replaced a few times over the last seven decades, but the building that houses the ride remains the same.
The Merry-Go-Round is a beautiful carousal. It, too, was built by Philadelphia Toboggan Company and has been at Idlewild since 1931.
Idlewild was founded in 1878, making it the oldest amusement park in Pennsylvania. I also read somewhere that it is the third oldest park in the nation and the twelfth oldest park in the world. It has won several awards, including five from Amusement Today as the second-best children’s park in the world.
So, I will be in western Pennsylvania in August having my yearly vacation with my three sisters. And, I want to spend one day at Idlewild. We could pack a picnic! Linda can make Mom’s potato salad. I could make Grandma’s ham salad. Bonnie could make Dad’s fudge. Pam, well, I don’t know what to have her make. We’ll think of something!
And, then, on my bucket list, I want to ride the Rollo Coaster! It’s tame by today’s standards, so I don’t think it will kill us! And, I can post the pictures on my blog! Gosh, I hope there’s not a weight restriction in order to ride!
So, I hope my sisters are up for it! And, dear readers, if you are ever in western Pennsylvania, spend a day at Idlewild Park. You won’t regret it!