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Enjoy An Antique Carousel And Coaster at Idlewild Park, One Of the Nation’s Oldest Amusement Parks

DSCN1051Idlewild Park (now Idlewild & Soak Zone) is the oldest amusement park in Pennsylvania (1878) and the third oldest in the United Sates behind Lake Compounce  in Connecticut (1846) and Cedar Point in Ohio (1870).  Like many amusement park of the 19th Century, Idlewild was originally built by a railroad to attract passenger business.  The Ligonier Valley Railroad was a fright line that connected with other lines in Latrobe for service to Pittsburgh from Ligonier and Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands.

In 1931, Richard B. Mellon (a wealthy Pittsburgh industrialist, banker and son of the park’s founder) became interested in Idlewild and helped provide funds to improve the property and developed more amusements.  Park Manager C.C. MacDonald planned and supervised the construction of rides, pavilions, lunchrooms, bandstands, and many attractions which are still part of Idlewild today, including a carousel built by Philadelphia Toboggan Co (PTC).

PTC carousels represent some of the finest examples of carousel art in America.  Founded in 1904 by Henry B. Auchy and Chester E. Albright, it received a patent in 1909 for a particularly important innovation for carousels, the Auchy friction drive.  Some of these drives, including the one at Idlewild, are still in operation today more than a century later.

Auchy and Albright were not carousel carvers, but had a number of fine carvers in their employ including Leo Zoller, brothers Daniel and Alfred Muller, Frank Carretta, John Zalar, Salcatore Cernigolisro, David Lightfoot, and others. The company went through numerous style changes with little continuity from one head carver to the next. PTC produced very natural looking horses and its later style included beautifully carved armored and handsome animals.  John Zalar’s unique style is among the most recognizable of PTC carvers, while carvings by the Muller brothers can be found on a number of its carousels. In all, the company built 87 carousels, with approximately 35 of them still in operation.  It numbered all its carousels at the factory and has attempted to kept track of their whereabouts.

PTC #83 was built in 1930 and spend the summer of 1931 at the Boardwalk in Atlantic City, New Jersey.  It was acquired at the end of the season by Idlewood Park as a part of its expansion.  It replaced a steam powered carousel from the 1890s.  PTC #83 is a classic wooden carousel with three rows of horses –28 jumpers, 20 standers, and two chariots.  There are three horses with PTC shields.  It is thought that three “lead” horses were used on #83 since PTC know it was not going to produce many additional units and had a number of lead horses in stock.

The carousel has two band organs, a Wurlitzer 103 with a Artizan D facade and a Wurlitzer Calliola (an air operated Calliope). While both are still operational they are in need of restoration and have been replaced temporarily by a CD player and sound system.

The Idlewild Park Carousel was completely restored in 1985-86 and the center bearings were replaced in 1991. Park maintenance staff regularly inspect and service the carousel’s motor and drive machinery, and the horses are repaired and their paint retouched as necessary.  A staff artist has restored all the carousel’s murals and original artwork.  Two carousel horses were stolen in 1991, but were later recovered at a local flea market.  The carousel pavilion that houses PTC #83 dates from the 1890s.

In 1938, Idlewild acquired a PTC roller coaster.  Over the years, 147 wooden roller coasters were built by the company. Of these, 82 are still in operation today.

The Rollo Coaster was Idlewild’s first and only roller coaster for decades until the larger Wild Mouse coaster was erected in 1993. Built on a hillside, the Rollo Coaster has an out and back format and uses skid brakes operated manually with a lever. The ride features two trains, with up to twelve riders per train, and is located near the PTC #83 carousel.

The Rollo Coaster is built over steep hillside and the ride features many tight twists and turns which create a surprisingly exciting two minute ride and a sense of much greater speed than its 25 mph.

To learn more about Idlewild Park & Soak Zone
see <idlewild.com>.  When planning to visit Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands see laurelhighlands.org

About the Author

In 2000, following a long and successful career as head of his own public relations agency, Jim became a freelance travel writer. In 2003 he was named travel editor at New York Trend. Jim travels widely in North America and Europe and has also visited in Asia, Africa, and Central America. He enjoys writing stories that bring alive his travel experience and entice the reader to visit new destinations. Jim is a member of the International Association of Black Travel Writers.

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