Thunderbolt’s thrills win ‘Coaster Landmark’ status

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Kennywood’s Thunderbolt roller coaster has had its ups and downs — they come with the territory — but Sunday was a hands-in-the air, mouth-open-in-a-scream day as the American Coaster Enthusiasts gathered in the West Mifflin amusement park to designate it a “Coaster Landmark.”

Members of the international coaster riders organization honored the wooden roller coaster, named the Pippin when it was built in 1924, with the placement of a plaque during the group’s 25th annual “KennyKon.”

The annual gathering 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,” he said.

In 2010, ACE awarded Coaster Landmark staus to Kennywood’s Jack Rabbit roller coaster, built in 1920, and its Racer, built in 1927.

The park’s roller coasters are among the 30 ACE has recognized as landmarks nationwide since 2002. The group was founded in 1978 and has more than 5,000 members in 16 countries.

According to the Ultimate Rollercoaster website, The New York Times dubbed the original Pippin, which John A. Miller designed, the “King of the Coasters” in 1967, the year before it was rebuilt and expanded as the Thunderbolt.

It remains highly ranked on many top roller coaster lists. It’s classic four-car trains, which National Amusement Devices built, take 108 seconds to travel the coaster’s 2,887 foot length, but you can only ride if you’re at least 52 inches tall.

Bill Linkenheimer, ACE’s regional representative for Western Pennsylvania and a past president of the organization, said Kennywood’s roller coasters well deserve their historic designations.

“Every year we look at what coasters 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 because the Thunderbolt is his favorite Kennywood roller coaster, said Mr. Linkenheimer, a resident of Ross.

“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 roller 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 roller coasters worldwide, according to the ACE website.

There are 766 roller coasters in the U.S.

Don Hopey: or 412-263-1983.

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