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FIFTY years????


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In going through old papers, I found my original letter from Bill Reed, Assistant Director of Ride Operations.  In 1971, I had met Lew Brown who had a 14” gage oil fired 4-6-2 in a park in Waynesville.  At Lew’s suggestion, I had written to the park after seeing a picture in the Dayton Daily News of the first test run of #19, then Simon Kenton.  Note Bill’s spelling of “propane”!  In the second page that I did not scan, he mentioned that they had hired two people already, obviously Lew and Kenny.  On my Christmas break from college, I interviewed and was given a tour of the park in a yellow Volkswagen Beetle by a twenty something blonde kid named Al.  Al Weber would someday be the General Manager of the park and eventually be kicked upstairs at Paramount.  The entire park was still a muddy unpaved mess and most of it was still under construction.  We watched workers hand push cars over the hills of the Bavarian Beetle in Octoberfest.  There were Antiques Cars driving on International Street.  The train station was full of canoes.  We walked out to the trestle which had a walkway down only one side, and it was on the wrong side so they had to add the second one.  Al drove me back to the enginehouse and my blood pressure rose.  A green coach was on the mainline next to the enginehouse and a red one had drifted down to the low spot just before the curve into the station.  There was no falsefront town or car shed, so the propane tank dominated the barren scene.  The enginehouse was a bare pole barn with two walls and roof, no ends, and freezing cold.  It had a ballast floor, no ceiling, no tools, no jacks.  A portable gasoline air compressor sat outside to create a draft for firing up.  #19 sat cold in the stall where the jacks now are, and it was a mess.  The test run had been done with muddy water.  I crawled all over it, telling Al what everything was, and he was impressed.  It would be two more months before #12 and more coaches would arrive.  I would be the first seasonal hire for the railroad, and maybe for the whole park (excepting kids coming from old Coney), at $1.10/hour.  We actually got paid more than other seasonal employees because we maintained our own ride.  In March, Lew, Kenny, Lew’s grandson Randy, and myself would chase each other around the track on Saturdays to shakedown the equipment.  On my first day, the feedwater hoses were frozen full of ice and Lew put me out in the bitter wind, roasting the hoses over the exhaust of the gasoline air compressor.  I would forget to put the spout up on the frozen watertower (we had to quit early for lack of water), so we ripped it off as we pulled out and maintenance had to fix it.  I would also back #19 into the wrong stall, and I think it has been there ever since.  But Lew Brown was a forgiving boss and liked my work ethic, so he moved me to the righthand seatbox in only a month and I became their first young engineer.  I spent two amazing summers being paid for something I would have gladly done for free.  It is all so vivid in my memory that I can’t believe it will soon be fifty years ago.

ki letter001.jpg

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What an interesting artifact!  What were the “extremely interesting” qualifications  you wrote about in your letter?  How long were you with the park working on the railroad? Do you remember what other things you asked about in your letter?  

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My "interesting qualifications" were just a real interest in steam, fostered by my grandfather who had steam farm engines before I was born.  I spent two years there and maybe after I retire I may see if I can go back and work Year 50.  That would be really cool, but it is a whole different company.  In 1972 it was just Coney grown up with the Schott/Wachs/McHale/Spiegel oligarchy still running it.  It was still a little family park and we got away with stuff that OSHA and the park would never allow today.  The train was Ed McHale's favorite ride and he spent money on us.  So much fun working back in the enginehouse because we were alone back there in the woods, no Whitewater canyon, no Mystic Timbers, no waterpark to stop at, just an occasional picnic ground kid peering through the fence.  It was the quietest corner of the park where people snuck in at night hopping the fence.  I was a music major at the time, so naturally I asked about what the entertainment division would be doing to show a little more seriousness about wanting to work there, but the locomotive was where I really wanted to be.

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It was a cold misty day when we opened on April 29, 1972, and it stayed wet through most of May and June.  There was no animation or buildings along the railroad since construction was put behind by the weather.  A sound system was set up in the station so the conductors could tell the crowd what they would see if they came back in a month or two.  It was just a track through a mudhole out there.  There was literally nothing to see.  And there were probably a few guests that were ticked off.  After all, they had paid a whopping $5.95 gate price, and the average person spent another six bucks on food, games, and souvenirs.  Yep, the per cap was twelve bucks a head out the gate!!!!  Taft was worried since they had mortgaged themselves to beat Fess Parker's Frontier Worlds to opening, even though owning old Coney's rides made KI a steal at $33 million.  Fess and his California investors were planning to spend $100 million in Boone County before they threw in the towel.  But we were on shaky ground.  If I recall, management told us we needed 11,000 to break even and we had days that barely topped 8,000.  They wanted a soft opening because one of the reasons Freedomland failed was bad publicity from 64,000 plugging the highways on opening weekend.  But I think Kings Island's first two months were a lot softer than they imagined.  Even in a park as small as it was back then, you had to search the horizon to find paying patrons.  We questioned why they built such a big parking lot.  One rainy night I sat on the locomotive for over an hour without even seeing a guest walk through Rivertown.  We were the farthest point of civilization so people often never even made it back to the corner of the park.  But we did not close early.  That was unthinkable.  We would use a 110 ton train to take two people out for a ride at 10:59 if they showed up.  Not an economical operation.  Then on July 4th, all hell broke loose.  The world discovered us.  The parking lot was packed.  We were to close at 11:00, but an announcement over the park's sound system extended closing to midnight.  An hour later, the crowd still had not gone away, so we closed that night at 1 AM.  And that was not just International Street, it was every ride in the park.  The train left on its last trip at 12:45.  For the rest of the year, we were busy and some weekends the line for the train was out into Rivertown's main street.  We had a contest with The Racer to see who could haul more bodies in a day and we had our extra crew standing in front of The Racer directing guests to the train.  We had them beat until the last hour when people wanted The Racer to be their last ride.  Taft had dodged a bullet and I'm sure there were some humongous sighs of relief up in the front office.  What would a crowd of 8,000 look like in the park today?

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Way cool!  I have never seen that video clip.  That was 1972 (I painted the headlight bracket red in 1973), and yep, that's me poking my head out to see if anyone was on the track.  Thanks for posting that.  Bill Bosse, one of the Cinder Sniffers who was good at sheet metal, made that stack cap in '74 or '75.  Not sure why, but I think the original stack on #12 was a Crown "quicky" to get it out the door since they were busy then and Crown founder Ken Williams had just died so they might have been short handed.  It was a horrible job of bumping some 10 gage around on the brake.  Nothing smooth at all.  Their earlier balloon stacks were much better proportioned and made, and I would have loved to have had one of them.  I notice that the cap stack is now painted red like Tweetsie.

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@kimv1972 Thank you very much for indulging my curiosity and sharing even more of your experiences and park history with us today. I agree that it would be really cool to return to the train for the parks 50th. Maybe members from the forum could follow your example and write letters to the management to help make that happen. Just an idea ;)

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11 minutes ago, amapan said:

I agree that it would be really cool to return to the train for the parks 50th. Maybe members from the forum could follow your example and write letters to the management to help make that happen. Just an idea ;)

I'm sure management knows a lot of people miss the old theming. Heck a lot of people mention it on social media whenever KI posts about the train or an old picture surfaces on someone's page.

I'd say build a theme around Rivertown with the mining companies as opposed to bringing back the old Cowboys and Native Americans (which might be seen as politically incorrect nowadays)

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3 minutes ago, SonofBaconator said:

I'm sure management knows a lot of people miss the old theming. Heck a lot of people mention it on social media whenever KI posts about the train or an old picture surfaces on someone's page.

I'd say build a theme around Rivertown with the mining companies as opposed to bringing back the old Cowboys and Native Americans (which might be seen as politically incorrect nowadays)

The park posted yesterday a picture of Woodstock Whirlybirds when it was the Scooby Doo and it was painted yellow.

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2 hours ago, kimv1972 said:

It was a cold misty day when we opened on April 29, 1972, and it stayed wet through most of May and June.  There was no animation or buildings along the railroad since construction was put behind by the weather.  A sound system was set up in the station so the conductors could tell the crowd what they would see if they came back in a month or two.  It was just a track through a mudhole out there.  There was literally nothing to see.  And there were probably a few guests that were ticked off.  After all, they had paid a whopping $5.95 gate price, and the average person spent another six bucks on food, games, and souvenirs.  Yep, the per cap was twelve bucks a head out the gate!!!!  Taft was worried since they had mortgaged themselves to beat Fess Parker's Frontier Worlds to opening, even though owning old Coney's rides made KI a steal at $33 million.  Fess and his California investors were planning to spend $100 million in Boone County before they threw in the towel.  But we were on shaky ground.  If I recall, management told us we needed 11,000 to break even and we had days that barely topped 8,000.  They wanted a soft opening because one of the reasons Freedomland failed was bad publicity from 64,000 plugging the highways on opening weekend.  But I think Kings Island's first two months were a lot softer than they imagined.  Even in a park as small as it was back then, you had to search the horizon to find paying patrons.  We questioned why they built such a big parking lot.  One rainy night I sat on the locomotive for over an hour without even seeing a guest walk through Rivertown.  We were the farthest point of civilization so people often never even made it back to the corner of the park.  But we did not close early.  That was unthinkable.  We would use a 110 ton train to take two people out for a ride at 10:59 if they showed up.  Not an economical operation.  Then on July 4th, all hell broke loose.  The world discovered us.  The parking lot was packed.  We were to close at 11:00, but an announcement over the park's sound system extended closing to midnight.  An hour later, the crowd still had not gone away, so we closed that night at 1 AM.  And that was not just International Street, it was every ride in the park.  The train left on its last trip at 12:45.  For the rest of the year, we were busy and some weekends the line for the train was out into Rivertown's main street.  We had a contest with The Racer to see who could haul more bodies in a day and we had our extra crew standing in front of The Racer directing guests to the train.  We had them beat until the last hour when people wanted The Racer to be their last ride.  Taft had dodged a bullet and I'm sure there were some humongous sighs of relief up in the front office.  What would a crowd of 8,000 look like in the park today?

I've been on these forums since 2004, and just wanted to point out that this is one of the best posts I've ever read on here.  This is the kind of stuff that has brought back here all these years!!  Fascinating!

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4 minutes ago, kimv1972 said:

OK, here's a trivia question for you.  What was the first NEW construction added to the park after the park opened in 1972?  It was probably finished and in use by July 1972 and was built in a rush.

Was is the scenery around the RR track such as the Old Fort and the town by the storage barns?

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@kimv1972 Thank you So much for sharing your memories with us...I have never read anything like them, you make everything come to life. I would love to have experienced what you did.

I was wondering, do you visit the park very often? Do you like what the park has evolved into over the years? What do you miss the most that has been removed? I could probably ask you a million questions! 
 

Thank you again for sharing such great memories. :)

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1 hour ago, kimv1972 said:

OK, here's a trivia question for you.  What was the first NEW construction added to the park after the park opened in 1972?  It was probably finished and in use by July 1972 and was built in a rush.

The bathrooms by Ohio Overland Auto Livery (antiques)

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33 minutes ago, Shaggy said:

The bathrooms by Ohio Overland Auto Livery (antiques)

I never realized that was added in 1972 - I've always assumed it was a 1972-73 off-season thing, but looking through photos it was definitely there by October 1972. Today I learned.

4 minutes ago, kimv1972 said:

Nope.  Second hint:  It wasn't built yet when this picture was taken.

Based off this October 1972 picture (from eBay user Momthrewitaway), looks like some seating was added for the show on the General Store's porch.

1vOamNJ.jpg

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I get back to the park about every five to ten years.  It has grown into a very green space which I really like.  In 1972, the only trees were in Rivertown.  The ginkgo trees from Coney were nice looking but didn't offer shade, and all the trees on International Street and other areas were just sticks.  It was a hot park covered in blacktop, painted different colors in each theme area.  Rivertown was red, Octoberfest was brown, HB was green, Coney was black.  I do miss the laid back feel of the family run park, but the coasters are awesome.  It is sad that they have lost so much of the theming.  Costumes used to be themed to the areas as well.  Machine has replaced Magic.  They really missed the boat by not designing transportation into the park.  It would be nice to have today, even if the park expanded outside the track loop.  Opryland had the best train ride of them all.  It offered transportation from one end of the park to the other, but it wound through the park instead of around it like Disney, and the track earth berm separated theme areas with bridges under the track at the entrance to the areas.  They once told me they could attribute about ten cents per patron hour in sales to the advertisement the train ride gave to restaurants, souvenirs, and games.  But overall, I'm proud of the way KI has grown, and I look back at it with the same sentimentality I have for my college and high school.  It was two of the best years of my life, and I grew to be much more of a people person from working there.

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