Kennywood’s Thunderbolt roller coaster has had its ups and downs -- they come with the territory -- but today was a top-of-the-lift-hill day as the American Coaster Enthusiasts gathered in the West Mifflin amusement park to designate it a “Coaster Landmark.”
The wooden coaster, built in 1924 when it was named the Pipin, was honored with the placement of a plaque recognizing its historically significant status by members of the international coaster riders organization during its 25th annual “KennyKon,” an annual gathering that brought more than 200 members of ACE to the park.
“The American Coaster Enthusiasts uses this designation to single out historically significant coasters, and there’s no doubt the Thunderbolt is significant to Kennywood, western Pennsylvania and coasters in general,” said Jeff Filicko, a Kennywood spokesman. “It makes us the only park to have three roller coasters as designated landmarks, and that speaks to the preservation we have done and continue to do on the coasters year after year.”
Kennywood’s Jack Rabbit rollercoaster, built in 1920, and its Racer, built in 1927, were awarded Coaster Landmark status by ACE in 2010. The park’s coasters are among the 30 recognized as landmarks nationwide by the ACE since 2002.
Bill Linkenheimer, ACE’s regional representative for western Pennsylvania and a past president of the organization, said Kennywood’s coasters well deserve their historic designations.
“Every year we look at what costers might be candidates. In 2010 we designated the Jack Rabbit and Racer, and this year revisited the Thunderbolt,” said Mr. Linkenheimer, between coaster rides Sunday afternoon. “It’s deserving and it has been for years. Recently it celebrated its 45th birthday since it was renamed the Thunderbolt in 1968, and it’s still running so well. It’s hard to overlook.”
It’s recognition is especially sweet, said Mr. Linkenheimer, a resident of Ross, because it’s his favorite Kennywood coaster.
“It’s a unique ride with a classic feel,” he said. “It’s neat because you go down a drop as soon as you come out of the station while most coasters start out with a big lift hill. The Thunderbolt can do that because it’s built on a hillside like the other Kennywood coasters. It has its lift hill in the middle and its biggest drop -- 95 feet -- is the last one, which is also unusual.
And it moves at about 55 miles per hour, which is pretty fast for that type of coaster.”
There are 2,497 steel roller coasters and 212 wooden coasters worldwide, according to the ACE website, http://www.aceonline.org/. there are 766 coasters in the U.S.,
ACE, founded in 1978, is an international, non-profit organization with more than 5,000 members in 16 countries, making it the world’s largest amusement park rider group and an advocate for the preservation of older roller coasters.